October 23, 2021

Mike Tyson vs. Roy Jones Presents Boxing With a Moral Dilemma

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THERE have been plenty of big announcements this week, with exciting fights being made, the PBC coming back into play, speculation about big bouts returning before the end of the year but one announcement dwarfed everything else.

When Mike Tyson and Roy Jones signed a contract to meet in an exhibition in September 12 in California it set the internet on fire.

Every range of emotion was put into a colourful online mixing pot; excitement, sadness, remorse, curiosity… You could go on.

Tyson has recently turned 54 and has been inactive since the final fight of his career 15 years ago, a loss to Kevin McBride.

Jones is 51 and he hasn’t fought since 2018.  He won the last four fights of his career after a four-round defeat to Enzo Maccarinelli in Russia in 2015.

This exhibition pits the biggest sporting brand of the 1980s against the best fighter of the 1990s.

The news travelled far and wide and it travelled fast.

Editors ate it up and no doubt it’s done big hits for boxing pages that have toiled with the lack of crossover fights that usually have the mainstream searching around specialist sites like this one for their boxing fix.

Apparently social media site Triller stumped up $50 million for broadcasting rights and they will build up to it with a 10-part show.

The more aloof commenters after the announcement said it was only an exhibition and that both fighters would be just fine.

That’s the hope.

The reality is that the brain doesn’t like any trauma to the head. A Tyson punch at 50 per cent of what he’s clearly still capable of is not an exactly medicinal.

It’s set for eight rounds.

Andy Foster from the California Athletic State Commission said, “It’s an exhibition bout. Not a ‘try to use your best efforts’ type bout.”

Tyson has been down this route before. In 2006 he made money fighting with Corey Sanders, hitting him at one point so hard he had to hold Sanders up. If that’s the measuring stick then Jones-Tyson could descend into chaos. What if Roy takes a liberty, or Jones thinks Mike is too stiff? Are they really going to touch gloves, nod and just go back to work?

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It’s likely that both will spar plenty of rounds to get in shape.

The journalist in me who’s written extensively about head trauma winces and wonders why?

Both seem to be doing okay in life after boxing.

Then the writer with the freer spirit asks, why not?

Well, it’s because I would rather remember Tyson and Jones as they were at their best; Tyson the wrecking ball wiping out Spinks, Holmes, Bruno et al and Jones firing off shots from behind his back, ending Virgil Hill with a bodyshot and dazzling with every trick in a book only he could author.

That was an awful long time ago for both and no matter how good they look in their upcoming Rocky montages ahead of their September clash, no one has whooped Father Time yet.

The small manner of damage doesn’t go away, either, despite the names involved. The human brain does not cope well with trauma at the best of times, let alone as it grows older.

Jones has boxed 495 rounds as a pro, Tyson wreaked his professional havoc in 215 sessions. Add to that long amateur careers, the thousands of sparring rounds… It’s not an attractive picture.

I spoke to former world light-heavyweight challenger Crawford Ashley for my Boxing Life Stories podcast a couple of weeks ago. He thought there should be a Masters circuit, for fighters over 50 who have been retired 10 years. He still itched to fight while somehow finding a contentment and acceptance that his window had closed.

Of course, there are plenty who will call me a hypocrite for writing about this. Someone asked me if I would watch Tyson-Jones. In the current day and age with social media you’d have to go out of your way to miss it when it happens, with clips pumped through every outlet and highlights setting the web alight.

But I’m a boxing guy. I cover boxing. And I have a heightened nostalgic interest in the names involved even though common sense dictates that a Tyson who lost to Danny Williams and Kevin McBride nearly 20 years ago would not have improved and that Jones would have been best served retiring after he beat John Ruiz in 2003 – or at least fighting Tyson back then. He fought 37 times after that.

I will catch it. I won’t look forward to it with the same excitement as a fan who thinks Roy Jones still has 12 rounds of highlight reels in him or someone who thinks Tyson is preparing to face Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua or any of this era’s big men in a fairy-tale run at the title.

Tyson and Jones are now grizzled vets. Ex-fighters who can’t give up.

They know the risks. They know about the fire they play with, about CTE, long-term damage and acute fight night injuries. They will roll the dice, and they are being allowed to roll it.

Fighters who wound up hurt with slow declines, like Muhammad Ali, like Aaron Pryor, were asked if they had regrets or if they’d do things differently. Their answer for the cameras was always the same. They’d do it all over again.

There’s something about a fighter who needs to scratch an itch. There’s no telling him. You can’t make it go away. You just hope they get to scratch it and go on to live long and happy lives afterwards and that they get what they want, whether it’s one last night under the lights, acceptance, closure or a mixture of everything.