Mike Tyson’s comeback bout was an exhibition alright. Exhibition of the fact that the boxing great isn’t out to make a mockery of the sport, or himself. Not yet, at least.
With 105 years, 131 pro fights, 91 knockouts and multiple world titles between them, Tyson and Roy Jones Jr took the ring on Saturday with only one thing to prove: buying the ‘fight’ on pay-per-view (PPV) wouldn’t be a waste of time and money. And the pair delivered.
The California commission had already declared that there will be no ‘official’ winner. And the three celebrity judges World Boxing Council (WBC) had invited too consciously spread the points to secure a draw. Both boxers thus walked away with the newly-minted WBC Frontline belts, and satisfied customers and colleagues.
George Foreman said it was the “best exhibition I have ever seen”, David Haye called it “competitive” while Richie Woodhall said the duo “didn’t disgrace themselves in any shape or form”.
While the directive was to not go too hard, Tyson, in his signature black short shorts, attacked from the opening bell. Swaying and ploughing forward, digging into the body, double, triple-jabbing and trying to land that fabled right hook-right uppercut combination. All with the footwork and head movement to boot. Jones too rolled back the years with the lateral movement, jumping side to side and connecting flashy no-look jabs to the face.
Age, however, soon kicked in, as the 54 and 51-year-olds drew heavy breaths and clinched. Still, Tyson, the bigger and older of the two, showed more power and better conditioning. Jones was exhausted midway through the eight two-minute-round contest. Tyson looked like he could go two more. While his opponent would shuffle to the corner at the end of the rounds, panting, Tyson stood and stared menacingly.
“You can see it coming. You can see his stuff coming, right?” inquired Jones’ cornerman after the first round. “Somewhat,” the boxer exhaled.
The meeting was on the bucket list of Jones, whose challenge was ignored by Tyson who walked away from the sport after the upset loss to Kevin McBride in 2005.
“I understand why they say some things are bucket list because when (Tyson) hits you, if it’s his head, his punches, his body shots, it don’t matter. Everything hurts,” the former four-division champion explained after the contest. “I like him, but the dude is so strong.”
Over at the announcers’ desk, hip hop artist Snoop Dogg was a little eager with his opening-minute zinger: “This sh*t like two of my uncles fighting at a barbecue.”
You only had to look at the rest of the commentators to discern whom the event was playing to. Along with Dogg, leading the pack was veteran combat sports announcer Mauro Ranallo, who gained mainstream cred during his tenure with the WWE. UFC’s undefeated middleweight champion Israel Adesanya was debuting as a commentator while boxing legend ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard lent some credibility.
The event was criticised by purists as an anti-sporting spectacle, who questioned the safety of the two fifty-something main eventers. And while the signature act was a throwback to the pre-YouTube age — when the only buffering was Michael Buffer’s pompous ring introductions — the co-main event was a sign of the times, pitting YouTuber Jake Paul against former NBA player Nate Robinson.
To his credit, Paul, 23, knocked the three-time Slam Dunk champion out cold. That’s two pro wins in a year for Paul, but is he any good? Tough to say when his opponents have been so bad. Robinson kept rushing in with no plans and was sent to the canvas thrice, the last one a firm two-minute faceplant which ended the fight and prompted ribbing from the NBA community.
“That was no representation of the NBA Family lol (sic),” tweeted Nick Young, while Thad Young invoked Ali-Frazier in his call: “Damn Nate … “Down goes Frazier!”
The biggest burn came from former Golden State Warriors teammate Steph Curry, whom Robinson had assured the day before with the tweet: “Gonna shock the world.”
“I see no lies,” replied Curry seconds after Robinson’s knockout.
Robinson’s brutal defeat also raised further safety concerns. The 35-year-old had challenged Paul earlier this year and went into the fight with three months of training. Professional debutants usually begin with four-round bouts. But
Robinson’s career began with a six-rounder, and he was out of it in the first itself but was allowed to continue by the referee because of the intrigue.
“Nate don’t need to be in there with no headgear. You can’t play boxing (sic),” explained two-time Olympic champion Claressa Shields. British cruiserweight Isaac Chamberlain added: “These YouTube celebs are making boxing a joke. That’s a serious knockout because the ref gave him every chance to continue for the fans. This is a farce.”
Paul meanwhile called out MMA megastar Conor McGregor for his next fight, because of course, he did.
‘Boxing owes YouTubers’
Tyson — who admitted “I didn’t know (Jake) existed until my sons wanted to fight him one day,” and was in attendance to watch Paul’s elder brother Logan make a similar debut in 2018, backed up the YouTube boxers.
“Listen, my ego says so many things, but my reality is they help boxing so much,” Tyson told reporters after the fight.
“Boxing owes these guys, they owe these YouTube boxers some kind of respect. They should give them some belts because these guys make boxing alive. Boxing was pretty much a dying sport. UFC was kicking our butts, and now we got these YouTube boxers boxing with 25 million views. Boxing’s going back. Thanks to the YouTube boxers.”
Tyson, meanwhile, clearly wants more. “We gotta do this again,” he said and stared intensely at Jones, who replied with “I’ll speak with my family.”
But Tyson knows the risks — when Jones was asked if he was afraid of getting hurt before, Tyson interrupted: “I didn’t fight in 20 years, he only stopped fighting for three years… why’d nobody care about my ass?!” — and to temper the expectations: “This is better than fighting for championships. We’re humanitarians now.”
With novelty and nostalgia factor gone, interest might be lower when Tyson makes another walk to the ring. But this outing proved that he will be back, and people will watch.
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