One of the most interesting and unique combat sports events of the year -- and possibly all time -- takes place on Saturday with a card headlined by an exhibition bout between Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. Despite the men being a combined 105 years old and the fight being contested under exhibition rules, it will draw more attention than almost every combat sports event in 2020.
While Tyson and Jones are legendary combat athletes and among the greatest fighters to ever lace up a pair of boxing gloves, it's unreasonable to expect either man to compete at the level at which they did in their youth. But what should be expected from the fight?
The first thing everyone should be aware of when it comes to purchasing this fight -- which airs on pay-per-view for $49.99 -- is that it isn't really supposed to be a fight.
According to Andy Foster, executive director of the California State Athletic Commission, fans should not be sold on the idea that this will be a "fight-fight" and told BoxingScene.com the fighters have been told that they are expected to engage in nothing beyond "hard sparring" and are not to attempt to knock each other out. Also, if either man suffers a cut or any other injury, the fight will immediately be stopped.
Whether referee Ray Corona can -- or will -- be able to enforce Foster's instructions is to be seen. In a big fight, with heaps of media attention, would Corona end it should Tyson begin firing off powerful left hooks with the intention of turning Jones' lights out? It will be a tricky balance to strike between providing legitimate entertainment and keeping the 50-year-olds safe.
For their part, Tyson and Jones have laughed off the idea that the fight is anything less than "real." While Tyson bristled at the idea on a media conference call, Jones pushed back hard, saying, "First of all, if you think you're going to get in the ring with Mike Tyson, the last guy to get an 'exhibition' with Mike got dropped in the first round. If you don't know that, there's something wrong with you. Who goes in the ring with the great, legendary Mike Tyson and thinks 'Oh, this is an exhibition'? 12-ounce gloves? No headgear? Really? This is an exhibition? Come on, bro. Be real."
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The CSAC was not going to have scoring for the fight, standard for exhibition contests. That opened the door for the WBC to step in for remote scoring across the eight, two-minute rounds. They also slapped a championship belt on the bout, creating the "Frontline Championship" to be awarded to the winner.
Jones' chin went bad a long time ago. As age caught up with his legendary reflexes, Jones found himself hurt by punches often and he suffered five knockouts in the final stretch of his career, only managing to beat low-tier fighters or former greats who were even more past their prime. It's entirely possible it would only take one clean shot from Tyson to end the fight before Corona or anyone else could step in and halt the fight for going beyond being a sparring exhibition.
Tyson's most recent pro fight came all the way back in 2005 when he quit on the stool against Kevin McBride. The Tyson of 2020 seems in a much better space mentally than the broken man of 15 years ago. It's also possible he's better physically, even if far older. But expectations should be reasonable on the kind of athlete stepping into the ring on Saturday night. Tyson has gone from a terrifying avatar of violence who spent some of his peak years in prison after a rape conviction to somehow becoming viewed as a weed-smoking, quick-to-tears grandpa. How that transition manifests itself into Tyson as a fighter is one of the most intriguing things about Saturday's contest.
Expectations beyond the main event are equally hard to figure out. YouTube influencer Jake Paul is set to face former NBA star Nate Robinson in the featured undercard bout. Any guess on how that fight will look is pure speculation. As is the overall presentation, with musical performances and other extravagant bits of entertainment.
The event will include legendary ring announcer Michael Buffer, Jim Gray on interviews and commentary by Sugar Ray Leonard, UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya and Al Bernstein. At least in terms of broadcast quality, the event should be handled well.
Going back to the fight between Tyson and Jones, fellow former heavyweight champion George Foreman may have summed up things best when recently speaking about the contest and the uncertainty of making a return to a ring at an advanced age.
"It's temporary insanity," Foreman said. "I liken it to a guy who wants to get on a boat and go out to sea. It seems like so much fun, so peaceful, so he wants to get out there and do it. Then he gets out there and the big waves start coming and the sea is rough and it's raining and the wind is blowing and he asks himself, 'Lord, why did I ever do this?'
"It's happened to so many of us. And you realize you should have stayed home on the dry land where everything is nice and safe. The thing that is hard when you start to think of coming back, you remember what you could do back in the day. But you have to reclaim that hardness you once had and the timing. That's what you lose after so many years away and it's so hard to get back."