During any other calendar year, Saturday’s heavyweight exhibition match between Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. would feel as normal as a zombie apocalypse. Yet for better or worse, it’s somehow par for the course in 2020.
The legendary boxing champions will lace up the gloves one more time inside an empty Staples Center in Los Angeles for an eight-round pay-per-view showdown that is high on nostalgia but short on guarantees that the entertainment value will be worth the price of admission.
The central cause of such uncertainty is the California State Athletic Commission’s careful handling in putting on the event.
Given the combined age of 105 for both fighters and the fact that the 54-year-old Tyson (50-6, 44 KOs) hasn’t fought professionally in 15 years, the CSAC’s precautionary stance makes sense. But it has also created a certain amount of confusion for both the fighters and potential willing customers.
CSAC executive director Andy Foster has been steadfast about a select set of non-negotiable provisions including larger gloves (12 ounces) and two-minute rounds, even though the contest will be held without headgear. Yet it’s Foster’s insistence that there will be no winner and that each fighter will not be allowed to go for a knockout that feels antithetical to the default intention of each competitor.
“Who goes in the ring with the great, legendary Mike Tyson and thinks this is an exhibition?” Jones said during the October teleconference to promote the fight. “Twelve-ounce gloves and no head gear and this is just an exhibition? Come on, be for real. Who prepares to face one of the most dangerous knockout punchers in the history of boxing and doesn’t prepare for a real fight?”
Jones (66-9, 47 KOs), who was active as a professional as recently as 2018, has repeatedly said during interviews that he’s not only going for a knockout, he’s willing to fight for his life inside the ring against the naturally larger Tyson should the bout call for it.
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Foster has countered such claims publicly by saying the fight is for entertainment purposes only and will be stopped at the first sign of blood. He also echoed his previous stance by insisting the event can look no more intense than “hard sparring.”
“Listen, I don’t know what’s not a real fight,” Tyson said. “You have Mike Tyson and Roy Jones. I’m coming to fight and I hope he’s coming to fight. That’s all you need to know.”
The fact that both competitors have so willingly defied the constraints placed upon the event could help add intrigue to what has already been a dreadful promotion. But the commission’s hard stance could also potentially cripple any hope for reckless excitement, placing a ton of pressure on the shoulders of appointed referee Ray Corona.
Either way, the WBC certainly didn’t miss a shot to link its brand to the fight by announcing that both fighters will take home a ceremonial “Front Line” title emblazoned with “Black Lives Matter” on the front of the belt. WBC chairman Mauricio Sulaiman has also appointed veteran boxers Christy Martin, Vinny Pazienza and Chad Dawson as judges who will each pick a winner, although Foster has subsequently claimed all three will do so remotely in nothing more than a ceremonial role where they won’t be scoring round by round.
So the question then becomes, why are we doing this? For Tyson, its for reasons that go far beyond money, especially considering he has vowed to donate his purse to charity.
Tyson claimed he had started to become overweight and was urged to begin running again by his wife. The sudden turn to fitness triggered Tyson’s competitive and addictive side. Suddenly, the fighting spirit and love for the sport that was noticeably absent from the second half of Tyson’s career returned.
“[In 2005,] I was happy to leave the ring. I dreaded even being in the ring. I was on drugs back then and I was a whole different person,” Tyson said. “But I have the desire to do this now. I just feel magnificent. I was training and a light bulb went off in my head.”
First, Tyson said he was offered the opportunity to box former pro wrestling and MMA star Bob Sapp. That conversation evolved to an offer to instead face former heavyweight champion Shannon Briggs. As the idea of Tyson returning continued to grow (and eventually expanded to what he hopes will become a series of all-sports PPVs called the “Legends Only League”), eventually the name of Jones popped up.
Although the 51-year-old Jones is naturally smaller than Tyson, having won world titles between 160 and 175 pounds throughout his prime, he did shock the world in 2003 by moving up to heavyweight in a one-off to outpoint John Ruiz and claim the WBA title. The aftermath led to brief talks about Jones potentially facing a then-faded Tyson for big money, but the fight never came together.
“When you get a call that says Mike Tyson wants to fight you, that’s bucket list material,” Jones said. “Everywhere I go in life, the first thing a young kid would ask me is, ‘Hey, have you ever fought Mike Tyson?’ Now, I don’t have to say no anymore.”
While the opportunity to be Tyson’s dance partner seemed too good for Jones to pass up, it’s clear that getting a chance to potentially finish his career on his own terms was a big draw for Tyson, as well. Despite being inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2011 and owning the historic footnote of being the youngest heavyweight champion in history, Tyson spent more years being a self-destructive attraction than viable elite.
For years after his retirement, Tyson was very open about how ashamed he was about his fighting days and his behavior during those years. Although he eventually rebounded from years of drug and alcohol abuse to rebrand himself commercially as an actor and star of his own one-man show, it wasn’t until he experimented with psychedelic drugs that he found true healing and came to terms with his fighting persona.
“The last time I was 215 pounds, I believe I was 18 or 17 years old,” Tyson said. “I’m really happy with everything I have been doing and it’s just total confidence and self-admiration. I’m just so happy and ready to do this stuff.
“My mindset is totally bliss. This is something I have done all my life since I was 13 years old. I am now more evolved than I have ever been. My objective is to go in there with the best intentions of my life and disable my opponent. That’s just what it is.”
For Jones, who has found successful second lives in boxing as a trainer and accomplished broadcaster, he also took seriously his role in suiting up one more time to provide a distraction for his fans during such a difficult time.
“How can you say, at a time when we are going through COVID and everybody is faced with adversity, why wouldn’t you want to be someone who gives people something to look forward to?” Jones said. “So when you get the biggest adversity to ever knock on your front door and ring your phone, how can you say no?”