The year 2020 continues to surprise. On Thursday, it was announced that Mike Tyson, 54, will face 51-year-old Roy Jones Jr. in an eight-round exhibition in California on Sept. 12. Tyson hasn’t stepped foot in the ring since 2005. Jones Jr. last fought professionally in 2018.
“It’s because I can do it. And I believe other people believe they can do it too,” Tyson said. “Just because we are 54, it doesn’t mean that we have to start a new career and our lives are totally over. Not when you feel as beautiful as I do, and I’m sure that other people feel the same way.”
There’s much to question about this bout, starting with safety for the fighters. There will be no headgear and there likely will be bigger-than-normal gloves worn.
Steve Kim, Nick Parkinson, Cameron Wolfe and Ben Baby discuss the bout, what it means for the legacies of both fighters and who else they’d like to see return to the ring.
What is your initial reaction?
Mike Tyson proves once again that he’s ready to step back in the ring with this intense workout.
Kim: That P.T. Barnum was correct — there’s a sucker born every minute. To be clear, these are grown men and if they want to do this, by all means, let them. Also, let the free market dictate how well this event does financially. But honestly, I think it’s dangerous for both participants and a bit farcical. Nobody can stop them from doing this, but at a certain point this almost seems exploitative. My hope is that they both make a few bucks and that nobody gets seriously injured in the ring.
Parkinson: There was still a certain amount of surprise despite Tyson’s ring return being widely speculated over the past few months. I thought and hoped it was a stunt, just idle talk spun out on social media. These two were the biggest names in boxing during their careers, but their paths never crossed as Jones mostly operated below heavyweight. It was a fantasy fight that never happened, so how could we get it now when they are retired?
To get them boxing each other in their 50s leaves me gobsmacked, warm with nostalgia as we remember their great moments, but also cold with regret that their comeback fight is a grubby, cash-grabbing circus act between two champions decades past their primes.
Baby: I rolled my eyes and swiped the notifications off my phone when I saw the news about this exhibition. There’s really no need for this to occur aside from a quick cash grab for both men. I get why it’s happening — they were two of the most exciting fighters of the past 30 years and obviously are still interesting to the general public. But I really don’t know how entertaining any of this will actually be.
Wolfe: It’s sad. I hope it doesn’t happen. It’ll make money and people will watch, but at what cost? Seeing legends in their 50s fight each other isn’t good for anybody but those making money off of them. I remember cringing while watching Kevin McBride retire the shell of Mike Tyson — and that was 15 years ago! I know it’s supposed to be an exhibition with larger gloves, but this just seems like a recipe for someone to get hurt.
Is this fight good or bad for the sport?
Kim: Honestly, it’s not a good look. They are in their 50s, and they haven’t been world-class fighters for a long time. But boxing is like a narcotic for many of these guys; they are addicted to it, regardless of the impact to their overall health. They simply can’t stay away, for one reason or another. For Tyson, it seems that it’s part of his spiritual renaissance of 2020, but for Jones it could be strictly a financial move.
It’s ironic. On a day ESPN runs a story on the top 25 fighters below the age of 25, it’s this story that will get the most traction. It’s a testament to the impact that both Tyson and Jones left on the sport. It’s also an indictment on the current state of affairs in the boxing business.
Parkinson: Both. For some, two fighting 50-somethings is a grotesque spectacle, and Tyson and Jones are tarnishing their reputations and fans’ memories of them in their primes. But, remember, both their careers ended on a downward slope and/or humiliating defeats anyway. How can this be worse than what they have already experienced? Because the physical damage could be far more damaging than any harm to their reputations.
Tyson is not the baddest man on the planet anymore, when his opponents were paralyzed by fear just by the sight of him walking to the ring in the 1980s. Jones is not the wizard he was in the 1990s, when his magic mesmerized opponents with incredible speed, breathtaking skills, feints and combinations. It will still, however, draw viewers and interest, many of them who weren’t even alive when Tyson and Jones were at their peaks. It also generates income for boxers on the undercard, and if Tyson-Jones creates a new boxing fan, it will have had some positive effect.
Baby: It’s atrocious for the sport and should be another major wake-up call for boxing’s top stars and matchmakers. It seems like since Floyd Mayweather fought Conor McGregor in 2018, some of the biggest boxing events have been gimmicks. YouTube personality Jake Paul, who is fighting former NBA player Nate Robinson on the Tyson-Jones undercard, was the headliner for a DAZN card during Super Bowl week in January. Frankly, it’s alarming boxing doesn’t seem to create much mainstream appeal without these events. It’s a shame the sport’s top promoters and fighters can’t create similar buzz despite the abundance of young, promising names in the sport.
Wolfe: It’s very bad. If it happens, it draws boxing back into an obsession over its past rather than drawing fans into a new era. The PPV fight will do numbers because of name value. Nostalgia sells, but it likely won’t be good boxing. Bad boxing is always bad for boxing.
How do you see this fight playing out?
Kim: Best-case scenario is that this is a glorified pillow fight and that people who pay for this card would ask for their money back. This way, you know that both guys — especially Jones Jr., who has been brutally knocked out more than once and is the much smaller man in there — come out safe. But as one trainer told me, the problem is that Tyson has heavy hands, and his style is rough and physical, regardless if it’s just sparring.
Here’s hoping that personal or professional pride and ego don’t get involved, and that both these men have some fun in there and nobody gets hurt. Even if this exhibition is fought with larger gloves, there is still the jarring of the brain, and a physical toll that is extracted each time you take punches. And keep this in mind, these are middle-aged men.
Parkinson: Jones is the younger at 51 by three years and had his last professional fight two years ago, compared to Tyson’s sad end against Kevin McBride 15 years ago. With Jones being more recently acquainted with the professional ring, and assuming he can produce some of the movement and ring craftsmanship of old, Jones “wins” the exhibition by decision or late stoppage.
Baby: A few interesting moments could happen here and there. But do either of these guys have the strength to truly hurt each other? That seems unlikely. And no matter what clips float around social media, I have a hard time either one of these guys can sustain the effort required to go a full eight rounds. But Roy Jones’ gift was his speed. Tyson had power. One of those things ages better than the other. So I’ll reluctantly take Tyson.
Wolfe: Both guys tire out by round 3 or 4 leading to a lackluster second half of the bout with Jones Jr. winning by unanimous decision. He’s the boxer most recently removed from real boxing action.
How would they have matched up during their primes?
Kim: They wouldn’t have, no natural middleweight would have ever dared tangle with the Tyson from 1986 to 1990. There is a reason why you have weight classes in this sport. And no disrespect to John Ruiz, whom Jones Jr. beat in a heavyweight fight to win a title, but to paraphrase Lloyd Bentson, ‘He’s no Mike Tyson’.
Parkinson: It would have been an unfair match-up. Tyson, at his best before suffering a knockout defeat to James “Buster” Douglas in 1990, would have taken out Jones in his prime in the 1990s simply because he was around 60 pounds heavier and was one of the most vicious boxers in history. Jones Jr. was more skillful during his reigns as super middleweight and light heavyweight champion, but he would have been overwhelmed by Tyson’s unrelenting aggression and power.
Baby: Tyson would have been too much for Jones Jr., who did most of his damage beneath the heavyweight division.
Wolfe: A prime Jones Jr. would have some success boxing Tyson with his hand speed and ability to move around the ring. He might even win more rounds on the scorecard, but Tyson’s power would eventually catch him dropping him multiple times. Tyson by late-round KO.
What other opponent would you like to see Tyson face?
Kim: None. It’s that simple.
Parkinson: I would rather Tyson’s return is for one night only, but if he wins, the talk will inevitably turn to Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis.
Wolfe: I don’t want to see Tyson face anyone! He’s been retired for 15 years. It should stay that way. For a fighter that has suffered some much punishment in the ring, returning back to that domain 15 years later in your mid-50s is the last thing he should do.
What current star would you love to see getting the spotlight on this undercard?
Ryan Garcia shows off incredible punching speed as he works through drills at his house.
Kim: Jaron “Boots” Ennis isn’t necessarily a star, yet, but he makes sense for a couple of reasons. He’s a talented young fighter who is still building his brand and needs more eyeballs on him. Also, he’s got a fan-friendly style that will entertain those in attendance, which is key. For a guy like him, there really is no downside to being involved in an event like this at this stage of his career.
Parkinson: Ryan Garcia. The 21-year-old unbeaten lightweight is a social media phenomenon and the Los Angeles native would do well in California, where Tyson-Jones will be staged. This story started with social media videos of Tyson training during the coronavirus lockdown, and there is a parallel with how Garcia has built up a following through video uploads of his own training, hand speed exploits. Garcia’s speed would be quite a contrast to the main event.
Baby: Since this whole premise is ridiculous, I want Shawn Porter fighting Terence Crawford. Because you know what we actually need on the undercard? A couple of legitimate guys at their primes who are willing to make an engaging fight. I don’t need to see a prospect stopping some journeyman to bolster a claim of how good they are. What boxing needs more than anything are top fighters agreeing to face each other to create some legitimate drama.
Wolfe: I’d love to see some real young boxing talent in need of eyeballs rather than just big-name gimmicks. I’d be interested in seeing an ascending young titlist on the card like Shakur Stevenson or Devin Haney or an exciting prospect like Edgar Berlanga or Daniel Dubois.
Are you going to watch?
Parkinson: Yes, out of curiosity. A lot of fight fans will be tuning in, or at least check out the highlights, even if they think it’s a farce. When two legends collide, you want to know the outcome, even if it’s not right and they are way past their best-before date.
Baby: If I don’t have any other plans that evening, I might flip it on.
Wolfe: I don’t want it to seem like I’m on this moral soapbox because these are grown men making their own decisions, but I’m not interested. I’d rather remember Tyson and Jones Jr. for their boxing brilliance in their primes. I understand why a lot of people will watch the fight, but unless I need to view it for work purposes — I won’t be one of them.