ESPN 30 for 30: Chasing Tyson (2015)

Directed by Steven Cantor

Mike Tyson, whether you like the guy or not, is not only a sports icon, but he is also a pop culture icon in many ways. Even younger generations who were not into sports, or even alive, when “Iron Mike” was decimating opponents in the ring, know who Mike Tyson is. This is thanks, in large part, due to his incredible story, and larger than life persona, punctuated when he decided to get a tattoo on his face. I am a good example of the generation that knows Tyson, but never truly was able to appreciate his prowess in the ring. A child in the 90s, his marquee fights were not what I remember of my childhood. But what often gets lost in the thick of the Mike Tyson story, and the subject of this installment of ESPNs 30 for 30 series, is one of his opponents, four-time Heavyweight Champion of the World, Evander Holyfield.

As it is now, it was then. Holyfield, who put on extra weight to begin competing in boxing’s biggest division, the heavyweight, was always in the shadows of Mike Tyson. He wasn’t as devastating in the ring, however proficient and successful as he was. He wasn’t as loud and boisterous in the media either, which worked to his detriment when trying to sell his “brand”. Holyfield didn’t have a brand, he had a great work ethic, and incredible competitive drive, and the will and determination to be successful. Steven Cantor examines the relationship between the two boxer’s in his film, Chasing Tyson, and Holyfield’s need for Tyson to validate his success as a boxer. Such high profile athletes really do often overshadow many other less outspoken, but equally successful athletes in their prime.

Cantor has made somewhat of a puff piece on Holyfield here, but that’s not really necessarily a bad thing, especially considering the remarkable lack of respect and exposure Holyfield gets for the era in which he competed given the celebrity of Mike Tyson. People then and now would unanimously say that Tyson was far and away the best boxer of the time and would knockout any other opponent no question, including Holyfield. He just had more talent than everyone else. That may be true, but what Cantor attempts to reveal is the efficiency and drive of Holyfield, to rekindle the debate by presenting plenty of evidence that supports Holyfield as a champion of his time, because he was a champion of his time, holding the world championship belt(s) four separate times in his career.

Sure, there was the three year jail stint served by Tyson for rape in which Holyfield held the title until Tyson was released and reclaimed the championship. Fans would point to this as proof that Tyson was the best. There are two major events in the careers of Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield that seem to intersect at pivotal times in each career path. First is the incarceration of Tyson, which reflects on the type of person Tyson was, and allowed Holyfield to be king for a time. The second and most famous is of course the ear-biting fight between Tyson and Holyfield, which again revealed the poor character of Tyson, and the incredible will of Holyfield to bring down the perceived champ and prove he was the best fighter in the heavyweight division.

Steven Cantor delivers a very well put together examination on the career of Holyfield. I am sure there is bias placed in the portrayal of Holyfield. This is not a “warts and all” presentation. But it remains that Holyfield showed incredible class, character, and determination to become one of the best and most decorated boxers of all time, even during an era dominated by both the persona and punch of Mike Tyson. We see the rise of Holyfield from the Cruiserweight division, all the way to his title chase against Tyson, the one opponent that existed to validate all the success Holyfield had, but which he often received no credit. Tyson v. Holyfield I happened 5 years later than it should have, in part due to Tyson’s unwillingness to recognize Holyfield as a worthy opponent, and because of his incarceration. Who would have won the fight had it taken place in their prime’s? We will never know, but Holyfield was a great boxer.

*** – Very Good

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