Sports

Should boxing let Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr take more punches to the head? 

The comedowns have subsided, The Hangover has come and gone. What now — rebirth or relapse? In the early hours of next Sunday morning, Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jnr will shake off the dust and shuffle back into the hurt arena.

Iron Mike, once the baddest man on the planet, has rusted with age but remains one of sport’s most bewitching characters. Jones is one of the finest fighters of all time, who climbed from middleweight to conquer the heavyweight giants.

For decades, it remained a match-up reserved for wandering minds. ‘Bucket-list material,’ says Jones. Now? Reality — of sorts.

Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jnr make their divisive return to the boxing ring on November 28

Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jnr make their divisive return to the boxing ring on November 28

Iron Mike makes his return to the ring for the first time since retiring from the sport in 2005

Iron Mike makes his return to the ring for the first time since retiring from the sport in 2005 

‘The bout for the ages between two of the most recognisable athletes in history promises to be spectacular,’ say BT Sport, who will broadcast the showpiece on pay-per-view.

‘An exhibition of boxing which brings the sport into the limelight,’ says WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman, who has prepared a special belt for both fighters.

Social video app Triller reportedly paid about £40million to stream the eight-round contest at Los Angeles’ Staples Center.

Jones has suggested he could pocket £7.5m from the fight — none of their big-wig backers is motivated by goodwill. And yet that smell just won’t go away.

The 54-year-old takes on fellow great Jones Jnr, 51, in a controversial bout in Los Angeles

The 54-year-old takes on fellow great Jones Jnr, 51, in a controversial bout in Los Angeles 

Jones Jnr has fought into his forties and has started training the likes of Chris Eubank Jr

Jones Jnr has fought into his forties and has started training the likes of Chris Eubank Jr

Not just because the genius of Tyson (54) and Jones (51) has decayed in the decades since they reigned. Not just because this circus threatens to distract from heavyweight champions of today and tomorrow. Not just because our blood-lust is piqued by fighters closer to a pension than their prime.

Something else lingers, too. Jones and Tyson are among a glut of ageing heroes peering back down the gold mine — Oscar De La Hoya, 47, Evander Holyfield, 58, Floyd Mayweather, 43 and Marcos Maidana, 37, are all teasing comebacks. Sergio Martinez, 45, has already made his.

It’s a gloomily familiar tale. So is the surge of celebrity fights posing as legitimate contests.

In Los Angeles, the ‘co-main event’ alongside Tyson-Jones sees YouTuber Jake Paul (1-0, 20.2million subscribers) face former NBA player Nate Robinson (0-0).

Benefactors insist video stars bring new fans to boxing. Many believe it makes a mockery of the sport, insulting those fighters battling for riches and recognition.

Tyson has mellowed since retiring, from the once fearsome baddest man on the planet

Tyson has mellowed since retiring, from the once fearsome baddest man on the planet

Despite his age, Tyson has looked in phenomenal shape in a series of training clips shared

Despite his age, Tyson has looked in phenomenal shape in a series of training clips shared

That won’t be lost on BT viewers. Before Tyson-Jones — and available to all subscribers — Britain’s Daniel Dubois and Joe Joyce meet in a mouthwatering heavyweight clash, deserving of more prominence.

‘It’s all right, it’s a great night of boxing,’ says Joyce. You wonder whether Tyson would have been so diplomatic during his heyday.

On December 12, Anthony Joshua faces Kubrat Pulev. Had the December 5 homecoming of Tyson Fury — named after Iron Mike — not been canned, the former undisputed heavyweight champion and his two heirs-apparent would have all fought within 14 days of each other. Tyson earned that crown before Fury was born. Against such a jarring backdrop, what to make of his return?

Should we embrace this charitable venture — Tyson has vowed to donate his fight purse — particularly at such turbulent times, as Sulaiman believes.

But the bout between the two boxing greats remains divisive among fans and pundits

But the bout between the two boxing greats remains divisive among fans and pundits

Is it a fun excuse for nostalgia? David Haye, for instance, is excited to see Jones — his ‘childhood hero’ — face Iron Mike.

Or, as Frank Warren says, is it a ‘sad’ spectacle? One we should ignore, rather than encourage.

‘I find it strange when people say they shouldn’t come back,’ says Haye, the former heavyweight king turned BT pundit. ‘Imagine if Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras said “we want to have an exhibition match”.

‘Would the tennis world go “This is disgusting, we don’t want to see these guys, they probably won’t be able to serve over 100mph”? No, they’ll say “Let’s watch and enjoy these old greats do what they want to do”.

‘That is how I see it — two great fighters who have probably taken hundreds of thousands of punches in the head. Who cares if they want to take a couple more in their 50s?’

Tyson and Jones Jr are arguably taking the shine from Joe Joyce and Daniel Dubois' bout

Tyson and Jones Jr are arguably taking the shine from Joe Joyce and Daniel Dubois’ bout 

Promoter Frank Warren has labelled the match up a 'sad' spectacle between two boxing greats

Promoter Frank Warren has labelled the match up a ‘sad’ spectacle between two boxing greats

Sulaiman adds: ‘We all have concerns because of the age factor but this is an exhibition.’

The California State Athletic Commission were cautious enough to insist both fighters faced ‘thorough’ medical exams and anti-doping tests. They will wear oversized gloves and have been told not to go for the knockout.

‘We can’t mislead the public that this is some kind of real fight,’ said commission executive director Andy Foster. ‘It’s going to look like a boxing match — but I don’t want people to get hurt.’

Easier said than done. Especially when neither Jones nor Tyson is preparing for a tickling contest.

‘I’m coming to fight and I hope he’s coming to fight,’ says Tyson, who claimed he would have to leave the family home before his alter-ego takes over. Both men railed against fighting ‘women’s’ two-minute rounds, with Jones adding: ‘Who goes into the ring with the legendary Mike Tyson and thinks it’s an exhibition?’

Former heavyweight champion David Haye has supported the fight between the pair

Former heavyweight champion David Haye has supported the fight between the pair

Joyce has also expressed intrigue into how the fight between Tyson and Jones Jr will turn out

Joyce has also expressed intrigue into how the fight between Tyson and Jones Jr will turn out

Tyson has not boxed professionally for 15 years, when his yo-yo career ended in consecutive defeats.

Having become the youngest-ever heavyweight champion, he battled drink and drugs, bankruptcy and bipolar disorder, prison and even cannibalistic urges.

By 2009, the only punch many younger fans had seen him land came in the comedy film, The Hangover. He claims to be lighter than at any point since his teens, while viral training clips suggest he can still move with menace.

‘He just looks straight savage,’ laughs Joyce. ‘You wouldn’t want him on the other side of the ring.’

Haye says: ‘If Tyson throws five bursts, of five-to-10 seconds each, I think it’s over. He’s either knocked Jones out or he’s punched himself out.’

But should boxing question whether it is right for two men in their fifties to enter the ring?

But should boxing question whether it is right for two men in their fifties to enter the ring?

Regardless, people will tune in to see if any part of the baddest man on the planet remains

Regardless, people will tune in to see if any part of the baddest man on the planet remains

Jones’ road has been no less rocky. He fought until 2018 when he was 49. He now trains Chris Eubank Jnr following fighting ventures to Latvia and Russia — where he earned citizenship from Vladimir Putin.

‘We’re freaks,’ says Jones. ‘That’s why this is such a big thing.’

But what next? Tyson insists his comeback will last until his ‘Legends Only League’ (a venture to bring back sporting icons) runs out of legs.

‘I’m going to help a lot of people and my legend is going to be that I gave a lot more than I took,’ he said.

That doesn’t sound much like the old Iron Mike, who once said he wanted to eat Lennox Lewis’ children.

The cold truth? Everyone tuning in on Sunday morning will hope at least a shred of that baddest man remains. 

BT Sport’s night of heavyweight action on November 28 begins with Daniel Dubois v Joe Joyce on BT Sport 1 from 7:30pm. Tyson v Jones Jnr will be live on BT Sport Box Office from 1am and can be watched on BT TV, Virgin TV, Sky, online via the web or the BT Sport Box Office App.


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