Many boxers in the history books drove fear into the hearts of their opponents, but Teddy Atlas believes one man set the blueprint.
Mike Tyson is often regarded as one of the most vicious and intimidating fighters one could face in a ring. George Foreman – at 6′ 3″ and 260lbs – often gained the psychological upper hand before the first bell rung.
“I think the original boogeyman, for me, was Sonny Liston. I think a lot of other followed after him. I think definitely Mike Tyson was influenced by his persona, trying to copy his approach as far as the stare, the villainous look, the empty look. Intimidating somebody.
Using a form of intimidation as much of a weapon as a left hook or right hand. To try and take something out of a fighter. I think there’s no doubt that Tyson looked to do that, and I think the model he used was Sonny Liston. And I believe George Foreman – the first coming of George Foreman – also followed a bit of the playbook.”
Liston knocked out Floyd Patterson in the first round of their 1962 fight to become world heavyweight champion. He would do the same – only four seconds longer – in their rematch.
Despite the destructive performances, he was painted as a man not fit to be champion by the press, and would play into this stereotype.
He lost his title against Cassius Clay the next year, and was stopped in the first round of their rematch, kick starting Clay’s – then Muhammad Ali – journey to becoming ‘The Greatest.’
The famed trainer and analyst also mentioned Roberto Duran, saying that the four-weight world champion’s fearsome attributes were completely genuine.
“I think Duran was on his own, he came from Panama a tough place off the streets, and I don’t think he even knew who Sonny Liston was. Other than Sonny Liston, I think Duran would be the next original boogeyman. That was real. That was created from his life.”
Duran would officially hang up the gloves in 2001 with 103 wins from 119 fights, 70 of those coming by knockout.