Even though their styles were totally different, Tyson and Mike had one major thing in common – they are the only heavyweight champions blessed with lightning hand speed AND brutal knockout power in both hands. Generally, boxers are gifted with either great speed or great power. It's rare that a guy gets both. Since Louis and Tyson combined both, they were dangerous, dangerous heavyweights to fight. Both men also put together strings of dynamite punches called combinations. Making things worse for their opponents is that both guys had great punching accuracy...they often hit the intended target perfectly. Neither man ever looked sloppy or wasted a lot of punches during his prime.
Power is one thing, but the speed of their punches would get you. You literally wouldn't see the knockout punch coming. Even though they went about things differently - Joe preferred to set things up with his jab and patiently wait for the perfect opening, while Mike came right at you and launched thunder, especially when his opponents missed-- these guys almost always put on a great show and left their opponent dazed on the canvas.
Louis was knocked out by Max Schmeling because of dropping his left hand after he launched a jab. With his hand low, he was wide open for a right cross or overhand right. Max slammed Louis' jaw with 72 right wallops before he finally KO'd him during their first encounter. Louis improved his defense afterward but when he was injured or surprised, that left hand would drop again. A perfect example of this is when he was propped up against the ropes with his arms dangling, leaving him wide open for Rocky Marciano's Suzy-Q. The punch knocked Louis out of the ring and ended his career.
Marciano and his trainer Charlie Goldman predicted this would happen. Their whole strategy was based around wearing Louis down with the relentless body attacks and when Louis dropped his guard, knock his head off with the right hand. Marciano dropped Louis with a hard left hook in the 8th round, and then finished him with the right.
Like I said, Louis definitely improved his defense after the Schmeling loss, but if hurt bad enough (as he was by Marciano) that left hand would come right down.
It was Jersey Joe Walcott who exposed both of Louis' major faults. With better footwork, Louis would have been able to cut down the speedy Walcott easier – walking down Walcott without landing anything almost made Louis look foolish. And Walcott was able to drop Louis numerous times in both fights because Louis held his left hand low at times. Can't help but wonder what would happen if Louis leaves himself open this way against Mike Tyson, huh?
Watch the fight clip below. Tami Mauriello takes full advantage of Louis' lazy left and hurts him with a big right hand. Then Louis responds by letting loose with short, tight dynamite artillery.
In my opinion, Floyd Patterson was more diverse with the style and did it better, but Tyson absolutely bulldozed guys with it. Some of Tyson's most effective combinations included a right hook to the ribs followed immediately with a right uppercut to the chin. He also loved to land a right hook to the body and then come upstairs with a knockout left hook to the head. Tyson also fought you in a circle. He'd initially stand right in front of you, but as you miss he'd slip your punch and then he's standing to the side of you attacking your ribs.
It may look as if Tyson is just rushing at you throwing punches, but there was a science to it. And he often threw his bone-crushers when he saw an opening or countering opportunity. He was much like Louis that way, only Tyson scared you into making mistakes while Louis baited you into them or patiently waited.
But the peekaboo has its drawbacks too. Tyson bobbed and weaved in a predictable pattern, always right then left. This made it predictable to know where his head would be. Angelo Dundee and Pinklon Thomas noticed this, which is how Pinklon was able to land his jab on Tyson at will. If Pinklon Thomas could notice and exploit this flaw, no doubt Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis would.
Tyson also fought in spurts. He'd attack his way in and invade your space, but if you clinch him or withstand his assault, he ALWAYS paused to reset himself. When he does this, it's the perfect time to attack him. Joe Frazier and Rocky Marciano swarmed all over you and never let up. Tyson swarmed his way inside but stopped punching while there. This is what made him so easy to be clinched throughout his career. He was not a good inside fighter - after a combination of three or four blows he would stop and wait for a clinch or whatever else his opponent has to offer. Rinse and repeat.
But unlike Louis, Tyson wasn't afraid to leap off the mat to smash his opponent's chin. Tyson took more chances and was generally more aggressive, while Louis saved his aggressive moments for the right time.
It's hard to say who had the harder punch between these two ring warriors. As far as the stats go, Louis' knockout percentage is 75.36%. Tyson's is 75.86%, only a teeny tad higher than Louis.
Tyson dipped and got full leverage for that nasty uppercut of his. Louis, on the other hand, often hit guys with a punch that would make them “freeze” right in their tracks, and that's when Louis would pulverize them with combinations or what I like to call, “The Joe Louis Specials.” Guys would sometimes clinch Tyson after getting rocked, but that rarely happened with Louis. Watch his knockout of Max Schmeling, for example.
You could argue that Tyson hit a little harder than Louis, or you could say Louis hit a little harder than Tyson. Either way it's very close. I was never punched by either man and I don't want to know! But both guys had pure knockout power in both fists. Jim Braddock said that Louis' jab felt like someone smashing a light bulb in your face again and again.
Now, we know that Tyson hit extremely hard because his fights are in color, some even in High Definition. For example, you clearly see him knock the mouthpiece and bridgework out of Mitch "Blood" Green's mouth.
But with Louis' fights all being in black and white and somewhat grainy, it's difficult to judge his power. You see his victims go down, but it's much harder to see the details of the punch.
Here is a very informative video that shows how brutal Louis' right cross was.
Quickness of Hand
This is also really difficult to decipher. Tyson's hand speed was unreal, but you could say the same about Louis. In fact, watch how fast Louis' hands were when he destroyed Max Baer with that triple left hook. I hesitate to say who was faster between Louis and Tyson. It could easily go either way.
Joe Louis ALWAYS got the job done. I can only think of two exceptions when he couldn't finish his prey. He hurt his right hand against Tommy Farr, and said in his autobiography that he couldn't throw the finishing haymaker when he need to. In his fight with Ezzard Charles, he said his hands just couldn't get to the target fast enough. This fight happened in 1950 when Louis was far past his best.
In comparison, Ruddock, Tillis, Green, Holyfield, McBride, Douglas and several others were able to survive at times when Tyson had them hurt.
Tyson generally finished guys quicker than Louis did, but Louis' finishes were gradual. He'd actually be setting you up for the knockout as early as round 1 even if he doesn't deliver it until round 5. Louis had to carry white opponents a few rounds..he only finished guys early if they hurt him (Galento, Baer, etc) or if they were African American. (John Henry Lewis, for example). In his book he said that he tried his best to get Walcott and Charles out of there early but it didn't work out that way.
As far as accomplishments go, Louis is far greater. Tyson unified the heavyweight titles and is the youngest title holder in history, but lost his legacy fights and shattered his own potential early in his career. Joe Louis' record of 25 consecutive title defenses still stand, and his reign of dominance lasted almost 12 years.
Both guys are monsters head to head, but I think Louis would do better in this era against the modern giants than Tyson would. Louis routinely destroyed giants like Buddy Baer, Primo Carnera, etc. Tyson, on the other hand, often beat bigger men in his prime but struggled more to do so, often failing to knock them out.
Consider this also. Tyson would likely demolish the guys that Louis fought and might even look even more impressive than Louis did. If Mike kept his head on straight and fought as consistently as Louis did, do you think it's possible that he would have 25 title defenses in that era? That's something to think about.
I'm a big fan of both guys but if they fought I think Tyson would destroy Louis early. Louis said he hated to be crowded, and although he was old against Marciano, I think Marciano would still have a style advantage, as would Tyson. Louis never fought anyone like Tyson before...the closest opponents he fought to Tyson were Marciano and Arturo Godoy. (Godoy made Louis real uncomfortable by always ducking at him). Louis would have to catch Tyson as he charged in, which would be incredibly difficult given Tyson's head movement and fast attack.
Louis in his prime was a small heavyweight, weighing between 198 and 205 pounds. The older, post-World War II Louis that fought Charles and Marciano was around 212 pounds, but would be too slow and old to last with Tyson. Louis had a good chin but was dropped by guys who were basically light heavyweights like Braddock, Schmeling, Walcott, etc. But again, he also successfully absorbed bombs from Tony Galento, Max Baer, and other notorious bangers. So you never quite know.
Tyson definitely had a solid chin. He was knocked out more than Louis, but each time he was stopped it was late in the fight. Tyson could definitely take a beating.
Given Tyson's head movement and speed of hand, I don't think Louis would know what hit him. Kid Dynamite was a beast from another generation..a new breed of heavyweight.
IF Louis survived Tyson's early blitz, he could then become the ring general and use his jab and counters to break him down and take him out late. I could see Louis defeating Mike with the same strategy used by Lennox Lewis.
But honestly I don't see Louis making it past two rounds. Louis is the greater fighter here, but that doesn't automatically mean he beats Tyson.