Boxing lived up to its reputation as the theatre of the unexpected with Saturday night’s much-anticipated exhibition fight between Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. Shockingly, it wasn’t terrible.
The two quinquagenarian fistic legends fought to an unofficial split draw in their eight-round outing, which headlined a fast-moving, sleekly produced telecast from a first-time broadcaster filled with unexpectedly entertaining fights and seamlessly integrated musical performances.
Yes, the main event was nostalgia porn that promised customers a glimpse of what made Tyson and Jones such compelling athletes in their prime. But it improbably delivered. Tyson spent most of the night squarely in his opponent’s chest, conjuring the energy to explode with a combination once or twice a round. Jones, weighed down by inferior conditioning, spent most of the night keeping his distance, looking to peck away with counterpunches.
As it was sanctioned as an exhibition, there was no official scoring. But the World Boxing Council commissioned three former fighters to score it remotely and hand down an unofficial result. Christy Martin scored it 79-73 for Tyson, Vinny Pazienza (absurdly) had it 80-76 for Jones while Chad Dawson scored it 76-76. (The Guardian had it 79-73 for Tyson.)
Expectations for the event were so tempered that anything but a total farce could have been considered a win. But the entire event came off so well that afterwards Tyson was bubbling with enthusiasm to do it again as soon as possible.
The former undisputed world heavyweight champion said he wants to fight “once every two months” during a lengthy post-fight news conference, primarily to support his charitable efforts. “This is better than fighting for championships,” Tyson said. “We’re humanitarians now. We can do something good for the world. We’ve got to do this again.” He added: “It has to be competitive. I once had 15 fights in one year. Let’s just try and work closer to that.”
It wasn’t long before the idea was raised of Tyson fighting exhibitions against the present-day heavyweight champions, a prospect the self-described “egomaniac” did not dismiss outright. “They probably could take me now, but could they take me 10 fights later – if I have 10 fights?” he said.
Let’s not get carried away. Remember, the California State Athletic Commission approved Saturday’s event as an exhibition, and not without criticism. Tyson and Jones fought two-minute rounds instead of the usual three and used the larger 12oz gloves, which deliver less force than the 10oz standard for heavyweights. The highly controlled setting ensured the fighters’ safety. Andy Foster, the executive director of the CSAC, said Tyson and Jones would be on a short leash and the referee would be ready with a quick hook to intervene if it did get hairy. “We can’t mislead the public as to this is some kind of real fight. They can get into it a little bit, but I don’t want people to get hurt. They know the deal.”
Tyson, who weighed in at 220lb, made dramatic lifestyle changes in shedding more than 100lb on the road to Saturday’s comeback, adopting a vegan diet and building from 15 daily minutes on a treadmill to an exhaustive workout regimen involving running, biking and punching. It’s an inspiring story by any measure. But in this case, the journey must be the reward.
A stark reminder of the perils of our cruellest sport came directly before Saturday’s main event, when the YouTube influencer Logan Paul fought Nate Robinson, who was making his professional boxing debut. Robinson played basketball and football at the University of Washington before going on to a 10-year career in the NBA, which included three NBA slam dunk contest titles despite his modest 5ft 9in stature. But all of the innate athleticism in the world is no substitute for the toughness and fistic acumen that boxing demands. He went down three times on eight landed punches, the last of which rendered him motionless and face-down on the canvas for several anxious minutes. You don’t play boxing.
To watch Tyson beat back the encroachment of time and fight to regain briefly the form of his youth represents a longing for a time when we were younger, maybe a bit fitter and happier, less weighed down by the advance of years. But no matter how unexpectedly good he looked in brief flashes in an exhibition that exceeded all expectations, there’s no way he should be permitted to risk his long-term health in anything resembling an actual fight. Another 16-minute hit-and-giggle with Evander Holyfield in a controlled setting is one thing. A modified cross-generational session with Deontay Wilder is another altogether. After all this time, Tyson doesn’t need to sacrifice any more of himself for our entertainment.