Back in the day — and isn’t that the language we use when we’re talking about a 54-year-old former heavyweight champion facing a 51-year-old former heavyweight champion? — there was nothing in sports or entertainment quite like a Mike Tyson fight.
There’s been nothing to match it in the last 30 years. The MGM Grand Garden was filled to capacity with celebrities and sports stars of all types whose jewelry collectively had to be worth more than the GDP of a number of medium-sized countries.
Snoop’s high-level commentary
On Saturday, rapper Snoop Dogg described Tyson’s fight with Roy Jones Jr. that was at an empty Staples Center in Los Angeles by saying, “This s--- like two of my uncles fighting at the barbecue.”
While Snoop’s commentary was one of the many things that made this unusual night surprisingly enjoyable, he was wrong there. This was a lot better than that. The versions of Tyson and Jones that fans grew to love no longer exist, but give them credit for this: They worked hard to get themselves into shape and put on a credible show that was somehow ruled a draw by the trio of former WBC champions who scored it.
They didn’t look out of place. I have seen worse — much, much worse — fights from professionals at the peak of their games.
The internet was filled with talk about the fight, and it hammered home a point: Boxing is a sport dependent upon stars, and badly missing them. That’s for many reasons, but promoters trying to wring every single cent out of them is the biggest.
Modern boxing promoters have a great aversion to taking risk and having their talents potentially lose. They don’t make the fights that they should make, even when bouts like Teofimo Lopez-Vasiliy Lomachenko and Terence Crawford-Kell Brook prove without question that they would be rewarded if they do so.
Tyson lacked the power he once had and Jones lacked the speed that made him so great, but they both have something that not a single pro boxer active today has: A name recognized around the world.
Triller’s Tyson-Jones exhibition packs a punch
A long ago pro wrestling announcer used to open his Saturday show by intoning “Professional wrestling is the sport where anything can happen, usually does and probably will.” And by the 1990s, that same thing could be said for a Tyson fight.
People tuned in because he was an incredible talent, but also because he could say and do just about anything.
And that’s why social media was abuzz on Saturday and why a lot of people bought the pay-per-view despite the ages of the fighters. The fight was horribly promoted but the show on fight night did well.
It was a mix of hip hop music and boxing, a formula that has been tried repeatedly to varying degrees of success (usually none). But Triller pulled this one off. The musical acts appeared between fights and didn’t seem out of place.
Rapper Wiz Khalifa pulled out a giant joint and was puffing on it between songs, and Snoop’s smoke was getting show host Mario Lopez a bit high.
But the production was good on the songs and they moved quickly from fights to music back to fights.
None of the undercard fights had any significance, and the only big name from a boxing standpoint was Badou Jack, who pummeled Blake McKernan, who was way tougher than he was talented.
YouTuber Jake Paul landed eight punches in his less than two rounds against ex-NBA slam dunk champion Nate Robinson and scored three knockdowns and a walk-off finish. That’s an experiment that should end and end quickly: Celebrities fighting.
Robinson simply didn’t belong in the ring and if those kinds of fights keep being made, someone is going to get seriously injured.
Tyson vs. Jones an entertaining trip down memory lane
Speaking of injured, fans bought the pay-per-view wondering if Tyson would follow the California athletic commission’s rule set, or if he’d blow them off and try to take Jones’ head off.
Tyson clearly followed the rules but was the deserved winner of the bout. He was in better shape and landed the cleaner punches. If you closed your eyes briefly, you could envision the old Tyson at work as he bobbed and weaved and pivoted to throw his famous hook.
Jones was known as “Captain Hook” during his career because of his good left hook, though he didn’t get to use it much on Saturday. His best shot was a straight left hand out of a southpaw stance late in the sixth.
Jones is one of the most iconic boxers in modern history, but against Tyson, he was facing one of the most iconic athletes in history.
And so this show was about him. It had plenty of nice touches, like the solid commentary debut from UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya, despite dropping an F-bomb and saying “There are levels to this s---,” three or four times. He showed he’s good enough to make a career of it. And then there was another boxing legend, Sugar Ray Leonard, whose greatest contribution to the broadcast was seemingly wanting to get into it with play-by-play man Mauro Ranallo.
These were recognizable names, as were the musical acts, and they combined to put on a show worthy of the $49.99 asking price. Undoubtedly, the thievery of the signal was at a record pace, but the show was a hit.
Boxing promoters — those people who promote guys in their 20s and 30s who do this for a living — should take note.
Making the right fights is only part of it. They then have to be promoted the right way, as well.
This trip back to the mid-1990s should serve as a reminder that boxing at its best is a compelling sport that can attract big numbers.
There’s a lot to be learned from this effort by Tyson, Jones and Triller.
Hopefully, it’s heeded.
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