by Jack Bedell
My son’s got Mike Tyson on the burner tonight. He only knows the champ from training videos and highlight reels and wants to watch a few early fights to see where it started. I tell him I can queue up three that’ll give him some pure Tyson—Berbick, Biggs, & Spinks. But because I know my own dad always said to truly see a fighter, to understand what he does, you have to know his lineage (like before we’d watch George Foreman the old man would talk to me about Sonny Liston, or before a Kenny Norton bout he’d explain what Norton learned sparring with Joe Frazier), I ask my son for 10 minutes to watch a couple of rounds of Floyd Patterson getting demolished by Liston, to see the reason we get to Mike Tyson in the first place. I tell him Patterson was trained all the way to the title by the same cat who made Tyson, Cus D’Amato. You can see it in the way Patterson fought low and closed space to land the same combinations Tyson was taught to throw. Both men were shorter than their opponents most times and gave up reach. Both were technically crisp with perfect footwork. But it was the difference between the two that led D’Amato to Tyson three decades down the road. Patterson was slight, never over 200 pounds, and didn’t have an ounce of meanness in him. There just wasn’t enough of him to hold off Liston, nothing in his nature to match Liston’s anger. Two fights, two rounds. Patterson couldn’t tie up Sonny’s hands or bob and weave his way around them long enough to avoid the canvas. And from the time the bell rang after that second loss, D’Amato was looking for a young bull who was the best of both of those dudes all fused into one fighter. The minute he saw a teenaged Tyson, he knew he’d found the one. Short, but heavy enough to push through anyone. Fast, but lights-out strong. So we watch Tyson steamroll three men, champs in their own right, and see how easily he carries D’Amato’s whole life worth of lessons into the ring with menace and grace, the line that stretches from back then to right now, the way things are passed down and pass on.
Jack B. Bedell is Professor of English and Coordinator of Creative Writing at Southeastern Louisiana University where he also edits Louisiana Literature and directs the Louisiana Literature Press. Jack’s work has appeared in HAD, Heavy Feather, Pidgeonholes, The Shore, Moist, Okay Donkey, EcoTheo, The Hopper, Terrain, and other journals. His latest collection is Against the Woods’ Dark Trunks (Mercer University Press, 2022). He served as Louisiana Poet Laureate 2017-2019.