When the exhibition match between Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. was originally announced on July 23, both fighters insisted that they were legitimately going to go at it, just as they would’ve if they’d met in their heyday.
California State Athletic Commission executive director Andy Foster told BoxingScene.com immediately after the fight was finalized that the public could not be misled that the eight-round exhibition match was a “real fight.”
When Tyson and Jones Jr. were asked during their kickoff news conference Thursday ahead of their Nov. 28 faceoff if they agreed with Foster’s sentiment, both fighters maintained that they’re treating the showdown just as if they were in their pugilistic primes.
Tyson even took it a step further and said, “my objective is to go in there with the best intentions of my life and to disable my opponent, and that's just what it is.
“Listen, I do not know what you’re talking about,” said the 54-year-old Tyson in response to Foster’s statements. “What’s not a real fight? You got Mike Tyson and Roy Jones. I’m coming to fight, and I hope he’s coming to fight. That’s all you need to know.”
The 51-year-old Jones Jr. also had a different stance from Foster, who previously said it will be referee Ray Corona’s job to make sure the fight borders on practice rather than a fight of the year candidate.
“First of all, if you think you are going into the ring with Mike Tyson, the last guy [Corey Sanders] that did an ‘exhibition’ with Mike [in 2006] got dropped in the first round,” Jones Jr. said. “If you don’t know that, then something is wrong with you. Who goes into the ring with the great, legendary Mike Tyson and thinks, ‘Oh, this is going to be an exhibition?’ 12-ounce gloves? No headgear? Really? This is an exhibition? Come on, man. Be for real’.”
In July, Foster said that he clearly advised Tyson (50-6, 44 KOs) and Jones Jr. (66-9, 47 KOs) on the rules of engagement and for them not to “start trying to kill each other.”
“I wanted to have their assurances that they understand, ‘I don’t care if they spar. I don’t care if they work.’ They are world-class athletes, even still,” said Foster. “They have a right to earn, and all these types of things. They’re about the same age. We can’t mislead the public as to this is some kind of real fight. They can get into it a little bit, but I don’t want people to get hurt. They know the deal.”
Foster is ultimately looking out for the health and safety of Tyson and Jones Jr. The tone of the “real fight” conversation is not one that Foster would have with, say, Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder, who fought to a draw at the Staples Center in Los Angeles in 2018, the same locale of which Tyson and Jones Jr. will be fighting in without a crowd.
“It’s an exhibition. They can exhibit their boxing skills, but I don’t want them using their best efforts to hurt each other,” said Foster. “They’re going to spar hard, but they shouldn’t be going for a knockout. This isn’t a record-book type of fight. This is not world-championship boxing right now. It’s not what this is. People shouldn’t be getting knocked out. The public can see what kind of shape Roy and Mike are still in.
“I’m sure there are going to be times where it heats up. Ray’s job is going to be to put the ice back on without having to kill the whole thing. He’s that kind of referee. I feel that he’s going to be good at that, and he’s the right guy for this kind of a fight.”
In July, Foster said the fight would not be scored, but that recently changed when the WBC implemented a remote scoring system and created a "Frontline Championship" belt.
The exhibition was originally slated for three-minute rounds, but then was shortened to two, much to the dismay of both fighters.
The faceoff between the former heavyweight champions is set to be distributed via Triller on FITE ($49.99) and BT Sport pay-per-view.
Manouk Akopyan is a sports journalist and member of the Boxing Writers Assn. of America since 2011. He has written for the likes of the LA Times, Guardian, USA Today, Philadelphia Inquirer, Men’s Health and NFL.com. He can be reached on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube at @ManoukAkopyan or via email at manouk[dot]akopyan[at]gmail.com.