Joe Louis and Mike Tyson are two of the most explosive heavyweight punchers in boxing history, along with Jack Dempsey. One was a soldier-boxer betrayed by the country who he fought for, until he found rest in Arlington Cemetery.
Another was the prototypical man-destroyer, who was taken down himself by the demons that he let loose in the ring. There are a lot of similarities between these men, which often aren’t noticed. Both men fought from a crouch position patented by their trainers.
Joe Louis fought from the Blackburn crouch, which featured a lowered stance and a linked jab that was held lower than the right hand, which was used to parry punches. Mike Tyson fought from the peek-a-boo crouch, which was more parallel, hands held high, less reliant on parrying and other hand evasions and more on herky-jerky head-and-upper body movement.
However, Tyson was shorter than Joe Louis, at about 5’10 or 5’11 (depending on the source) to Joe Louis’ 6’1 1/2 , and had a shorter reach than Joe Louis, at 71” to 76”, so his options in the ring were limited.
Therefore, Tyson would alternate periods of bull-rushing his opponents with elaborate footwork and trying to move around his opponent’s jab. His weakness was that once he would get inside, he was susceptible to being tied up and held, because he would arc his punches from farther out in an attempt to land. But he had very fast hands, so he was often able to land. Joe Louis was more patient, and economical. He would jab, jab at his opponents from his crouch to break them down, and set them up for his power punches such as hooks from both sides or a right hand that destroyed upon detonation.
Joe Louis combination punching was pristine, and he is often held as the best heavyweight in this regard. Mike Tyson’s was good too, but his combinations were more predictable because he had pet-combinations he liked to land which required him to be in certain positions for him to get off But his combination punching was astounding, in that he would land from head-to-body and mix it upstairs and downstairs. Louis would keep his opponents guessing as to which punches would be coming, from what direction, and how many were coming, and they all hurt. Both men could fire off 5-6 punch combinations, which is very rare for a big puncher, and almost anomalous for a heavyweight power hitter.
Both men had stellar defense. But Tyson’s was better because he held his hands up, could block, slip, parry and weave under punches. He had arguably the BEST defense of any big puncher, and according to boxing historian Monte Cox, he would slip and duck 11 punches a round in one of his famous fights. This is only matched by Joe Frazier vs Muhammad Ali, in which Frazier would slip and duck 17 punches a round. There are some of his fights in which he could not be hit at all, and when he did get hit, his chin acted as a shock absorber to take the contact. Joe Louis was both more hittable and more vulnerable. He was dropped 10 times, and could be rocked on occasion. Because his left was held lower, he was susceptible to the power right hand, even though it took Max Schmeling over 12 rounds and 91 right hands to drop Joe Louis for the dreaded 10-count.
Joe Louis would take small shuffling steps with his feet to cut the ring off against boxers. Although he was not fast on his feet, he always had good positioning and leverage on his opponents to make up for it. He used his footwork to punch, and set up his big punches with his best footwork. Then, as boxers made the mistake of advancing, Louis. would step forward and let rip with his combination punching. Mike Tyson would move in on his opponents, but it was not in the straight line that Joe Frazier would use to cut off out-boxers. He would dip, and weave, and move around his opponent punches, like an angry bee swarm. Tyson would use his fast footwork to circle and cut off his retreating opponents. Once he got that positioning, he could use his punching prowess and underrated body punching to break his opponent down.