12 Strategies Every Boxer Should Learn From Mike Tyson

Since his first fight on 6th March 1985, the self-proclaimed “Baddest Man on the Planet” has etched his name in the history books.

Only second to Ali in popularity, Tyson’s aggression and tenacity baffle the boxing community till today. 

From 48 seconds knockout to 91 seconds knockout, generations to come will talk about Mike Tyson’s glory days.

Well, storytelling is for spectators, boxers have much more to learn from Tyson’s game. 

Elements of his boxing style are still revered and put to great use by today’s boxers. And today, we’d be doing just that.

Analyzing Mike Tyson’s boxing style and taking away some valuable lessons from it.

So, if you’re an aspiring boxer, stick around, you’ll drive home with some life-changing lessons. Here we go.

Peek-A-Boo Defense

The one who popularized this style of defense. In a peek-a-boo defense, Tyson advances towards his opponent with a great amount of head movements.

Never did he approach an opponent with hands carried low.

The simple slip outside and then a slip inside with constant head movement is what defines Peek-A-Boo style the best.

As you can see, Tyson is able to avoid his opponents’ initial jabs because of the natural side-to-side movements.

He’s able to achieve this because of his Peek-A-Boo defense which involved him stalking his opponent and charging but receiving minimum damage due to the head movements.

Contemporary boxers can learn A GOOD DEFENSIVE RESPONSIBILITY which was Mike’s natural style.

In the clip above, Tyson puts pressure on his opponent. However, he does so in a very controlled way.

He used to put direct pressure on his opponent through advancing and indirect pressure by moving around and going with them through constant feints.

He makes himself difficult to get hit and upon sensing an opening, he would be the first to capitalize and punish you.

Technical Aggressive Counter-punching

If there’s one aspect that defines Mike Tyson’s boxing style the best, it has to be aggressive counterpunching.

There’s a misconception amongst people when they refer to him as a brawler or just a puncher. Why? Because he’s an aggressive counterpuncher with great precision.

If you were to compare his counterpunching style with a boxer in present times, Gennady Golovkin is the most similar one. Look at some of his technical moves in the clip below:

By just looking at it, you can see that Tyson chases his opponent right off the bat.

He starts with splitting Michael Johnson’s jab and throws a jab of his own.

You’d see both fighters are changing head slots and shooting the jab. Johnson is the first one to land his jab, so what you’re looking at is a counter from Tyson.

The defensive responsibility shown here is great. As soon as Tyson lands his jab, he moves his head right after.

This results in two things: First, it protects him because his head is a moving target. Second, it doubles as a feint to the right side of Johnson’s body.

Tyson knows where his strength lies and thus, he intentionally positioned himself making Johnson defend his body for a body shot.

Mike Tyson senses his opponent’s movement and brilliantly steps his lead foot to his left and changes the angle with his trailing foot to create a beautiful opening.

He then lands a sweet right uppercut to Johnson’s head. Thus, he holds Johnson from moving to the right after baiting him into a left hook and then surprising him with an uppercut.

Spotting Vulnerability

Any boxer is extremely vulnerable and open to being countered when throwing a punch. When punching, you leave an opening every time.

Tyson being an aggressive counter puncher made the most of his opponent’s miscues and would end up punishing them.

Tyson’s style embodied feinting, making opponents miss punches and then counter. Tyson loved spotting vulnerability and counters.

If you see in the clip above, Tyson starts by stepping outside of his opponent’s shoulder.

He then pushes off his lead foot and steps his trailing foot to the right to completely change the angle of the attack. He constantly switches the tempo.

Now that he’s outside Long’s left shoulder, he finds himself in a perfect position to attack as Long is completely neutralized.

It shows how Tyson used to feed off of his opponent’s vulnerability.

If you look closely, he misses the straight left hand, however, he quickly composes himself, controls his opponent, takes a quick step back with his right foot to create an angle.

With this movement, not only is he able to create an angle but he is also able to create the required distance to land an uppercut.

Though he misses the uppercut, he follows it up with a quick left hook which is enough to drop Donnie. Yet another excellent display of skills from Tyson.

Iconic ‘Rising Jab’

By far, the most underrated aspect of Tyson’s arsenal was this jab. During his peak years, he used to employ this jab to inflict a tremendous amount of damage to his opponents.

Though jabs aren’t considered powerful, this Mike Tyson jab was certainly power-packed.

The key part in the jab was Tyson’s ability to combine skills including rolling, ducking, slipping and then stepping in with a jab.

If you watch closely, Tyson crouches slightly as he ducks on his way to this jab.

He effectively makes himself a smaller target and effectively increases the power of the jab with the upward momentum which is created by moving from a crouched position.

He used to use his technique to a great effect against taller opponents.

The majority of the time, Tyson wasn’t even able to land his jab on the opponent, however, he was still able to send his opponent backward due to brute force in his movements.

His rising jab was immensely powerful because of his insane power. Using the Elastic Band effect or the Recoiling effect, Tyson was able to hit jabs with great intensity.

Legendary Combinations

Perhaps the most critically acclaimed aspect of Tyson’s fighting style was his famous combinations. He generally used his jabs to set up his combinations.

A normal combination would involve jab with a feint followed by a left hook or a right hook.

For a heavyweight, Tyson had a remarkable hand speed which he used to his advantage.

In this clip above, you can see Tyson using the jab to set up his combination.

Tyson’s jab would usually freeze his opponents which would buy him the time to shoot the left or the right hook.

Though Biggs is trying to counter with a left uppercut by holding Tyson’s right-hand low.

He simply underestimated the speed of Mike Tyson and would eventually get beat to the punch.

Using Jab with a left hook in contemporary boxing is a great combination for a fighter with great hand speed.

Why so? Because the opponent doesn’t expect a second punch from the same side.

Conventionally, a jab is followed by a right hand but not in Tyson’s case.

As a boxer, you’re programmed to avoid 1-2. And thus, very few are blessed with adjusting or avoiding a left hook from the same hand.

Tyson usually ended the combination with a right hook to the temple.

Another iconic Tyson combination was left hook to the body followed by a left hook to the head. Both equally effective punches.

Mighty Tyson Left Hook

Mike Tyson Left Hook is the most devastating punch in boxing history. Most of Tyson’s knockouts were a result of a left hook. Let’s look at this venomous weapon in detail.

It’s very important to understand the mechanics behind power in a punch. Punching power is generated from body mechanics and is influenced by your feet.

When punching, your feet and hips are key to generate power and leverage, not your arms.

Your arms merely deliver the force. Whenever Tyson used to launch off his right foot, he used to throw his entire body weight behind the punch.

Tyson boxing

In the Image Above you can see that as Tyson lands the left hook, he squares up momentarily. This allows him to transfer maximum force into the punch.

At this moment he is not worried about the counter because let’s face it, no man at that time would dare to counter his hook.

By squaring, Tyson brings his right hand closer to his opponent’s jaw and can follow up with a right hand easily.

In this clip above, you can understand that Mike Tyson’s Left Hook is short and pretty close to his body.

His right hand is protecting his jaw whereas his left shoulders are raised high to protect his chin from the other angle.

Tyson always had good defensive responsibility and that’s evident here. Any good defense ought to have a built-in defense.

Even here, when he lands the left hook, he’s going to square himself up by moving his left foot forward and bringing his deadly right hand closer to his opponent if needed.

Crisp Movement

Iron Mike Tyson was simply a specialist at cutting off the ring. He was able to cut the ring virtually in all of his fights. In this clip below which features his fight vs Larry Holmes in 1988, you’ll see how Tyson cuts the ring to get on the inside.

As you can see in the clip above, you can see Larry Holmes circling to his left whereas Mike Tyson is naturally moving towards his right thereby laterally cutting the ring.

But what’s fascinating is that he’s moving diagonally and not just laterally. While moving sideways, he is also edging forward.

This is a masterpiece of a move as he slowly eats up the distance without Larry even realizing it.

However, Larry senses it late and still manages to move towards the right and Mike follows him by moving towards his left.

Often when Tyson’s opponent would find themselves in danger, they would shoot a jab.

Tyson would then respond by slipping the jab to his outside and move on the inside. And once he moved inside, it spells nightmare for his opponents.

Larry Holmes vs Mike Tyson was a technical boxer’s treat. In that fight, Larry was able to keep Tyson at bay in the early rounds.

Using a lead hand or a jab is an effective weapon against an aggressive fighter. In the initial rounds, Holmes was able to disrupt Mike’s flow with the help of his lead hand.

But such was Tyson’s brilliance that he would always work a way out. In this situation, he makes an adjustment to get rid of Larry Holmes’ lead hand. He does so by following adjustments:

  1. He attacks Holmes’ body trying to break it down to prevent Holmes from sticking out his left hand. Thus, every time Holmes sticks out his left, Tyson punishes him. You can see this in the clip below:

In the clip above you can see Tyson coming in and Larry trying to keep him at bay. See the thing is that boxing is a crucial chess match. 

Tyson knew that every time Larry stuck out his lead hand, he left his body vulnerable. And since Tyson was an intelligent fighter, he used this opening to inflict misery on his opponents. Thus, Holmes was checkmated by his own game plan.

2. Another way Tyson nullifies Holmes is by tricking him. Tyson could see that Holmes was tracking his head with the lead hand similar to a laser-guided weapon. 

Thus, Tyson uses a distraction to bypass the lead hand of Holmes.

As you can see in the clip above, Tyson’s coming in with Larry Holmes sticking out his lead hand and using it to track Tyson’s head.

However, Tyson’s uses it to trick Holmes. He starts by causing a distraction through pushing Holmes’ lead hand away knowing that Holmes’ is going to be eager to bring back his lead hand to where it was.

The Result? Tyson moves his head super quickly and makes it extremely difficult for Holmes to track his head. After a few quick head movements, Tyson moves on the inside by bypassing the lead hand.

Countering the jab

Mike Tyson was amazing at countering the jab. He was able to catch his opponent’s jab with his right glove and would shoot a parallel jab with his left. It would always help him catch his opponents as they tried stepping in with their jab.

This obviously resulted in Tyson’s jab being more dominant because his opponents were stepping into the punch.

In this clip above, Tyson catches the jab and proceeds by shooting his own jab. Aggressive punchers always like to counter, especially when you’re jabbing again and again.

Thus, you need to vary your jabs with respect to power, placement, and timing. For instance, you can target the body first, followed by the head and the gloves.

Mastering the close calls

A phenomenal aspect to Tyson’s game was that he was able to change levels and approach his opponents thereby making his opponents miss their target by smallest of margins.

He was a specialist at fighting taller opponents and would generally frustrate them by attacking low and staying protected behind his high guard defense.

He would then proceed to land big punches and derail a fighter.

In this clip above, you can see Tyson making his opponent miss his target by a fraction. Frank Bruno misses his jab by a fraction as it flies over Tyson’s head.

Using this, Tyson would rock his opponent’s body. Taller opponents simply feared Tyson because of his low-body approach which would leave them in agony.

Tyson, after ducking a punch against taller opponents targeted their body and specifically aimed at the nearest portion to his hand.

He would mostly use a right hook to cause devastating damage to his opponents. This shows that Tyson used to love fighting from a lower angle, especially against taller opponents.

Only a handful of fighters are better than Tyson when it comes to using aggressive quick fury combinations.

Tyson would use his momentum of the jab to set up an overhand with his right to the head followed by a left hook to the body.

Changing levels between punches

In the clip above, you can see Tyson coming in with a jab whilst changing levels. He moves his head to the right and approaches behind the jab.

This way, Tyson is able to transmit his weight over to the other side of the body.

It allows him the freedom to shift his weight back whenever required with a right hand over the outstretched arm of Frank Bruno.

The second major thing you see in the clip is no different from his trademark slipping a jab from the outside and then moving inside with an overhand right.

As Tyson came in, he changed his head direction and moved towards the right and came up with a jab of his own.

Everything he did primed his right hand and all he had to do was to shift his weight back over to the left by throwing an overhand right.

 In situations, where Tyson wasn’t able to find an opening for an overhand, he would quickly readjust levels to land a left hook.

Doing so from a cross position made the move unpredictable and caught his opponent on a blindside. Throwing left hook whilst changing levels always works wonders against tall fighters.

Cerebral genius, not a brawler

Finally, the last takeaway is to study Tyson’s bout from a technical standpoint.

He wasn’t just a destroying machine who looked like a brawler but rather a technical genius who’d use his force and power whilst using his opponent’s strength against them.

What looks like pure aggression to an untrained eye is, in fact, cerebral genius to a trained eye.

In the clip above, Tyson leads with a left hook to the body. He drives his opponent towards the ropes and then follows up with a beautiful left hook and right hook.

He then takes a split second to look for openings, and eventually, he sees an exposed body and then lands a right hook to Frank’s left side of the body.

This causes agony to Frank which makes him slip his guard a little and that’s where Tyson lands the killer uppercut.

A hook to the body generally makes your opponent drop his guard. You can thus sneak an uppercut throw the middle.

This is one of the best combinations you can use to unlock your opponent’s defense.

All-in-all Tyson fighting IQ and knowledge was vastly underrated. The last aspect that we’re going to cover is the Switching attack.

Switch the attack

All great boxers are able to switch the attack between the head and the body i.e. being able to move from punching to the head to punching to the body and vice-versa.

Using the levels to this advantage, Tyson was simply exhilarating in his movements. Adjustment and Improvement was a big factor in Tyson’s fights.

In this clip, you can see Tyson coming with a jab and presenting a small opening to his opponent.

It’s his way to changing attacks but at the same time, he is defensively smart as he is not offering too much room to his opponent.

The clip above is an excellent example of switching the attack i.e. changing the levels of attack.


Lastly, I’d like to leave you with the clip below. I hope you enjoyed this detailed analysis of Mike Tyson’s boxing style and how contemporary boxers can learn from arguably the best counter-puncher in boxing history.

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