Very few boxers have made an impact like Mike Tyson. It’s extremely rare for a boxer to transcend the sport so much that even people who haven’t watched a single boxing match know their name.
Tyson was one of these few chosen ones, and he reached extraordinary levels of success. While his out-of-the-ring persona definitely gathered a lot of attention, it was his vicious peek-a-book style of boxing that left a trail of bodies in the ring that coined him ‘The Baddest Man on the Planet’.
Fortunately for us, there is a lot of information about the physical and mental methods Tyson used to become Iron Mike. In this article, I will try and distill all the most important pieces of his development and training in his prime.
You can watch my video version or continue reading below:
Upbringing and meeting Cus D’amato
Mike Tyson was born on June 30th, 1966 in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. He had very troubled young years just like many of his peers. Living only with his mother in a crime-ridden neighborhood, by the time he was 13, Tyson had been arrested 38 times for petty crimes. His first encounter with boxing came through a juvenile detention center counselor and former boxer himself, Bobby Stewart.
He was the man who arranged the fateful meeting between young Mike Tyson and the man that would completely change his life and become a world champion-Cus D’amato. It would take merely 7 years since this meeting for Mike to become the youngest heavyweight champion in the world.
The teachings of Cus D’amato
Throughout his entire life, Cus D’amato was around fighters, training, coaching, and observing them. He opened his first gym at the age of 22, and it was his lifelong dream and mission to find the rough diamond that he could shape into the world’s best fighter.
He had the formula for the perfect fighter, all that he needed was the final ingredient. And after a lifetime of effort, fate met him with Mike Tyson.
It has been stated millions of times how important the teachings of D’Amato were for Tyson. It’s not so much the technical aspect as it is the philosophy and mindset that Cus instilled in his fighters. For him, one of the most important aspects of a boxer was his character, and bringing out the character in fighters was his main task.
In his own words, igniting the spark and then feeding the flame until it becomes a fiery blaze. Cus was a great psychologist, looking for a way inside his boxer’s mind from where he could instill the necessary knowledge and mindset to become a champion.
He taught Mike the mental control over his own psyche that gave him unwavering confidence. No fighter can do battle with the pure ferociousness of Tyson without an unwavering resolve and belief. For many people, this is what made Mike Tyson special. Not that his physical attributes and boxing style were not impressive, but his mentality perhaps played the biggest role in his enormous success.
To find out more about the whole story I recommend you read: Iron Ambition: My Life With Cus D’Amato.
Other trainers and accomplishments
Cus D’Amato was instrumental in creating Iron Mike Tyson, but he was not the only trainer that worked with Tyson even before his death in 1985. Famous trainer Teddy Atlas, then at the start of his training career, trained Tyson in his amateur years, before they had a fallout in 1982. That role was handed to Kevin Rooney, who oversaw the second part of Tyson’s amateur career and his first 35 professional fights. The other prominent trainer Mike worked with was Rich Giachetti, who prepared Mike for a few fights in the 1990s.
All of them helped Tyson amass incredible accolades. He had 58 professional fights, of which he won 50, with 44 knockouts. These numbers do not tell the full story, though. Tyson fought with unparalleled ferocity as a young and hungry lion, winning his first 19 fights with knockouts, 12 of them in the first round. He then became the youngest heavyweight champion at only 20 years of age and went on to simultaneously hold the WBA, WBC, IBF, and lineal heavyweight titles.
His later career was marred by controversies in and out of the ring that surely spoiled the possibilities for many more accomplishments. But nevertheless, Tyson has a legacy that will most likely remain untouched by future generations.
Up until the biggest upset in boxing history, when Buster Douglas knocked him out. Tyson had the aura of an untouchable predator, the absolute pinnacle of the unarmed fighting food chain. And after we‘ve briefly gone through what created his mentality, it’s finally time to see how exactly Mike trained his body to match his mind.
The all-important cardio
For this entire segment, we will focus on the prime period of Mike Tyson. It was at this time when he was truly the unbeatable “The Baddest Man on the Planet.” Luckily, we have pretty detailed information and videos of how Mike trained under Kevin Rooney during his first championship reign.
Many people believe that if Mike hadn’t left Rooney in 1988, he could have very well remained undefeated. As you might imagine, Tyson’s training was insanely intense and was another aspect that set him apart from his foes.
We have to start with the cardio because without gas in the tank, even the most powerful car won’t move an inch. Mike Tyson’s genetics made him explosive and powerful beyond measure, but he was never a volume puncher. On the rare occasions when opponents managed to survive the initial rounds, it became clear that Tyson’s musculature, which was so explosive, did not fare so well in the endurance department. But this does not mean that Mike did not train extensively in his cardio.
No boxer in the previous generations neglected running, so neither did Tyson. Each morning, or might I say late at night, started with a 3-to-5-mile run. Tyson rose at around 4 am for his jog. It’s not that this was mandatory, but this is yet another one of those small things that gave him the psychological edge over the opposition. (Check out my article on why boxers run here)
Another mandatory aspect of every boxer’s training is skipping rope. Mike used the rope as another way to demonstrate his otherworldly explosiveness, doing lightning-fast double and triple under while squatting halfway to the ground.
The Peek-A-Boo Style
Tyson fought with a very specific and not very common style called peek-a-boo, created by his tutor, Cus D’Amato. The Peek-a-boo is a boxing style that emphasizes counter-punching, but contrary to regular counters, which are usually delivered while on the back foot and from a distance. In the peek-a-boo style, the fighter applies aggression and forward momentum, pressuring the opponent to throw an attack that is then countered.
This style features a stance where both fists are on the cheeks and the fighter constantly bobs and weaves from side to side, evading and countering with sharp combinations.
The peek-a-boo style used by Tyson also employs a lot of shifting footwork that works on multiple levels at the same time. The specifics of the style require significant explosiveness to work, and this made it perfect for Tyson’s physique.
You weren’t expecting shadowboxing to be missing from Mike’s training, were you? A prime Mike Tyson shadowboxing is a thing of beauty. It’s always mesmerizing to watch such inhuman speed and precision. His every move promised perfectly trained violence.
The heavy bag is most of all a tool to develop punching power, and Tyson had an abundance of that. Shadowboxing, heavy bag work and pad work were an everyday part of his boxing training. His punches on the heavy bag were like the sounds of a firing shotgun.
Mike would train specific skills, combinations, and sequences on the pads with this coach daily. Many of the recorded drills we watch, later became real knockouts in the ring. It’s really fascinating to watch him work with the likes of Rooney and Atlas when he was younger, you can tell he’s really taking the time to absorb the information before he puts it into practice.
Cus D’Amato was an old-school trainer and, as such, believed that the only way to be a good boxer is to box. So sparring for Mike was daily. He would spar 10-20 rounds every single day and even sometimes do it without headgear. Cus believed that headgear gave fighters a sense of false protection. And today we know that headgear may prevent artificial damage like cuts and bruises, but does not help at all with brain damage.
Mike was very elusive and hard to hit in his early career. A big part of that, no doubt, was his boxing-specific training. Despite the insane number of sparring rounds, he would also spend a lot of time drilling specific things.
His shadowboxing and mitt work sessions often focused on a single technique or scenario he wanted to improve on. The sparring rounds then provided the opportunity to test it.
Strength and Conditioning
Tyson was famous for his insane callisthenic routines. They were simple but brutal. He would split his overall routine into 10 sets of the following:
- 500: bench dips
- 500: pushups
- 2,000: sit-ups
- 500: squats
He would do it throughout the day, which honestly does not make it any less impressive. Have in mind that this was done as a supplement to all the boxing training and the running. Mike was well known to avoid the weights, but he did have a favorite exercise that he did weighted and that was the shoulder shrugs. Around 500 of them were part of his daily routine, along with the bodyweight exercises outlined above.
Mike also extensively trained his neck in addition to the trap development he got thanks to the shrugs. He did a lot of wrestler bridges that got his neck to almost 20 inches in thickness. But if you are going to withstand heavyweight punches, you definitely need a strong neck.
It was a very simple strength and conditioning program, but no one can argue it produced exceptional results. This could demonstrate that there is no need for overly complicated scientific-based workouts, or it could demonstrate that Mike Tyson was such a physical specimen that insane reps of the basic exercises were enough to develop him into the monster he was. Take it either way you like.
Diet and Recovery
Essentially, training nearly 8 hours a day, Mike ate a lot of food to fuel his insane regimen. He would eat around 3000-4000 calories a day from various sources. Another thing Cus D’Amato was ahead of his time, despite his age, was his nutrition knowledge.
Cus developed a balanced diet plan all the way back in the 60s, and he put Mike on it as well. He ate a lot of oats, milk, chicken, rice, protein shakes, and drank vitamin C-rich orange juice. He also occasionally ate pasta to refill his carbohydrate needs, which fueled his intense workouts.
While Mike was adamant in his training during his championship reign, he was not so disciplined with his food and would regularly eat his favorite cereal and ice cream. But I really doubt that, with the amount of training he had, there was any negative effect whatsoever.
Later years and return to the ring
Tyson’s reign of terror over the heavyweight division when he fell at the hands of Buster Douglas, became one of the biggest upsets in the history of boxing. He quickly rebounded and scored several more impressive wins, before he was sent to prison for nearly 3 years.
After he got out, he returned to the ring but never had the same untouchable aura around him. Nevertheless, Tyson managed to win the WBC and WBA belts back in 1996, becoming just one of the few men to reclaim the heavyweight crown. Then came his famous matches with Evander Holyfield, both of which Tyson lost. Mike fought until 2005, but in the later years, he was a shadow of the former champion he was.
15 years later, Mike decided to come back to the ring against fellow boxing legend Roy Jones Jr. The two met in November of 2020 in an 8-round exhibition fight. The fight did not produce the fireworks many expected, but it was very clear Tyson took the preparation seriously. This time his coach was the Brazilian Rafael Cordeiro, who is a famous MMA trainer.
We were treated with a lot of video material from his Jones fight camp. Tyson, despite being 54 years old, has gotten in great shape. We can only guess the exact training regimen he underwent, but I am certain it was not at the level of his early championship years.
Still, old Tyson still looked very much like Iron Mike and looked every bit as impressive in his training.
It’s only natural to want to know how world-class fighters train. Luckily for us, in the age of the internet, a lot of information is readily available, so we can study it and use everything that suits us.
Most of us know what Mike Tyson did to become one of the most dominating heavyweight champions in history, but this was his formula, and it wouldn’t be very likely for others to have the same level of success even if they replicated the exact training. But it’s always fun to dissect the routines of the greats.
Nothing in his physical training was truly special or different. Just insane amounts of boxing-specific training and countless sets of calisthenics. What set Mike Tyson apart and made him the most feared boxer on the planet was his unwavering resolve, character, and viciousness, developed in him by his mentor, Cus D’Aamato. Add to that the peek-a-boo boxing style, which seemed tailored exactly for Tyson’s genetics and body and you get a boxer that will remain one of the greatest and most memorable in history.
You can also check out more boxing training advice by visiting the link here or related useful articles below:
- Top 10 Exercises To Improve Hand Speed For Boxing
- 10 Exercises To Improve Your Reflexes For Boxing
- Shadow Boxing Exercises For Home Or The Gym
- 10 Exercises To Increase Your Punch Power For Boxing
- Simple Boxing Workout Routines For Home
- 6 Key Boxing Defensive Techniques – Hit And Don’t Get Hit
Oleksandr Usyk is quite often referred to as a bigger version of Vasyl Lomachenko, and to a certain extent that could be the case. In terms of their training, it is very similar to what both these...
Two time heavyweight champion of the world Anthony Joshua, is without a doubt one of the most well prepared athletes on the planet right now. When we look at Anthony Joshua’s supreme...