Billy ‘The Preacher’ Graham on Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield, his favourite Fantasy Fights and the tragedy of Muhammad Ali

SOMEONE showed me the clip of Mike Tyson looking fit and sharp on the pads. It warmed my heart to see him looking in shape and happy again after everything he has been through yet it is ludicrous that some sections of the internet started seriously talking about him making a comeback at the age of 53. Then you’ve got people saying he’d either beat or trouble top heavyweights. What an absolute load of nonsense that is.

Look, doing the pads is a million miles away from being in a fight. Fucking hell, you can train actors to look like they can box, Robert De Niro looked great in Raging Bull yet you wouldn’t have thrown him in with Marvin Hagler – he’d have got murdered. Apollo Creed and Rocky Balboa looked shit hot in those first two films, does that really mean they would have matched up against Larry Holmes? It is nonsense.

Mike might be a former fighter, but anyone who thinks he should make a comeback only need to have a look at his last few fights. He was miles past his best at a relatively young age then in the end he got stopped against Danny Williams and looked awful against Kevin McBride. And yet some people have mentioned how he would do against Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder. I can tell you right now how he’d do against them, he’d get hammered at an age when he should be enjoying his life. 

This whole thing is ridiculous. Mike is in good shape, which is great, and 53 isn’t too old to be a human being, but it is way too old to be a fighter. When you are a boxer, your body starts deteriorating when you are young and you cannot reverse that process. You can adapt to it, but you can’t turn back time. Then you have to take into account that he’s had years out. A young kid can take a time out and then come back, a man of that age can’t do it.

Tyson peaked really young. Peak years are relative to the fighter in question. Some peak at the age of 23, some come into their own at 30, but, with a few exceptions like Floyd Mayweather, Bernard Hopkins and Manny Pacquiao, the peak years don’t last that long so you have to make the most of them. The norm is that once it is over then it is over, and it was over for Mike long before he retired. Mike had a small, beautiful peak. It would be outrageous and obscene if he got into the ring again in any capacity.

People are thinking in nostalgic terms. A prime Tyson was a wonderful sight to see. You want to see the Tyson of the past – and you think he looks sharp and all that in the clip – yet the only reason you’d even think about entertaining the thought of him getting in there again is because we’ve all missed boxing and your mind drifts back to his prime. I loved the young Tyson. He is one of the greatest of all-time.

Those supporting a Mike Tyson comeback forget how his career ended against Danny Williams (right) and Kevin McBride.

Then there is talk of an exhibition match with Evander Holyfield, who is thinking about coming back as well. Jesus Christ, boxing is a barbaric sport. I say that as someone who loves the sport and would still box if I had my life over again, but you cannot sit there and tell me that it isn’t a barbaric sport. Put those two back into the ring and they would fight, they’d properly fight, and it would be obscene in any capacity. As soon as one of them two fuckers landed a decent punch then that is it. It is back on again between them and Evander might lose his other ear.

I love Evander. I love Mike. I don’t ever want to see them in there again in any capacity. The problem is that people would pay to watch it. Some people would pay to watch a car crash on the motorway. Does that make it permissible?

I get sent links to Mike’s podcast on YouTube, so why not stick to doing that? He smokes some weed and the conversation gets better the more weed they smoke. I love watching him getting stoned and talking to that Joe Rogan. I like to have a spliff myself and watch that stuff. Mike looks happy doing that. He doesn’t look like a tortured soul anymore. Mike, Evander, get in shape, but stay out of the ring. You’re too good for that and we want to be left with those great memories. 

FANTASY fights aren’t for everyone. We aren’t getting any live boxing during this lockdown so I can see why the internet is throwing out a few fantasy fights. You’ve got to do it in the right way, though. You can’t just put your favourite fighter in with someone else and pick them to win, you have to be objective about it.

People have seen Tyson on the pads and the best thing to come out of it is that we’ve remembered him in that short, glorious peak when he destroyed an entire division. Over the years, people forgot just how good he was and how good his wins were. It led to some serious underestimating of what a great fighter he was. Tyson went off the rails, he got fucked by Don King and lots of people around him, and by the time he came out of prison he was no longer the same fighter. I don’t think you can argue against that.

Three of my favourite heavyweight fighters are Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier and George Foreman. What they have in common with Mike is that they were proper bad bastards in the ring. People feared them. I’m a huge Liston fan. I got out of bed and sat with my brother, who is no longer with us, and watched Liston losing his title to Ali, who became my idol, yet before that I’d wanted Liston to win it.

It is a fact that Liston was avoided for years. Like Marvin Hagler before him, he spent his peak years in contention and by the time he became champion he was past his best. Shit, this is going to be tough for me, and I’ll try not to sit on the fence here for the fans, so we will look at a peak Liston and Tyson first.

This really is a fantasy fight for me. You are matching up two ferocious punchers. Liston has got the power to tame Tyson; his jab was ridiculous, it was long and powerful, and he also had an underrated right hand then could pull the left hook out of the bag off it. Tyson liked to manhandle people in close, could he do that with Liston and get to where he needed to be? I’m not sure. Manhandling Sonny Liston is a tall order and maybe Liston would have knocked Mike out as he came in. 

Tyson was a lot quicker, though – people forget how fast he was and how good his anticipation was when he moved in on you. If I was still on the dole I wouldn’t put my giro on this one. Wow. We might have to come back to this one later. What people also forget is that Liston beat Cleveland Williams twice at a time when Williams was knocking everyone out. He did him twice, so maybe he’d have met Tyson head on, backed him up and stopped him. We’ll do Frazier next then maybe revisit this one. 

The easiest one for Tyson was Frazier. I loved Joe Frazier. The man who beat Muhammad Ali in ‘The Fight Of The Century’ – and it is still the biggest sporting event of all-time – was at his absolute peak. We talked about it before, your peak years are a funny thing and Frazier was never the same again after that night. He had a few big nights, but was never the same fighter. Tyson was all wrong for Frazier; too strong, powerful and fast.

The problem with Tyson was that he was seen as a potential all-time great then his personal life kicked in and his boxing ability was diminished by bad living. I loved Frazier yet Tyson was all wrong for him and he’d have knocked him out. Frazier can’t walk into Tyson and go for it yet that is what he did with everyone he faced. Body punches, breaking you down and that ferocious left hook. A correct Tyson was all wrong for him. It’s an early knockout for Tyson, for me. Foreman was also all wrong for Frazier. Liston would have been, too. Frazier was as great as they came in terms of his achievements yet we can’t just say he’s one of our favourites and pick him based on that.

Mike Tyson was all wrong for Joe Frazier, says Billy Graham. Photo: www.joefrazier.com

Then you’ve got Foreman. I don’t want to sound like an old-timer here, but if you wanted to appreciate how great he was you had to live during those times and see him in his prime. Foreman knocked everyone out. His streak up to Ali was crazy. He was an Olympic Gold Medallist, he was a monster, and then he bounced Frazier all over the ring – I won money on that fight by betting on Foreman with my mate.

On the other hand, Tyson was a lot quicker than him. Foreman had a granite chin yet he was exhausted by the time Ali took him out. It was pure exhaustion that did for him. Tyson was almost as quick as Ali when it came to hand speed yet people don’t realise how masterful Foreman was at cutting off the ring. It was drummed into him by Archie Moore and Dick Saddler.

Ali ridiculed his footwork yet the reason Ali fought him the way he did is because George would be right on you within a few steps so Ali had to adapt. Tyson wouldn’t be able to do that and, for that reason, if I was on Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? I’d say my final answer is that Foreman knocks Mike out. I’m more confident taking a peak Foreman into a fight with Tyson than Liston – and I fucking love Sonny Liston, I named one of my lizards after him.

MUHAMMAD Ali was allowed to fight on for far too long. I can’t believe that he was allowed to fight Larry Holmes. I still cannot believe that those same people put him in against Trevor Berbick. I watched that Berbick fight again recently. Look at the way Ali walked into the ring that night. Fuck me. Can you honestly tell me that if you saw a bloke walking down the street the way he was walking that night you wouldn’t go up to him and say: “Are you okay, mate?” And he’s walking to the ring to fight Trevor Berbick. Come on now – who agreed to that nonsense?

I thought Ali was going to get killed against Foreman, most people did. The few people who picked him to win it thought it was going to be through movement so even they picked him for the wrong reasons. No one thought he was going to win that night. No one. His corner was shitting itself, the whole world was shitting itself, as we thought he was going to get destroyed. Ali conned George that night, he out-smarted him, but I don’t think he walked into the ring thinking that was how he’d do it. 

People say he should have retired after the third Frazier fight. No. That fight should not have happened, either. Ali was the most famous man on the planet after the Foreman fight. That was the moment for him to retire. I’m a boxing fan. I’m selfish and love ‘The Thrilla in Manilla’, and the fact he came back to beat Leon Spinks to win his third title. That doesn’t change the fact that if he had retired after Foreman he may have had some better health in his later years. 

Watching those fights in places like the Apollo in Ardwick Green on CCTV was something you can never quite explain to people. On some nights, I’d leave the venue in the early hours and have to walk back to Salford. I watched loads of fights in that way and loved it. On a few occasions, I was fighting the day after so I’d be up all night and the adrenaline rush would wake you up. I’d run home on those nights.

The problem for me with Ali is that it went on far too long. I watched him against Holmes on CCTV and it saddened me. It is also sad that Holmes gets underrated by the general public because he came after those big names. The proper fans rate him, he just doesn’t always get the respect he deserves. People blamed Holmes for what he did to Ali. I certainly don’t blame him. Holmes didn’t want that fight. He was a professional fighter who got offered a lot of money so he went through with it. 

Larry Holmes (left) was underrated by the general public. Muhammad Ali (right) left the sport as a poignant reminder of what can happen if a legend fights on too long.

The people around Ali were to blame. I spent some time with Angelo Dundee in Helsinki years ago. We’d have our meals together, chat about boxing and go for long walks. We also kept in touch after that over the phone as well. He was open to talking about any subject you can think of, except for Ali.

I liked Angelo, we had some great conversations, yet I’d ask the odd question about Ali and, although he never admitted it, I think he was a bit ashamed of what happened. People say that you can’t tell fighters what to do. What an absolute load of old bollocks that is. If you know that your fighter is fucked then it is your duty to tell him not to get into that ring and to do whatever you can do to stop that type of thing from happening. It is your duty of care as a trainer. The Ali stuff saddens me to this day, so I hope it still stands out as an example of what happens if you hang on in there for too long in boxing.

Billy Graham was talking to Terry Dooley.

Billy ‘The Preacher’ Graham.