Mike Tyson and Roy Jones did their best to deliver in the battle of the aged.
The pair of former pound-for-pound kings and legendary boxers came out of retirement to throw down in an eight-round exhibition match Saturday evening at Staples Center in Los Angeles. The spectacle ended in a draw according to a trio of former boxers served as the celebrity judges.
Female boxing legend Christy Martin unofficially scored the contest 79-73 in favor of Tyson. Former two-division titlist Vinny Pazienza scored the bout 80-77 in favor of Jones, against whom he was stopped in the 6th round of their super middleweight title fight in June 1995. Former lineal light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson had a chance to determine the winner but instead saw the exhibition dead even at 76-76.
The battle of 50-something year old legends was fought under two-minute rounds with oversized gloves. Jones, 51, spent the entirety of the first two rounds moving around the ring and clinching anytime the 54-year old Tyson worked his way inside.
Tyson came out with mean intentions in round two, as the former undisputed heavyweight champion connected with a right hand early in the frame. Jones took the shot well and wisely held, with much of the round spent with the two tied up and referee Ray Corona urging them to fight their way out of a clinch.
Jones turned the tide late in the round, connecting with a no-look left hook. Tyson’s eagerness got the best of him, catching Jones with a right hand after the bell but quickly embracing his fellow ring legend with an apology in the form of a hug.
More clinching came at the start of round three, resulting in the first dramatic moment of the fight. An inadvertent clash of heads left Jones briefly buzzed. The referee called time, acknowledging the infraction which did not produce a cut and thus allowing the action to continue.
Jones went on the move to start round four, though Tyson quickly cut off the ring and pinned the former four-division champion on the ropes. Tyson worked the body, connecting with a right hand and left hook. Jones responded with a body shot of his own but quickly found himself outgunned. Tyson hurt Jones with two right hands to the body late in the round, with Jones able to hang on and make it to the bell.
Jones enjoyed his best sequence of the unsanctioned fight midway through round five, firing off a four-punch combination. It was enough to fend off a determined Tyson for the time being, though the round ended with Tyson connecting with a left hook and right hand.
Tyson opened round six with a left hook to the body, while Jones’ most effective weapon was an extended jab which allowed him to create space. Tyson ripped off a right uppercut which Jones saw coming and gleefully dodged, coming back moments later with a three-punch combination which caught Tyson’s attention.
Jones enjoyed by far his best round of the fight, firing off rapid-fire (relatively speaking) combinations and wisely playing defense. Tyson continued to stalk, though unable to pin down a mobile Jones who clinched when necessary but otherwise spent the round fighting at a distance.
The final two minutes saw Tyson gunning for the knockout and Jones playing to the delight of the home viewers. Jones had fun, dancing out of harm’s way while Tyson wanted to end the fight with a single punch to the point of being annoyed when the bell sounded to end the contest.
Neither legend seemed content with the unresolved outcome.
“I don’t like draws. I wear drawers, I don’t do draws,” Jones (66-9, 47KOs) told ringside reporter Jim Grey at the end of the night.
Even with the bout not being sanctioned by the California State Athletic Commission, the failure to produce even an unofficial winner prompted Tyson to provide a resolution.
“We need to do this again,” insisted Tyson (50-6, 44KOs), whose last sanctioned fight came in a June 2005 knockout loss to Kevin McBride.
Jones wasn’t quite ready to commit to doing it again, although willing to share why he thought he deserved the nod.
“I understand why people say fighting Mike Tyson is a bucket list [item],” noted Jones, who ended a 29-year ring career with a 10-round decision win over Scott Sigmon in February 2018. “When he hits you, your head, your body, it all hurts. For me, I thought I did enough boxing to edge it out.
“But, I’m cool with the draw. Mike here trying to do it again, but… I don’t know.”
The event took place 34 years and six days after Tyson became the youngest heavyweight titlist in boxing history, following a 2nd round knockout of Trevor Berbick in November 1986.
From there came a destruction of terror, unifying all of the major titles before going on to claim lineal championship status following a 91-second wipeout of Hall of Fame former two-division world champion Michael Spinks in June 1988. The win marked the pinnacle of his career, making just two more title defenses before suffering a 10th round knockout versus James ‘Buster’ Douglas in one of the biggest upsets ever.
Tyson subsequently served a three-year prison stint before returning to the public and the ring in 1995. The Brooklyn-born ring legend would claim two more alphabet titles in 1996, though ending the year with an 11th round stoppage at the hands of Evander Holyfield. Their rematch seven months later produced the best-selling Pay-Per-View event of all time, though ending in a riot fueled by Tyson who was disqualified in the 3rd round of their June 1997 bout after biting off a chunk of Holyfield’s ear.
Just one more title fight would come of his career, suffering an 8th round knockout to lineal champion Lennox Lewis. Their June 2002 superfight surpassed Holyfield-Tyson II as the highest-grossing PPV of all time, and still remains the best-selling heavyweight fight in history.
Jones never quite reached such financial benchmarks, though his greatness in the ring was unquestioned. The fighting pride of Pensacola, Florida captured titles at middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight. The latter came in March 2003, outpointing John Ruiz to become the first former middleweight champion in 106 years to claim a piece of the heavyweight throne.
The minor stay at heavyweight didn’t quite prepare him for his middle-aged journey on Saturday against one of the hardest punchers ever, even a 54-year old version of that once-feared presence.
The body shots definitely took a toll,” Jones admitted afterward. “The body shots are what made me exhausted.”
Regardless, Jones—who was knocked out five times in his career—remained upright the entire time and fought back until the final bell, ultimately earning the respect of his fellow ring legend.
"You took it,” Tyson responded. “You took it and you kept coming back. I respect that. I respect that.”
Despite both being decades past their best sell date, there still came brief glimpses of what made them great. Still, lacing ‘em up and going at it in real time was a far different feeling than when they were at the top in their respective career.
“I used to do this for three minutes. Somehow, those two minutes felt like three minutes,” admitted Tyson. “I’m just happy I got this under my belt and will continue to go further.”
Tyson attempted an exhibition tour after his 2005 retirement, though it only made one stop—an October 2006 meeting with Corey ‘T-Rex’ Sanders. His hope is that the Legends Only League—under whose banner came Saturday’s event—can continue, namely with these two participants.
“Absolutely,” Tyson said to the possibility of returning under similar circumstances. “I hope (Jones) will be on the card as well. We gotta do this again.”
That part remains to be seen.
“Everybody loves Mike; I love Mike too,” noted Jones. “But, it’s something to taking punches from Mike. I’ll go talk to my family and see how they feel about it. If they thought they enjoyed what they saw and want me to come back and do it again, then we’ll do it again.”
Whatever transpires in the future, the one thing nobody can take away from either ring legend is what they did during their historic careers—and to a lesser degree, that they did it again at least for one more night.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox