WWhen Mike Tyson announced that he was fighting an eight-round exhibition against Roy Jones Jr over Thanksgiving weekend after raising the idea of a comeback. On Instagram For most of 2020, you would have been forgiven if you dismissed it all as a cynical money grab.
Nostalgia is a powerful narcotic. And the unspoken charm of vintage exhibits like Tyson v Jones is that people are paying not for the product on offer, but for a memory, a feeling. Embedded in the sales pitch of a Tyson fight was the promise to transport the client, albeit briefly, to a fairer and better time that mostly exists in our memories.
But while that promise evoked a time when Tyson was a larger-than-life figure in the late 1980s, on top of a series of knockouts to become the youngest heavyweight champion in the world, I couldn’t help but think in the dark and early forgotten period of its history. When you thought back to the dark places he forced himself to inhabit to prepare for fights with Lou Savarese, Orlin Norris, Clifford Etienne, and Danny Williams, you wondered if this was something we really needed to see. And that’s putting aside the physical risks of a 54-year-old absorbing blows from a heavyweight opponent without a protective helmet, even with larger-than-normal gloves in a controlled environment. Hadn’t Tyson sacrificed himself enough for our entertainment?
As a promotion, Tyson v Jones broke all expectations. The pay-per-view made a reported 1.6 million purchases, a shocking figure that makes it the best-selling boxing event in recent years. One might read that as a harsh indictment of the current health of the sport, but above all it is a testament to Tyson’s resilience in the global sports consciousness. More than three decades after his brief but indelible reign as the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, Iron Mike remains not only the world’s most famous living boxer (and he’s not particularly close) but one of our most famous athletes.
The even bigger surprise, however, was the exhibition itself, which despite our worst fears was far from the sinister spectacle it probably deserved to be. Tyson clearly took his training seriously, coming in at 220 pounds, just around his fight weight during his title reign. He spent most of the night squarely on his opponent’s chest, conjuring up the energy to explode with a combination once or twice per round and forcing Jones to keep his distance, seeking to peck with counterattacks. The two quinquagenarian punchers fought for an unofficial split tie, which headlined a fast-moving, elegant television broadcast from a first-time broadcaster filled with unexpectedly entertaining fights and seamlessly integrated musical performances.
Of course, the expectations for the event were so subdued that anything that wasn’t a total sham could have been considered a victory. But the night mostly belonged to Tyson, who underwent dramatic lifestyle changes as he lost more than 100 pounds from adventure, adopting a vegan diet, and spending 15 minutes a day on a treadmill to an exhaustive training regimen that it included running, biking, and punching. Watching Tyson dig deep to find the best of himself today, put aside the villainy of pantomime and give a more honest explanation of himself than when he quit exhausted on his stool in his last pro fight against Kevin McBride in 2005, it was genuinely inspiring moment of redemption in any measure. Only at the end did we see that the journey was the reward.
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.