Former four-division world champion Roy Jones Jr., who spent about 10 years as the unmatched pound-for-pound king for much of the 1990s and early 2000s, spent the last several years of his career facing lesser opponents on small cards, no longer the dominating force he once was.
Finally, after 29 years as a pro, and having won world titles at middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight, he faced Scott Sigmon in a cruiserweight fight in February 2018 in front of an adoring hometown fans in Pensacola, Florida.
Jones cruised to a one-sided 10-round decision and retired as planned before the farewell bout, though he has remained involved in boxing as a broadcaster and trainer.
“I was done,” Jones told BoxingScene.com on Thursday. “I’ve had bare knuckle (fight) offers. I’ve had all kinds of offers. I was done. I had an offer to go to Saudi Arabia (to fight). I was done. But when it’s Mike Tyson? A light came on.”
Indeed it did, because it was on Thursday when former two-time heavyweight world champion Tyson, 54, who has for months teased of a ring return by posting training videos on social media showing him looking explosive punching mitts, announced that he would be back in action for an eight-round exhibition bout against Jones that would headline a card of fights and musical performances on pay-per-view on Sept. 12. The fight, which will also serve as social media platform Triller’s first live event, reportedly will take place at the Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California.
Jones said he is serious about the fight.
“You have two of the biggest names in the history of boxing. It don’t get no better than that,” Jones said. “I didn’t want to fight but if there’s one person I would fight it’s Mike Tyson. I wouldn’t come out of retirement and waste my time with nobody else because I don’t got to show nobody anything. I had my day. I had my time. I’m cool with that. But when Mike Tyson calls you and says, ‘Hey, I want to fight,’ wait a minute. Anybody else, I’d say, ‘Hell, no, I don’t want to fight.’ But not Mike Tyson.
“If Mike calls you, dude, that’s the only person I wanted to fight when I won the heavyweight title. So if Mike wants to fight me now, I’ll fight Mike.”
The 51-year-old Jones (66-9, 47 KOs) was the unified light heavyweight world champion when he moved up two weight classes to heavyweight and easily outpointed John Ruiz to take his heavyweight world title in Las Vegas in March 2003 in a major HBO PPV fight. With the victory, Jones became the first former middleweight champion to win a heavyweight title in more than 100 years -- since International Boxing Hall of Famer Bob Fitzsimmons accomplished the feat in 1897.
Jones never defended the title, however. Instead, later in 2003 Jones returned to the light heavyweight division and edged Antonio Tarver in their first fight to retain his 175-pound belts in a big struggle that marked the beginning of the end of Jones’ dominance.
Before he accepted the fight with Tarver there was talk of Jones facing the likes of Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield or Tyson. It was Tyson whom Jones said he really wanted to fight back then.
“I wanted Tyson. If Tyson don’t want to fight I’m going back to light heavyweight,” Jones said of his thoughts after facing Ruiz.
Nearly 20 years later, Jones and Tyson will fight, albeit as men in their 50s long past their best days in what many will view as a circus and/or money grab.
While Jones last fought in 2018, Tyson (50-6, 44 KOs) has not fought since June 2005 in Washington, D.C., where he retired on his stool after the sixth round against journeyman Kevin McBride and then immediately announced his retirement having lost three of his final four fights by knockout.
Tyson did return in late 2006 to face journeyman Corey Sanders – one of Tyson’s sparring partners – for a four-round exhibition bout that was on pay-per-view from the Chevrolet Centre in Youngstown, Ohio. It was supposed to be the first exhibition of what organizers were calling “Mike Tyson’s World Tour,” but the bout, in which Sanders wore headgear and Tyson did not but both wore shirts, was such a dud, and the pay-per-view was such a flop, it was one and done.
Jones said he is not too concerned about the naysayers and believes there will be strong public support for the pay-per-view event, adding that the financial terms he and Tyson agreed to call for each receive a percentage of the profits of the event.
“I don’t know what I’m getting for the fight yet but I know I’m not turning down a fight with Mike Tyson,” Jones said, declining to specify the split he and Tyson have agreed to. “I don’t care what I get. It’s me and Mike Tyson. That’s good enough for me. (How much I make) all depends on how many people buy it.”
Jones added, “I’m very amped up. That’s the only person I really wanted to fight. I would have said no to everybody else. But Mike Tyson? There’s no way you can say no. That’s the only guy I wanted to fight at heavyweight so I couldn’t turn it down. I couldn’t say no.”
Jones said he is in good shape. He said he weighs 208 pounds and has continued to train daily during his retirement.
He was minding his business when he said Tyson brought up the idea to him about a month ago. Jones was interested and about three weeks ago, he said one of Tyson’s representatives called him.
“His guy called me, and said, ‘Hey, Mike wants to do a deal with you.’ I said OK. I mean, I’ll be glad to,” Jones said. “He said (Tyson) wanted to do an eight-round exhibition. I don’t want to fight, but Mike? I said alright. (But) it’s a one-off (fight). He’s the only one I want to get in there with.”
Jones and Tyson will not wear headgear and will wear 12-ounce gloves rather than the standard 10-ounce gloves that heavyweights would wear in an official bout. According to the official announcement of the bout, the California State Athletic Commission has agreed to oversee the fight.
Andy Foster, the executive director of the California commission, told Yahoo! Sports that he did not anticipate an all-out fight.
“This isn’t a situation where they’re going out there to try to take each other’s heads off,” Foster said to Yahoo! Sports. “They’re just going to be in there moving around the ring and letting fans see these legends.”
That is not at all how Jones sees it, or Tyson for that matter, based on the promotional spot Tyson posted to his social media accounts as part of the announcement of the fight.
Jones let out a hearty laugh after being read Foster’s comments, insisting that he would never enter the ring without the intention to go full blast against his opponent.
"Mike comes to that ring and Mike’s coming to kill. When I go in there I’m going in there to kill or die. So you know how it’s gonna go,” Jones said. “(The viewers) are gonna get what they paid for, trust me.”
He said he did not think the fight would go the distance either.
“I don’t think so but we’ll see,” Jones said. “If he doesn’t get me out in the first two, three rounds it’s all on my side. Now he got to survive. I got to survive three. He got to survive five. I think it’s definitely going to come off. Who don’t want to see Mike Tyson against Roy Jones?”
Dan Rafael was ESPN.com's senior boxing writer for fifteen years, and covered the sport for five years at USA Today. He was the 2013 BWAA Nat Fleischer Award winner for excellence in boxing journalism.