Two decades ago, this would have been the fight of the year, an event that could have captured the world’s attention.
Roy Jones Jr. against Mike Tyson, two of the biggest names the sport has known in their era.
Jones was considered the sport’s pound-for-pound king in 2003, having gone from light heavyweight to earning a piece of the heavyweight title by beating John Ruiz on March 1 of that year. Just a month earlier, Mike Tyson had knocked out Clifford Etienne in his return to the ring a year after he was knocked out by Lennox Lewis.
It never happened. Tyson lost his next two fights and retired. Jones lost three of his next four, and was never the same again.
But now, 17 years later, the two will be getting into the ring — two of the sport’s greats in an exhibition that feels like a corny “Rocky” spinoff. The 54-year-old “Iron Mike” against the 51-year-old Jones, a world champion in four different weight classes in his day. Both appear to be in tremendous condition, particularly considering their age.
Still, what exactly will transpire in the Staples Center ring Saturday night in Los Angeles is a mystery. Tyson’s last professional fight was June 11, 2005, a loss by TKO to Kevin McBride. Jones has been much more active, fighting into his 40s, with his most recent bout a unanimous decision over Scott Sigmon on Feb. 8, 2018.
Tyson (50-6, 44 KOs) will reportedly receive $10 million for the fight and has said he plans to give it to charity. Jones (66-9, 47 KOs) is believed to be getting a smaller payday of $3 million.
The two will use 12-ounce gloves in the pay-per-view fight, with eight two-minute rounds. The California State Athletic Commission approved the match as an exhibition with executive director Andy Foster saying if either fighter gets cut, the fight will get stopped and referee Ray Corona has been told to prevent a slugfest from breaking out.
The two combatants, who have been told about these restrictions, are talking tough. They don’t plan to hold anything back.
“Listen, I don’t know what’s not a real fight,” Tyson said during the promotion of the fight. “You have Mike Tyson and Roy Jones. I’m coming to fight and I hope he’s coming to fight. That’s all you need to know.”
Jones echoed Tyson. He didn’t agree to this with the thought that it would be anything but a fight.
“Who goes in the ring with the great, legendary Mike Tyson and thinks this is an exhibition?” Jones said. “Twelve-ounce gloves and no head gear and this is just an exhibition? Come on, be for real. Who prepares to face one of the most dangerous knockout punchers in the history of boxing and doesn’t prepare for a real fight?”
In their day, the two fighters were can’t-miss attractions. At the age of 20 and four months, Tyson was the youngest heavyweight champion ever when he defeated Trevor Berbick for the World Boxing Council title in 1986. He was feared for his ferocious punching power, uneven temperament and quick matches, winning his first 19 fights by knockout. Jones was so dominant — starting his career with 49 wins in his first 50 fights — he used to play full-court basketball games the day of fights to challenge himself.
Saturday night, they’ll share a ring for the first time, well beyond their respective primes. All these years later, they remain fascinating figures.