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Tyson-Jones an unabashed cash grab—but will it pay off?

Aaron S. Bayley

What's old is new. And on pay-per-view.

On Saturday, Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. will face each other in an eight-round exhibition bout at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The live digital stream is available from social networking platform Triller for $49.99. Given that HBO and Showtime charged people an exorbitant $99.95 to watch Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao fight in 2015, the price for Tyson-Jones isn't exactly highway robbery—although Tyson and Jones are 54 and 51, respectively.

Tyson last fought in 2005, when he quit against journeyman Kevin McBride in what was a dispirited, lacklustre performance. In his post-fight interview with Showtime's Jim Gray, Tyson was characteristically candid about his state of mind:

"...I don't think I have it anymore...I got the ability to stay in shape but I don't got the fighting guts I don't think anymore...I'm just sorry I let everybody down...I just don't have this in my heart anymore...I'm just fighting to take care of my bills, basically...I don't have that ferocity, I'm not an animal anymore...most likely I'm not gonna fight again...I'm sorry to disappoint the people, I wish they could get their money back some kind of way."

Win or lose, Tyson was always honest to a fault in his post-fight assessments. The words that came out of his mouth after the McBride fight are usually expressed by boxing analysts about fighters who don't know when to quit. While most past-their-prime fighters have trouble acknowledging their fading skills, Tyson could never be accused of being in denial. He faced the music with noise-cancelling headphones.

Jones, on the other hand, was guilty of not seeing the writing on the wall. In early 2003, things were looking rosy for Jones after he moved up to heavyweight and defeated John Ruiz—there was even talk of a Jones-Tyson fight, but it never materialized. After Antonio Tarver shocked the world by knocking Jones out in 2004, most observers wrote it off as a one-off. Besides, it could be argued that Jones never lost a single round up to that point. But then he was starched by tough journeyman Glen Johnson four months later. From that point on the wins were sparse and uneventful, while the losses were tragic and unequivocal. In 2009 he lost by TKO to Danny Green; in 2011 he was brutally KO'd by Dennis Lebedev; and in 2011 he was beaten senseless by Enzo Maccarinelli. In the moments preceding all three knockouts, Jones backed toward the ropes and turtled, failing to block incoming uppercuts and overhand rights. The once "Mr. Undroppable" had become exceedingly droppable. It was a precipitous decline that was hard to watch.

Jones' last fight was a meaningless win over Scott Sigmon in 2018. Though he is technically the fresher fighter and higher up on the all-time pound-for-pound list than Tyson, he's also suffered more concussions. Tyson was beaten soundly by Buster Douglas, Evander Holyfield, and Lennox Lewis, but the accumulation of head shots the once evasive Jones endured in his final fights tells a harrowing tale. If anyone should not have been cleared to fight on Saturday, it's Jones.

It's no secret that both Tyson and Jones squandered the money they made in their primes. Tyson was ripped off by promoter Don King but also spent money on foolish pursuits and eventually filed for bankruptcy in 2003. Jones poured money into failed business ventures, like Square Ring Promotions and a rap label that went nowhere. Tyson's appearances in The Hangover films and his successful autobiography and best-selling book about Cus D'Amato have helped his financial recovery. Jones, who as a four-division champion, is a more accomplished fighter and a boxing legend in his own right, doesn't have the household name recognition or pop-cultural relevance—and hence bargaining power—of an "Iron" Mike Tyson. Jones is set to make between $1 and $3 million from the fight; Tyson, a cool $10 million. Tyson-Jones is an obvious cash grab, but it's also a way for both former champions to boost their social media followings, and for Tyson to promote his fledgling Legends Only League, created, presumably, for washed up athletes who still want to compete. Viral video clips of both fighters hitting the pads are impressive but revealed nothing about their fitness level or ability to take a punch. Enough time has passed for the enduring Tyson mythology to cloud the reality of the lethargic, self-defeated Tyson of his final fights. Tyson looks fit for a 54-year-old man, but he probably didn't train as hard as he could have. Same goes for Jones. At the Friday weigh-in, Jones, who was always in impeccable shape, looked disappointingly fat. Joe Rogan, who a colleague of mine referred to as "Oprah for meatheads," has been talking up the fight for months and had both Tyson and Jones on his podcast, but all the hyperbole in the world can't turn Tyson into the Baddest Man on the Planet again. And it's hard to take the event seriously when YouTube influencer Jake Paul is fighting on the undercard.

It's doubtful that Tyson and Jones have the hunger they possessed in their youth. They're older and more prone to reflection and even despondency. But fans both young and old have been watching YouTube clips of both fighters in their primes, and nostalgia combined with selective amnesia is a powerful one-two combination. Tyson-Jones probably won't break any pay-per-view records, but the anticipation of seeing the two icons in the ring together will seduce enough fans to make the event mildly successful. Tyson still has power but lacks stamina; Jones still has hand speed but his legs are shot. Whatever transpires in the ring on Saturday, it will be a shadow of what could have and should have occurred 15 years ago. We'll soon find out whether Tyson wishes their was a way for people to get their money back.


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