WHAT am I watching? Why is this even happening? Such thoughts no doubt often go through the mind of any seasoned boxing observer, especially so if they’d tuned into an online press conference earlier this week featuring Mike Tyson and Roy Jones. Two legends of the past, who should be preoccupied with whatever it is retired boxing greats in their fifties do, launching podcasts, training Chris Eubank Jnr etc. Instead Mike Tyson, 54, and Roy Jones, 51, are talking about fighting each other. So far nothing, not common sense nor a shared sense of reality appears to have derailed this exhibition that remains set for November 28. Listening to the two talk it up convinced me they were indeed actually going to go ahead with it and made me even more certain that it was a terrible idea.
How is it responsible for a start? Boxing is serious business, it hurts, it can be damaging and it is, frankly, no sport for old men. Or at least those over 45 (Bernard Hopkins I argue is the exception that proves the rule).
There remains precious little sign of the fighters being saved from themselves. They’ll box this exhibition with 12 ounce gloves and two minute rounds. But both men spoke as if determined to dispel any notion that they were going to shuffle through the motions of a sparring session.
Apparently, says Tyson, “I’m coming to fight and I hope he’s coming to fight and that’s all you need to know.”
Jones adds, “Who goes in the ring with the great, legendary Mike Tyson and thinks this is an exhibition? 12 ounce gloves, no headgear. Really, this is an exhibition? Come on.”
The last time Tyson fought was more than 15 years ago, when he slumped to ignominious defeat to Kevin McBride. He won’t have got any better in the interim. And yet Jones claimed, “Now to see Mike hit the pads, hit the body bag the way he’s doing it, it’s phenomenal, it’s crazy but we’re freaks. That’s why this is such a big thing. We’re two of the most explosive guys ever to touch a boxing ring… He inspires me by how much he’s working and how much he’s preparing to get back in the ring and he’s three years older than me. So if he can do it why can’t I?”
Hopefully this talk is just that, talk, empty words to sell a pay-per-view. At their age, Tyson and Jones ought to be protected, for all their illustrious achievements they shouldn’t be getting hurt in an exhibition or a contest. But then it’s ludicrous for this exhibition even to be on pay-per-view. How can BT Sport, which is one of two major boxing broadcasters in the UK, be screening it on Box Office? It should not be indulged in this way. Legends I’m afraid to say belong in the past.
But it underscores all the problems that beset boxing today. This kind of spectacle gains attention when the fights that should be made aren’t happening. There’s no movement on Anthony Joshua vs Tyson Fury progressing, Canelo Alvarez isn’t fighting a worthy opponent or indeed anyone right now. Boxing has new stars, it just needs the big fights. The dilution of world titles doesn’t help. It’s getting so ridiculous the WBC, fresh from making it unclear as to who their lightweight champion actually is, have decided to get in on the Tyson-Jones action and create a ‘front line’ belt for this. Which is meaningless as a title, but it lends a veneer of a respectability to the event. Instead of advancing back towards the mainstream, boxing retreats to the fringes. Instead of proper contests, shock and spectacle fills the void.
It could be worse, I suppose. At this point in their lives it’s better that Tyson and Jones are fighting each other, with the bigger gloves and shorter rounds, rather than being slung in with younger men. But the problem with boxing at the moment is that when you think it can get worse, you have to fear it might just find a way to do so.