LOS ANGELES (AP) – Mike Tyson stepped onto a spotlighted stage on Friday and weighed in at 220 pounds, ripping off his shirt to reveal a muscled torso that could belong to an athlete of half his 54 years.
The former heavyweight champion moved into a COVID-protective glass box and went nose-to-nose with Roy Jones Jr, once the most talented fighter in the world. Jones’ 210-pound frame was slightly less toned, but still clearly in better condition than most of his fellow 51-year-olds.
These two boxing greats are older, calmer men now, but they’re returning to the intending to recapture a moment of their brilliant past — and they’ve both worked very hard to make sure they won’t be embarrassed in this extraordinary boxing exhibition.
“This is the fun part,” said Tyson, who will fight for the first time in 15 years.
Their fight at Staples Center is an eight-round sparring session of sorts. It will have two-minute rounds, no official judging and limited violence, although the limit depends on whether you’re asking the California State Athletic Commission or the fighters, who both intend to let their hands go.
“Maybe I don’t know how to go easy,” Tyson said. “I don’t know. I don’t want to say the wrong thing. I don’t want the commission mad at me.”
But for Tyson and Jones, this unique pay-per-view show is less of a sporting event and more of a chance for two transcendent athletes to prove age is a number — and ageing is a choice.
“I don’t look at life as age,” Tyson said. “I look at life as energy. You don’t bring your age to the table. You bring your energy to the table. You don’t go meet people: ‘Hey, I’m Bob. I’m 59.’ You don’t do that.”
Tyson still seems surprised by the wave of events that carried him back to the ring. He admits the younger Tyson never would have believed he would be a middle-aged husband and father who needed to lose 100 pounds two years ago, because that headstrong kid from Brooklyn had never thought that far ahead.
“I didn’t even think I would live this long,” he said. “I was just so intense, and just took myself so serious.”
Tyson got back into shape at the urging of his wife, who got him to start doing 15 minutes a day on the treadmill. The 15 minutes turned into two hours, and then expanded to biking, running and eventually punching, along with the adoption of a vegan diet.
“Never eat anything,” he said with a laugh. “Just starve and exercise.”
The momentum started when he posted video of a training session on social media early in the coronavirus pandemic, and his crisp, powerful punches led to millions of impressions and a subsequent stream of increasingly lucrative comeback offers, along with the chance to raise money for charities.
“This is a part of my life that I had pretty much thrown away,” Tyson said. “My last fight, I didn’t have any interest in doing it. I’m interested in doing it now.” Tyson is referring to his loss to journeyman Kevin McBride in 2005, when he finally wrapped up his singular career in ugly fashion. He became the heavyweight champion at 20 and reigned over the division for five years, but his epic downfall soured him on the sport.
“I want to do it now,” Tyson said. “Most of the time I was obligated to do it from a contract perspective: ‘If you don’t do this, we’ll take everything you have, and you’ll be back in Brownsville.’ They were blackmailing me. It’s a different perspective now.”
While Tyson became an international icon for his brutish, dangerous image and numerous misbehaviours, Jones was widely revered as perhaps the most skilled boxer of his generation. Jones was a preternaturally gifted athlete who dominated his weight classes while still pursuing his passion for basketball.