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Maybe Mike Tyson Can Come Back, Make Some Noise In the Heavyweight Division

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The Clip, tantalizing and provocative, has been clicked on Instagram ten million times.

No telling how many people said, “Hey, look at this, Mike Tyson hitting pads! He looks really good! Damn…I bet he could come back and fight, and maybe even win a title!”

More than a few, I’m sure.

Heck, even some seasoned vets saw The Clip, and it had them doing a ‘what if’ dance in their head.

Tyson touched on what he was doing, on Instagram Saturday into Sunday.

“I’ve been hitting the mitts for the last week. That’s been tough, my body is really jacked up and really sore from hitting the mitts,” said the man formerly (and once again?) known as The Baddest Man on the Planet. “I’ve been working out, I’ve been trying to get in the ring, I think I’m going to box some exhibitions and get in shape. I want to go to the gym and get in shape to be able to box three or four-round exhibitions for some charities and stuff. Some charity exhibitions, make some money, help some homeless and drug-affected motherfucker  like me.”

I do wonder when the seeds for this were planted. Member a lil while back, the story made the rounds, Tyson on his podcast spoke on hitting middle age?

It was February 28, and he told Sugar Ray Leonard how much he meant to him, how much Ray inspired him when he was a wayward kid. If you didn’t know, Tyson is now a master podcaster. “Discipline is doing what you hate to do, but doing it like you love it,” he told Leonard, who dug the profundity.

Mike Tyson had Sugar Ray Leonard on his "Hotboxin'" podcast.

Leonard and Tyson got mega deep, touching on addiction, being sexually abused, this was a therapy session.

 

“I’m a fucking student of war,” said Tyson, who for the last couple of years has been telling one and all how much he enjoys the affects of marijuana. “I know all the warriors, from Charlemagne to Achilles. The number one warrior of all warriors – and then Alexander and Napoleon. I know them all. …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. 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.”

Yes, it can be hard to harken back to glory days, when you get past the age that you can bullshit yourself that of you just work hard enough, focus hard enough, you can return to that form. This pandemic, the lockdown, the quarantine time, it’s getting a lot of us pondering the past, trafficking in memories, and looking the prospect of mortality square in the face, without a mask on.

“Because sometimes I feel like a bitch,” said the Brooklyn born survivor as Leonard stared at him, transfixed. “I don’t want that person to come out because if he comes out, hell is coming with him. And it’s not funny at all. I sound cool, like I’m a tough guy but I hate that guy. I’m scared of him.”

Thing is, that guy is gone.

Young Mike Tyson is gone, but some of what spurred him and made him be able to fight angry, remains.

Young Mike Tyson is gone, but some of what spurred him and made him be able to fight angry, remains. This tantalizes all of us who want a time machine, and to be forever young.

But an approximation of him can return. The impetuousness, the low frustration tolerance, only now, if it appears, maybe it shows up in a road rage incident. and the other guy has a gone. Or in a domestic squabble, when the old ways and ways of thinking come back, and land the flashback victim in jail. So, maybe Tyson knows all that, and that’s why he realizes that he still has emotions that bubble, and perhaps the podcast and weed regimen isn’t cathartic enough. hence, the talk of fighting again.

The clip, the remarks, it got people talking. Some went down memory lane, to a jacked Tyson, impregnable defense because his offense was nuclear, frenetic and ferocious, murder hornet nasty in short pants. It got people thinking…Maybe….What if….He’s older, sure, but so much wiser.

And they looked up his age. Oh….53….OK, that’s not young. But this heavyweight division, it’s not a Golden Age. If he would, could he?

Could Tyson come back, and do some business and beat some tails?

Another living legend who looks in the mirror and wonders, what if, is Oscar De La Hoya. You don’t hear him called “The Golden Boy” much anymore, but you watch old video of him now and marvel. Speed, aggression, balance, punch selection, all of it better than good. He talks about coming back about once a year. He just said, in fact, that he’d KO Conor McGregor, within two rounds, in a boxing match. For the record, he is 47 years old, and last fought in 2008. The California based deal maker was asked about Tyson of today, how would he fare?

“I’m sure that if he trains for 12 rounds, right now he’ll knock out any heavyweight,” Oscar said.

OK, all should understand that Oscar is a canny promoter, he will say things so suckers like me pick up on it, and pass it on to you. If I caught Oscar alone, and brought a Bible with me, I don’t think he’d tell me that Mike Tyson could after a lengthy spell getting back into fighting trim could beat Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua or Deontay Wilder. But…..But wouldn’t it be interesting to see?

I mean, I’d bet not a cent on Mike to defeat AJ…But I’d open the wallet to see if maybe Tyson could for 30 seconds be 75% of the swarming beast of 1986, and could catch Joshua, and send a message to 50 somethings all over the world that they too could turn back that clock. Of course, after the clock turning exercise, the ER would in the months after be filled with gray haired beer gutted disconsolates getting x-rays for broken ankles and fractured arms, after accidents on the courts, the ice, the fields. But I’d pay to receive confirmation.

The talk of Tyson had me recalling a chat with yet another living legend, George Foreman. He is 71 now, 62 when I asked him if he thought with a solid training stint, he could make some waves in the heavyweight division, still beat some guys ranked in the top 30.

Michael Woods spoke to George Foreman in 2011 and asked him how he'd fare if he tried a comeback at age 62.

Michael Woods spoke to George Foreman in 2011 and asked him how he’d fare if he tried a comeback at age 62. Pride holds up, and guess what, George was right then, and now.

Wladimir Klitschko was atop the division then, and within the top 30 were Chauncey Welliver, Francesco Pianeta, Darrel  Madison and Neven Pajkic, according to the WBC. “The sad thing about it, it’s true,” Foreman told me then. “It would take months to get into shape. And whoever was the champion, it’s not to say I would win, but they’d have to back away. They would have to come up with a strategy. I would love to say they’d kill me. It’s not to be proud of. I love boxing.”

I repeated the construct to George today. He laughed. George Foreman, at age 72, against some of these top 30 guys..and against the top guns. “Even today,” the Texas based preacher/ex puncher said, “they’d have to devise a strategy, but I’d only have to be myself.”

George is George. He keeps himself mentally fit, he’s grounded in a spiritual base that gives him serenity, you saw it on display when at 45 he stayed patient and predatory and then dropped an anvil on Michael Moorers’ head and won the heavyweight championship back. That was a stunning second act. Tyson’s second act outside the ring has been as good as they get. That guy had gravestone inscribers nationwide ready to get to work since the early 90s. But a return to the ring? For real? For anyone wishing hoping and dreaming of it, that would not go well.

Tyson could get into a semblance of shape, if his body didn’t mutiny on him, during camp. That’s a humongous if. Chances are great that a tendon tears, or a rotator cuff shreds, or both those things. A 53 year old body has a way of sending messages to the foolhardy. We all have only so many miles on the tires…we get worn down and message is received: this is a sport for younger beings.

Also, the lungs. Marijuana seems to agree with Tyson, he says it mellows him.

Marijuana is a placater drug, it makes life more manageable, because it spurs dreams and fantasies, and makes the humdrum of day to day living, for some users.

Marijuana is a placation drug, it makes life more manageable, because it spurs dreams and fantasies, and makes the humdrum of day to day living more acceptable, for some users.

 

But that smoke into the lungs, it may be better for them than cigarettes or vaping, even, but it won’t aid Tyson as he goes past a round. It’s reefer madness, crazier than smoking $40,000 worth a month, oh what those lungs would be screaming at him in a fight versus a rando Top 30 heavyweight, or AJ.

Some of the “credit” and “blame” for this marvelous marketing push has to go to trainer Rafael Cordeiro, a 46 year old Brazilian. Yes, I hadn’t heard of him either. “I didn’t know what to expect,” trainer Cordeiro told ESPN’s Ariel Helwani on May 5. “He hasn’t hit mitts for almost 10 years. So I didn’t expect to see what I saw. I saw a guy with the same speed, same power as guys 21, 22 years old.”

That droolery stuck with some people, honestly, mostly people who don’t know any better.

Ten seconds, for ten seconds I can do a few things as fast as I did when I was 22. But then the surge fades, and with Mike, that energy would probably not even be present for 30 seconds in the first round of a non exhibition fight against any top 30 pro.

That’s because the mental drain of getting back on that saddle would leave him flat as he walked to the ring, especially if as rumored he is getting a ringwalk costume from Wilders’ guy.

Cordeiro told ESPN’s Steve Kim he thinks that within six months Tyson could to where he could make a successful comeback as a boxer.

“Could you imagine a third fight with Evander Holyfield?” Cordeiro said, and yes, I can, and the part of me that wants that is the part that just finished that pint of Ben and Jerry’s and wishes he hadn’t. It was there, it tempted me, I went for it, now I feel bad…

“It’s not a joke,” Cordeiro said, stuck in a fantasy of getting ten percent of Tyson’s comeback purse.

No, it’s a dream…and then we wake up, and we sift all options and force ourselves to be grounded in known certainties, and we agree that matching a 53 year old Cheech who last fought in 2005 against a 57 year old in Holyfield who last fought in 2011 isn’t palatable unless you are named Billy McFarland and you are dreaming about the sequel to Fyre Festival in Ohio’s Elkton Federal Correctional Institution.

Boxing is a younger man and women's game.

Boxing is a younger man and women’s game. Maybe Tyson is stirring the pot for press, or maybe he needs to get a cruel reminder of this fact.

I checked in with someone who was there for last stage Tyson within the pro ranks. Michigan’s John Lepak was involved in 17 promotions as Tyson played out the string, long after he’d lost his real love for the sport, the combat.

“I remember seeing Mike spar Timur Ibragimov on several occasions leading up to the Danny Williams fight,” Lepak said. Rust Iron Mike met Brit Danny Williams on July 30, 2004, in Louisville. “I really believe had he not blown out his knee, he had a shot vs Wladimir Klitschko back then. Despite burning the candle at both ends, he really looked good.”

You getting high watching “The Clip?” Watch this, so you don’t get a hangover.

Yes, when people sense there is money to be made, eyes blur, senses get lulled and dulled. Tyson blew out a knee in round one versus Williams, and saw an $80 million deal with Bob Arum go up in smoke. But people around him whispered in his ear, you ain’t done, greatness is still in you.

Mike didn’t beat the count in round four after Williams barraged him. “Every single round that went by, his punching power seemed to grow less,” Williams said. File that away, will you, if you got excited by “The Clip.”

Then manager Shelly Finkel right after the loss said, “I assume he’ll fight again, but that has not been discussed. There’s plenty of Tyson left based on the first two, three rounds, but we haven’t talked about that at all.” Oh, but he talked about it soon enough. Tyson got booked with someone perceived to be even easier than Williams, the Irishman Kevin McBride. That went as well as the Williams fight. Tyson was giving most of his $5 million plus purse to pay off taxes and satisfy the bankruptcy court. He tried to Botha McBride’s arm, intentionally butted him to draw a DQ, Joe Cortez took two points from him,  and he even bit his tit. Yeah, his heart wasn’t in it then. Didn’t get the message from the Williams fight ending? Then watch Tyson’s last bout, against McBride, cornered by Goody Petronelli, Brockton bless his soul.

Tyson stated after, “I do not have the guts to be in this sport anymore. 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 they kept asking, they always do if they think there is money to be made.

Lepak continues his recollecting. “Maybe a year after the McBride fight our friend Darryl stayed in but late one night I accompanied Mike to Pieros restaurant in Vegas. Who’s holding court? Emanuel Steward! For months after that Emanuel called me literally pleading for me to ask Mike to make a comeback for just one fight. He described how Mike could wear the Kronk gold and white boxing shoes as he felt the black boots made him fight heavy. Emanuel kept saying what a good boxer he was and how he could box using his jab and he also felt Mike had explosive power that would never go away. What Emanuel or no one else really didn’t know at that time, Mike was in a much more serious fight outside the ring battling some issues. I never mentioned it to Mike,” Lepak said.  “Now I don’t know if this pad guy in the video has ever worked with an elite boxer, as boxing is very different than MMA, but I have to imagine he’s feeling a little of what Emanuel saw. Mike will always have explosive power.”

Yep, you will not want to be the guy who tries to mug 80 year old Mike Tyson. His left hook then will drop and stop a marauding thug who rudely requests the delivery of his wallet.

So, what does Lepak think of a return to the ring? “From what I hear Mikes in a much better place now than he was in 2006. Does that mean I think he can beat Father Time? No,” Lepak said. “But can he get in some decent shape and do a couple exhibitions and make some millions? Absolutely. God bless him. He has a family to support and clearly still legions of loyal followers like a modern day Alexander The Great!”

Sounds about right. Exhibitions are where it’s at..Or should be at. But the problem is, those can’t be sold like a real bout can be, so some folks will be offering suitcases of money to get Mike back for One More Time. His old pal Holyfield sounds game. “I’m back,” he announced in an Instagram video shot in black ‘n white, and saw him looking trim in doing slow road work, skipping, shadowing, hitting a speed and heavy bag.

He wants to fight exhibitions for charity, he’s saying. But what he’s saying and what promoter and manager types in all corners of the world are plotting, those are different animals. Blame coronavirus, lots of traveling down paths to better days has lots of people making poor decisions. For me, it’s ice cream. But that “idle time is the devil’s playground” adage rings true and hurtfully in this scary age. A shrink would tell you, maybe, that it’s all a reaction to the prospect of not living forever.

Bottom line, I am not here to piss in that pool, pee on those parades being planned in bored brains.

This lockdown has people acting different.

Everyone over 25 has been drifting off into daydreaming about glory days. Mike and Evander too. And if they get the best brain scans and can get a license, I’m not here to say no. We have one life, and some of it will be spent, if we’re lucky, raging against the dimming of the light, as we get older.

But I am on record wanting to tell some people to slow their roll. Age ain’t just a number, it’s THE limiting factor when it comes to continuing athletic exploits. Bernard Hopkins, almost 52 years old, thought he had it figured out, Joe Smith convinced him that birthdays aren’t only for mortals, we are all mortal. Better watch out, those thinking age bring wisdoms. It can spur lethal delusions, too.

For ten seconds, the graybeards can flurry like their young selves, but then the huffing and the puffing starts, and usually we smarten up and remember: Glory days, they’ll pass you by, and they ain’t coming back.

Boxers do, glory days don’t.

 

End note 1: Check out this episode of the Everlast TALKBOX podcast; in January 2019. I asked Tyson, would he come back and fight?

Mike Tyson on the January 18, 2019 edition of Everlast "Talkbox."

End note 2: I have written extensively about Tyson over the years. Here he is talking about the positive effects of toad venom. 

In 2011, Mike made the NY Boxing Hall of Fame. “For having clawed his way out of a hellish youth, achieving majestic athletic feats, surviving in this tabloid era of journalism, and for not allowing fame to totally consume him,” I wrote on ESPN,  “Mike Tyson deserves a spot in the ESPN New York Hall of Fame.”

Tyson made the Canastota Hall in 2011. For TheSweetScience.com, I wrote, “The old Mike Tyson, you could point at him and counsel the kids, “Don’t do as he does.” This Tyson, you can point to him and counsel the kids,”If you mess up, do as this guy did. Learn from your mistake, and be a better man for it.”

In 2013, he made amends with Teddy Atlas. “It was riveting material,” I wrote for ESPN,  “a powerful expression of the power and possibilities of forgiveness, and redemption.

Also in 2013, Tyson talked about getting into the promotional side. I weighed in, for The Sweet Science: “All in all, I ended the call wanting to hear more, from one of the most compelling athletes of our time, a man who has lived an examined life, and continues to show anyone whose mind is open enough to comprehend, that life turnarounds are possible, and you can bring yourself out of a rut, and get clean, and start living a constructive life. The Liston path, featuring an exit at age 38, isn’t inevitable.”

Back in 2015, Tyson coming back was the brief talk of the town. I touched on it for TSS. “To be clear, there would be immense curiosity in a Tyson comeback. Scorn, doubt…and interest. Money would be made, pay-per-view buys would be achieved. How many, who could say. But he’s remained relevant, with documentaries, and a stage show, and a book, in the last few years. His name recognition is high, and with “elderly” boxers like Wladimir Klitschko and Bernard Hopkins still able to be more than a shell of their greatest selves nearing and beyond 40 and 50, the Tyson comeback could be sold to some masses. Readers, what say you…if he had an itch, and wanted to scratch it,  would you watch?”

Shoot, I had forgotten, I had written about Tyson, within the context of a Warren Zevon concert review, for my college paper in 1990. That paper was called “The Transcript.” And there were plenty more, not archived, in Boxing Digest Magazine, and SecondsOut.com, and Maxboxing.com, and yet more on ESPN.com and The Sweet Science, and I’m sure one or two more outlets I forgot about. Tyson will ALWAYS get written about. 

 

Michael Woods is a Brooklyn resident, since 2003. He grew up in Massachusetts, and he has done the Everlast TALKBOX podcast since 2016. Follow him on Twitter, for news and opinions. 

About Michael Woods

Michael Woods

Editor/publisher Michael Woods became addicted to boxing in 1990, when Buster Douglas shocked the world with his demolition of the fearsome Mike Tyson. The Brooklyn-based journalist Woods has covered the sport since then, for ESPN The Magazine, ESPN.com, ESPN New York, RING, and he was editor of TheSweetScience.com from 2007-2015. Woods is also an accomplished blow by blow and color man, having done work for Top Rank, DiBella Entertainment, EPIX, and numerous other organizations.

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