Well, well, well, it finally happened. “Iron” Mike Tyson and Roy Jones had their quasi-sparring session. Eight 2-minute rounds, with 60 seconds between each round. Tyson, at 54 and Jones at 51, got through the thing and came out none the worse for wear – although I suspect Roy’s ribs are going to smart for a while. Now we get to dissect what we saw these two greats do and draw some conclusions about their futures in the ring – if any.
Overall, I have to say that it went better than I expected it to. Tyson, although long removed from competitive boxing, still managed to be his normal intimidating self. Jones still had enough “slick” left in him to show us why he was, and is, considered one of the all-time greats. I’ll talk about them separately here before summing up.
Tyson, to his undying credit, came into the ring in spectacular physical condition; not on a “for his age” basis, but on a “for any age” basis. He obviously took this thing seriously and dedicated himself to getting into top condition. Now as an older man myself, I can vouch for just how hard that it is to do. Just to find the motivation to put one’s old and aching body through a rigorous training regimen is highly commendable. What was readily apparent to me was that Mike Tyson did not want to embarrass himself.
As for the fight itself, Mike showed lots of flashes of his enormous skill set on which he relied to become the youngest heavyweight champion ever. His lateral movement was good. His footwork was surprisingly economical and focused. His body punches reverberated through my living room – with the volume turned down (hence Roy’s assuredly aching ribs). Tyson clearly pulled his punches when he tried to hit Roy in the head. Roy did roll away from most but I couldn’t help but think that this was because Mike wasn’t throwing them with full force. One other thing I did notice; we all saw the videos of Mike training before the fight, throwing one blistering, lightning-fast combination after the other at the guy holding the pads, right? Clearly, those were sped up for effect. Mike didn’t show anywhere near that sort of speed during the festivities with Roy. Still, I had this feeling throughout the bout that Mike could have ended it at any moment if he truly wanted to, but there was the matter of the boxing commission having forbade each fighter from doing any such thing. For once, Mike Tyson followed the rules. I don’t know; maybe he just genuinely likes Roy Jones.
Jones, on the other hand was far less impressive to me. Yes, he can still throw his “no-look” jab, and it’s quite an impressive skill, but Mike didn’t seem daunted by it one iota. Jones is still slick. He still has the ability to change direction and distance in an instant. Roy is still as unorthodox as fighters come. His footwork; when he chose to employ it for anything other than reversing, was still pretty good. He landed a couple of hooks, but they seemed ineffective and thrown more as an afterthought than with any deadly purpose. One thing that was apparent was that while Jones did win a version of the heavyweight title when he beat “the Quiet Man”, John Ruiz, he isn’t a true heavyweight. His frame gives that away. Remember, this man started off as a light-middleweight/middleweight. He moved up to light heavyweight, then cruiserweight, before stepping in with the big boys, and to his undying credit, he won titles at every level. But against Mike, his musculature looked puny by comparison to the behemoth that Tyson is.
The other problem for Roy was conditioning. Despite being younger, lighter, and much less removed from his last competitive bout, Roy was gassed early. He was short of breath by the end of the second round – and remember these were only 2-minute rounds. This in turn caused Roy to hold on for dear life for long stretches of the match. At times, he looked more like a dance partner than an opponent. He just wouldn’t let Mike go. Throw in the pretty effective shots that Mike was landing, and I had the distinct impression that Roy didn’t enjoy this exhibition nearly as much as Mike did. Still, he made it to the end on his feet.
The fight was “scored” a draw by the celebrity panel of “judges” consisting of Christy Martin, Chad Dawson, and Vinny Pazienza. It wasn’t. Mike was the clear winner, but the result was as scripted as much as anything else in the evening. Clearly, there was no desire to embarrass either fighter by having to tag one of the men as the “loser,” so I had it penciled in as a draw before Michael Buffer even got around to the introductions. (How awesome was it to see him by the way? By far, by far, my favorite ring announcer). Mike was better in every way and deserved the nod. But I guess it was a palatable way to end the proceedings without any hurt feelings or irate fans.
So, where do we go from here? Is there any future in competitive boxing for either man? This part is easy. For Roy Jones, absolutely, positively, no way! For Mike Tyson; not against any top-tier fighter. He might be able to beat club level boxers but if Mike steps in there with a bonafide professional heavy, he’s going to get hurt. No governing body should ever sanction a competitive bout against a current boxer for either of these men.
What is more attractive and interesting to me though, is this idea of a “Legends” boxing league. I think this would work, and work well – especially if charities are to be supported by these events. I think there’d be a great deal of interest in watching Lewis/Bowe or Tyson/Holyfield again…even if it’s just a glorified sparring session. I can’t deny the appeal of the nostalgia alone. I’m not sure about the lower weight divisions but for the heavyweights? Yes, I think a lot of fans would watch a reboot of their favorite fighters. But, there’s a caveat. It would have to be strictly exhibition; same sorts of rules as what we just had for Tyson/Jones. Fighters, especially ex-champion fighters, have that “fighter’s mentality.” I can readily see Lewis looking really good in these exhibitions and wanting a real fight. Same holds true for all the guys. But they will undoubtedly get hurt if that’s allowed to happen. We must protect these men from themselves. From them, we should ask no more than entertainment.
I want to add a quick note about the rest of the fight card here. Nate Robinson doesn’t look like he belongs anywhere near a boxing ring, and, in point of fact, didn’t look like he’d ever seen one before. That was a devastating knockout. I’m just glad he’s okay. That having been said, he still had the courage to get in there and is not deserving of some of the rather cruel comments and memes circulating the internet – even the admittedly funny ones. Most of us will never accomplish the smallest fraction of what this man has done athletically. I salute him for trying. Jake Paul, it’s time for you to step up a class and let’s see what you really have there. You actually looked okay. As to the Badou Jack beatdown of Blake McKernan, well, for those of you who didn’t see it, I’ll tell you this much, McKernan is as brave and as tough a fighter as I have ever seen in my 64 years on this earth. It was as hard to watch as it was to turn away. It reminded me of the serious car accident we pass on the highway; we don’t want to look, but we do. Mr. McKernan, you have my undying respect and you’ve made a fan for life. Well done, Sir!
Photo courtesy Wkimedia Wendy Berry