Mike Tyson is STILL the most famous living boxer on planet Earth, and he last fought in a professional bout in 2005.
The durability of his allure is a site to behold. And, from my perspective, respect. Because Tyson has made no secret of the dark traits insinuated in his DNA, which he has to work to keep beneath the surface, at a respectable distance. This allows him to make positive contributions to society, apart from a trove of in-the-ring assassinations memorialized on YouTube.
Hey, didn’t you know something was up when the video came out, and a steady buzz started to build and spread?
When this clip made the rounds on social media, of a then 53 year old Tyson hitting the pads, the impressions multiplied, and kept piling up. There would be a follow up, this wasn’t just an exercise in drawing likes, feeding his narcissistic side. Had to be part of a plan…
Posted on May 1, it has hit 14.5 million views just on Tyson’s Instagram alone.
Eyeballs swarmed, and chatter started.
“Is he going to fight again?”
“Could he win a title?”
“Who is the heavyweight champion now, anyway?”
People who last invested any time in the sport in 2015, when they watched the Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao revenue generation exercise, spoke of pugilism again.
Conversations were had, debates took place. “Wise” hands told questioners, casuals and sub casuals, that Tyson by 2005 looked like a burnt out specimen, that in his last few years, he was playing out the string. His love for the sport was long lost, and now it was a job, a means to an end, a way to make the maximum amount of money on a per minute basis that he could legally pull off.
But they did respond in the right numbers and with the appropriate enthusiasm to catalyze the next step forward in the masterful branding effort by and for Tyson.
Mike Tyson, in the ring again, against Roy Jones Jr., himself a once majestic talent who had to find out the hard way that even legends are not immune from biological certainties. Two fifty somethings, gloving up Sept. 12, 2020 in Los Angeles, to be offered on a Pay Per View basis.
Hardcores know, but newbies don’t, that it’s 15 years since the last one.
Tyson called Kevin McBride a “tomato can” pre-fight, and then found himself being man-handled by the Can Man in a Washington, DC ring on June 11, 2005. Tyson decided not to come out for round seven against McBride. He announced his retirement after the loss. “I don’t have the guts to stay in this sport anymore,” said Tyson. “I don’t want to disrespect the sport that I love. My heart is not into this anymore. I’m sorry for the fans who paid for this. I wish I could have done better, but it’s time to move on with my life and be a father and take care of my children.” His body and his mind betrayed him on this evening. “I felt like I was 120 years old,” said Tyson, then 38 years old, when asked how he felt after a taxing round six.
You think he’s going to be able to get in shape, not tear muscles and tendons, and then fight one of the aces in the division, a Tyson Fury or Anthony Joshua? Probably not. Most pundits would say it’s not possible. But many a fight has been sold on nothing more than “maybe.” Small word, but “maybe” is heavy fuel. Most of us are, whether we care to admit it or not, able to identify with the underdog who hasn’t but a minute chance to hit that big time. We root for periodic reminders, that sometimes even the losers get lucky sometimes.
THE MYTHOLOGY OF TYSON IS ON A STURDY FOUNDATION
That anyone thinks that Tyson at 54 could give 31 years old Tyson Fury a rigorous test is testament to the solidity of the mythology mountain built by the Brooklyner. Tyson took the skills he utilized mugging woebegones and allowed himself to enter in a tutor-mentor relationship with the professorial Cus D’Amato. D’Amato refined the ruffian, who came to the table with a superlative but unpolished skill set, which included strength and power, the sort which quite likely existed when he was still in diapers. Punchers like this are indeed born, not fashioned…But D’Amato arguably did more work on the psyche of the teen than he did imparting the building blocks of punching and defending. Cus allowed Tyson to believe in his promise, and not fall into a predictable rut of learned helplessness, a ghetto to incarceration or early grave arc.
Tyson came from that consummate hard place, where structure and boundaries and unconditional love were often absent. He’s had to persevere merely to survive, and now, having turned 54 on June 30th, it seems from the outside looking in that he is thriving.
The man has dealt with demons, and, it is clear, still does. If you have listened or watched his one man show or his podcast, he’s been open about that for some time. In February of this year, he had guest Sugar Ray Leonard in studio on his podcast: “I know the art of fighting, I know the art of war, that’s all I ever studied. That’s why I’m so feared, that’s why they feared me when I was in the ring. I was an annihilator. It’s all I was born for. Now those days are gone,” he said, his eyes and lips looking like they were conspiring to bring tears from his eyes. “It’s empty, I’m nothing. I’m working on the art of humbleness. That’s the reason I’m crying because I’m not that person no more, and I miss him.”
Yep, cocaine, done a shit ton of that, he is willing to admit, and not in the way many do it, by pretending to be humbled by their hijinks, but in reality boasting of making it through the obstacle course semi-scathed. And he had time to reflect on his past and what his future might hold when he was imprisoned for rape in 1992.
I’m guessing that Tyson while in the Indiana cell (his stint ran from April 1992 to March 1995) did not predict that in 2020, he’d be fighting Roy Jones Jr in an exhibition boxing match.
This was a person who had an inkling that his final chapters would look like those of others’ who he identified with. He thought about being buried next to Sonny Liston.
Fighters get promoted, then demoted, once they age. Their usefulness, as prospect, contender, champion, ex champ in pursuit of a return to glory, ex champ who might be able to summon greatness one more time, and then steppingstone, once reduced, makes them a commodity susceptible to being treated like tainted hamburg. Out with the old, in with the new, the cycle is sad and familiar and inevitable. Or not…Tyson has shown himself to be, among athletes, maybe the top example of living an examined life in a manner so suited for current media practices and preferences.
ALL-TIME GREAT AS PUGILIST-PHILOSOPHER
Tyson’s insights into self aren’t of the lightweight Oprah-style low wattage mock profundities. He speaks of piercing self loathing, of malevolent yearning, of destructive wallowing in nostalgia.
One has to wonder, because only he and his current inner circle really know, is the Sept. 12 fight, or “fight,” with Jones, which will be offered on Pay Per View, an example of indulging in destructive nostalgia?
That is a key phrase, “one has to wonder.” I have to. I have to talk about it, think about it, consider it, cover it.
Because Mike Tyson, with his combination of athleticism and ferocity and focus and determination and fury and self destructiveness and wisdom forged through decades of folly, missteps, unimaginable celebrity and wealth, is still the most famous living boxer. And it could well be that our societies moving forward will in 20, 50 and one hundred years deem Tyson the more fascinating being than Muhammad Ali.
Maybe you aren’t like me. But if you have gotten this far in this piece, I think you are, to an extent. You continue to be curious, you have noted that this “league” that Tyson has set up, is called the “Legends Only League,” the initialism “LOL.” Laughing out loud, eh? Brilliant, the perfect marketing-branding touch in order to convey that the BS-ing, sorry, the hyping of this event won’t devolve into a deception campaign that will bait the curious into watching, only to leave them underwhelmed and unlikely to once again invest time or money into watching boxing.
We are told that LOL is a “sports league created and owned by Mike Tyson and Eros Innovations. We are a next-generation sports venture that provides full support and infrastructure to the world’s greatest athletes. We create consumer products, live events, premium content, and full-service management for the greatest sports stars the globe has ever known.”
So, we wonder, will, say, George Foreman be added to the roster, would LOL invite a 71 year old ex heavyweight champ to the party? We have questions and know that this Tyson exhibition will steal oxygen from contemporary campaigners, and some of them may well be grumbling about the incursion. But, if they’re lucky, maybe our hardcore fanbase will snake up to the 400,000s from the 300,000s because Tyson, AGAIN, got them hooked on product.
Tyson ended his professional run in 2005, at 50-6, 44 knockouts, while Jones has a 66-9, 47 KOs record. He hung up the mitts, we thought, in February 2018. Jones has been open to engaging in other “inventive” promotions in a bid to stir up interest. In 2016, Jones fought a man named Vyron Phillips, who got presented as a “fan” who won the opportunity to fight Jones. If he won, he’d get $100,000. Vyron had in actuality taken part in nine professional MMA matches before he did the Jones job. The year before, Jones had raised a few eyebrows when he was granted rights as a citizen of Russia, by dictator Vladimir Putin.
The Tyson-Jones fight has been sanctioned by the California State Athletic Commission, and the specifics will be hashed out and shared. Headgear, no headgear? Will Tyson go hard? Will Jones? The curiosity will need to be satisfied and you will have to do that be buying the event, which, we are told, is being produced by Tyson, English film and media executive Sophie Watts, Hollywood producer Johnny Ryan Jr., podcast producer Azim Spicer, Tyson’s wife Kiki Tyson, major league film producer Ryan Kavanaugh, a bossman at Warner Bros Pictures and Bobby Sarnevesht, partner at Proxima Media and now executive chairman of Triller. This is no joker’s row of vultures picking the bones of a relic of a talent.
I was not by now am familiar with this Triller, which we are told is an artificial intelligence powered music video app. Sounds like TikTok, maybe? It allows users to “create professional-looking videos in a matter of seconds.” If you are so moved, you can pick a song, select the portion of the tune you want to use, capture some snippets, and then share. I’m pretty sure that’s what my almost 10 year old does on TikTok.
Proxima put $28 million into growing Triller last fall, and so, yes, I’m more than a bit curious if this Tyson deal will be given a stiff push by the ascending music video DIY platform. Halogen Networks, for the record, will power the PPV and live streaming components of the event.
Eros Innovations is described as a “global venture creation group.” One Sophie Watts is the leader of Eros, which started in 1977 distributing VHS product. Now it’s an on demand entity, which has offered films, music videos, and boasts that is has more than 10 million paid subscribers and 113 million registered users, in 135 countries including India. So, it may be that more people outside America rather than in the US order the Tyson-Jones clash.
But this is really an “only in America” endeavor, isn’t it?
The card, which will feature non boxing performances, unfolds at Dignity Health Sports Park, in Los Angeles. Tyson told Max Kellerman on ESPN’s First Take about his “comeback” of sorts, on Thursday, and the video got 70,000 plus views in a few hours.
The ex Baddest Man on the Planet spoke to Max from the passenger seat in a car, and told Kellerman that the idea came to him when he was watching ex NFLer Jerry Rice, now 57, look in superb shape, still dynamic and compelling.
Maybe Dennis Rodman can be part of LOL, and what about Allen Iverson, he’d maybe fit into this concept, Tyson said.
Why compete, at age 54? Boxing isn’t Pickleball, after all. “It’s because I can do it,” the 2011 International Boxing Hall of Fame fighter said. “I can do it and I believe other people believe they can do it to. We’re both accomplished fighters, it’s an eight round exhibition, we know how to take care of ourselves,” Tyson said. “We’ll be alright. Trust me, I can take care of myself.”
And trust me, Tyson is going to be selling his ass off to make money on this. He would have sold me a 1977 Ford Pinto that had been used by the Son of Sam with “catsup” stains on the rear seatback using the skills of persuasion he fired at Kellerman, when he said of Larry Holmes’ comeback after Tyson demolished him: “He had the greatest comeback almost in history,” said Tyson, leaning forward, his voice level rising, some of that 1987 fire still summonable.
For ten seconds, you saw it. In those hype videos, superbly edited, two seconds at a time, you saw it. “I feel like I took better care of my body and my state of mind than most of the fighters before me, than most of the fighters before me that retired and came back.”
So, will we be seeing real-deal action? Tyson thinks they will have to wear head-gear, and “we’ll be in there showing our skills.” He hinted that the stakes are still sky high. “When you sign that contract…it’s an unwritten clause in there…in any moment in training or fighting, you can die…That’s just what it is.”
Kellerman showed his NYC bulldog ways, he really wanted to know if Tyson is going to take Roy’s head off. “Max, only thing I have to say, I’m a neophyte in trying to take it easy,” he said, when it was noted that Ali did exhibitions a certain way. “I don’t know how to do it that well, I’m just one-speed forward. Roy’s just going to have to deal with that.”
NEVER FORGET, BOXING IS A BUSINESS, A SPORTS ENTERTAINMENT BUSINESS
And as per usual, Tyson hit that nail on the head as he boiled down some basics as to why this exhibition will be successful. “The people that we’re talking about now, that society says are over-age, and washed up, they have a bigger fanbase than the guys fighting and playing now. So what’s the purpose? The name of the game is to get our fans excited and see us again.”
And, let me be that voice of reason…to make money. WWE isn’t the only construct that should be lumped into the ‘sports entertainment’ category. Pro boxing is that, and for sure, this forthcoming LOL main event is first and foremost a bid to collect chunks of money from people who are curious. They will pay for the pleasure of getting their curiosity satisfied, and ideally, the great majority will see the production and feel like they got their money’s worth. One key to that is what peoples’ expectations are when they hit the B for “Buy” button. I recommend you adjust your wants as you maybe have regarding living during the coronavirus months–lower that bar.
Did you get through the day…period?
Did you not die?
Did you get some laughs in?
Were you able to eat decent food and fill your belly, and can the same be said for your kids, or your Grandma?
You have a roof over head?
Consider that winning.
And if you enjoy the lead-up to the Tyson “kinda comeback,” and he distracts you from the domestic political shit show and the rampant unemployment carnage, consider it money well spent.
No, I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that the Tyson fight is coming together while the pandemic continues to rage in various places around the world. Tyson, like most all of us, since the end of February had extra time to sit and be still, and contemplate. That meant contemplating past, present and future. And also, for someone who will burrow down a mental and emotional rabbit hole, of comparing and contrasting himself with others and other versions of himself, to ponder mortality.
Got a lil sore throat, and then the next morning you develop a little cough. Is that death on my door step? Maybe…Or just a lil cold, and you will get over it in a couple days.
And you can allow that to paralyze you, or you can grab a bottle of tequila and try to make yourself care a bit less…Or you can say fuck it, and grab the gloves and try to lace ’em up one…more…time.
“Kid Dynamite” doesn’t have a salt and pepper beard. It’s all salt. There are badder men on the planet than he, and sometimes Tyson gets to feeling low, the opposite of that impregnable mindset he luxuriated in when he was “Iron Mike.” Our tomorrow is not promised to us; you maybe knew that before, but you know it better now. Tyson gets it, so he’s going to have fun, and make funds, and we are all free to ignore the whole deal…or appreciate this leg of the ride. I will be.
—Michael Woods, a Park Slope, Brooklyn resident, has been writing about boxing since 1995. He worked at NY Newsday, ESPN The Magazine and is today the publisher of NYFights.com.