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Mike Tyson says today's boxers lack the 'big personalities' to propel sport

Lee Cleveland Updated
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Legendary fight promoter Don King once stated years ago, "These fighters need a personality transplant."

And yes, a boxer can be 100-0 but if the public doesn't embrace him he won't sell tickets and no one will care about him.

Former heavyweight champion and boxing legend Mike Tyson understands it takes more than ring accomplishments to be a big star these days.

In Mumbai to promote the new Kumite 1 League mixed martial arts competition, Iron Mike told the media he'd be a rare commodity if he fought today.

"It's just different because they are not the big personalities," said the 52-year-old Tyson.

"Most of the (current) fighters are very straightforward guys. They are real nice guys, and they are good individuals."

"I was always in trouble. I was always here and there so that's why I was always in the papers and that's why it's different. These are really straight gentlemen guys."

What Mike meant was: 'He was controversial.' Although, he was in trouble too. 

So, is Mike Tyson correct?

Answer: Partially. A fighter doesn't have to be in trouble or controversial to be a star. That stated, controversy in almost any industry sells. (Floyd Mayweather anyone?)

Mike was controversial and the epitome of destructive in the ring. His ring presence mirrored his personality and when he fought, win or lose, there was a certain electricity he brought with him. But make no mistake, the level of controversy surrounding Mike Tyson certainly boosted his popularity and overall juice with the public.

Twisted but true
When Tyson returned from his 4 year prison stint for rape, his subsequent fights were headline news in the mainstream and his purses soared. In fact, his first comeback fight against lightly-regarded Peter McNeeley set all kinds of records. For the McNeeley fight, Iron Mike would pocket a then-career high of $25 Million. And in subsequent bouts against Frank Bruno, Bruce Seldon and Evader Holyfield (twice), Mike would earn $30 Million apiece. And keep in mind, those salary sums are by mid 1990s standards. Purse equivalents today would put Mike in the $45-48 Million range.

But, positive gimmicks sell too
A fighter doesn't have to be convicted of a crime or display poor behavior to have juice with the public. Manny Pacquiao is a fine example of a well-liked, internationally-popular athlete who intrigues the masses (in a good way). Manny has a crowd-pleasing style, is charismatic and humble, and committed to charitable causes; Not to mention, he's also a senator.

And let's face it, prior to Manny's ascent, the public wasn't used to seeing Asian boxers on such a high level level so he stood out the same way black Jackie Robinson stood out in Major League Baseball when the color barrier was broken in 1947. And in the same way Tiger Woods stood out in the late 90s. In the latter's case, Woods became even more popular because top golfers a) weren't that young and b) didn't look him. Already the world's top golfer back then, he became even more popular due to his combination of youth and ethnicity, which proved to be huge gimmicks that increased interest in him exponentially.

Canelo Alvarez doesn't have Manny's charisma but, like PacMan, has a crowd-pleasing style in the ring. In addition, there have been very few, if any, red-haired, white-skinned Mexicans to excel at boxing. He's a Mexican who looks like an Irishman, so he stands out more than the typical star.

And speaking of fighters of Mexican descent, Oscar De La Hoya had several gimmicks at his disposal. For starters, by winning the Gold Medal at the 1992 Olympics, Oscar was a mainstream athlete even before turning pro. Combine that with his entertaining style in the ring, dashing good looks and likable persona and it's no wonder why he became must-see TV.

A fighter doesn't have to say in "trouble," although the unfortunate truth is it probably wouldn't hurt for ticket sales. And a fighter doesn't have to be controversial, although that would certainly help boost his stock. Most of all, a fighter needs a gimmick, and preferably more than one, to capture the imagination of the public.

De La Hoya's rise to fame was very similar to Sugar Ray Leonard's some 16 years earlier.

There are a lot of great boxers today, such as Deontay Wilder, Oleander Usyk, Vasyl Lomachenko, Errol Spence and Terence Crawford. Any of those fellas would have held their own in other eras. However, with all the entertainment options (1,000 plus cable channels, YouTube, Netflix, Facebook and Instagram) out here today, it's harder than ever win a person's attention, even if for just an hour.

In Mike Tyson's day, entertainment options were far more limited because the public's attention wasn't pulled in so many directions. In the 80s and 90s, for example, even non-fans were familiar with and respected stars like Evander Holyfield, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Larry Holmes and Julio Cesar Chavez.

... And once a fighter has name recognition, building a fan base is easy.

Today, star fighters must endear themselves to the masses like never before because the competition for the public's attention is so fierce. 

Fighters don't need to be in trouble — Promoters need to be more creative.


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