As Mike Tyson returns to the boxing ring Saturday night for the first time since his cash-grab World Tour exhibitions in 2006, the spotlight is primarily on the 54-year-old polarizing figure.
Tyson (50-6, 44 KOs), however, isn't the only famed fighter in this question-filled bout. Roy Jones Jr. (66-9, 47 KOs), a legend in his own right, has been something of an afterthought in the build to the fight, which is not that much of a surprise. Unlike Tyson, whose last sanctioned fight came in 2005, Jones competed as recently as 2018. And despite amassing 66 wins in his professional boxing career, his promotional skills were always most visible while he was carving up an opponent in the ring.
Jones, 51, is well aware that most of the focus for Saturday's fight is on Tyson, but he doesn't care too much. He is eager for the chance to reintroduce himself.
“I’m going to remind people what I can do,” Jones says. “People must have forgot.”
With an unparalleled background in boxing, Jones has pieced together a masterpiece of a career. He is a four-division world champ, including becoming the first fighter in over a century to win the middleweight championship at 154 pounds and then later capture the heavyweight title. His legacy as one of the greatest ever is secure, except for the fact that he cannot step away from the sport.
“My mind is playing tricks on me,” Jones admits. “Sometimes I feel really good, just like I used to. But I’m so excited for this, it’s my shot against Mike Tyson.”
Many questions still surround the Tyson-Jones fight. The California State Athletic Commission has insisted upon two-minute rounds in this exhibition and larger, 12-ounce boxing gloves. That is juxtaposed by the WBC, which has placed a ceremonial “Front Line” title on the line and has three judges ready to proclaim a winner.
Will the two legends be allowed to throw some shots, or will this exhibition be curtailed the moment it becomes too physical? Will it be worth a pay per view purchase? For Jones, despite repeatedly hearing that this is merely an exhibition, he is prepared to counter Tyson’s devastating right hand.
“You have to respect Mike’s power,” Jones says. “He’s had a long layoff, but when you’re a power puncher like Mike, you can always land a shot. And I really respect his ability to bounce back. Most guys that have been through what he’s been through never would have been able to do what he’s done.”
A critical piece of Jones’s journey took place at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul. At the age of only 19, Jones was poised to capture an Olympic gold medal in boxing before judges inexplicably ruled the fight in favor of his opponent, Park Si-Hun. Jones dominated the bout, and that decision remains one of boxing’s most controversial moments. Jones somehow never allowed that disappointment to make him bitter. He seized hold of that frustration, vowing to turn the negative into a positive.
“If that doesn’t happen to me, I never have a chip on my shoulder and I’d never do the things I did when I turned pro,” Jones says. “God makes no mistakes. The Olympics, that made me go way beyond anything I ever imagined. Before then, I never, ever thought about becoming heavyweight champion of the world. That moment pushed me further than I ever imagined.”
Jones is a long way removed from those Olympic Games. And while there is no doubt he was allured by the payday of a Tyson fight, he still possesses the same competitive, tenacious spirit that defined his prime. Even as his age is creeping up on his win total, he is determined to put on a performance in the ring Saturday worthy of the paying audience.
“The stars lined up for this fight,” Jones says. “The world is in a very bad place right now, so we get to add some excitement. It’s two of the most exciting personalities to ever grace the sport of boxing in the ring against one another for the first time. Add all that up, I couldn’t say no.”
No matter what happens in the Tyson fight, Jones’ accomplishments will not be diminished. His past glory will remain secure, but his future, beginning with tonight’s fight, is full of uncertainty.
“I want to say I won’t have another fight, but we’ll how it goes,” Jones says. “Maybe we’ll have a rematch.”