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When Mike Tyson was in his prime, he was described as “the baddest man on the planet.” A heavyweight boxing champion who thrashed his opponents into submission so quickly, many of them never even got to experience a seat on the corner stool – they were in and out of the ring in less than three minutes.

He was ferocious and his beatings could be savage; Tyson’s fists moved so fast that “Iron Mike” struck fear into his opponents long before they stepped through the ropes and, even now, 15 years after his last fight as a professional, the 54-year-old American maintains a formidable reputation.

A man who frequently courted controversy both inside and outside of the ring, the former world heavyweight champion could be described as many things, but it seems rather unusual to call him “a dance partner,” which is how Roy Jones Jr. referred to his compatriot ahead of their exhibition fight in Los Angeles on Saturday.

“I’m happy, I get to see what it’s like to be in the ring with Mike Tyson before I die,” Jones told CNN. “I’ll get the best wishes of my life.”

For the 51-year-old Jones, this is almost a story of unrequited love, a date – at last – with the fighter that got away.

While Tyson dominated his division to become one of the greatest heavyweights of all time, Jones cemented his legacy by moving through the divisions, becoming world champion in four different weights.

Jones said that when he was the heavyweight champion in 2003, the only man he wanted to fight was Tyson, but the stars never aligned. Close to retirement, Tyson wasn’t interested in fighting much anymore and so Jones returned to the light heavyweight division and continued boxing until 2018.

Asked how he felt about coming out of retirement in his 50s, Jones said: “On a scale of one to 10? About a five. But because of Mike Tyson, I’m about a 15!”

Roy Jones Jr. wins a unanimous twelve-round decision against John Ruiz to claim the WBA Heavyweight title, becoming the first Light Heavyweight to do so since 1897.
Chris Farina/Corbis/Getty Images
Roy Jones Jr. wins a unanimous twelve-round decision against John Ruiz to claim the WBA Heavyweight title, becoming the first Light Heavyweight to do so since 1897.

’I’m back’

Few boxers have created such excitement in boxing as Tyson, few have gained as much respect as Jones.

Both must have thought their fighting was behind them, but everything changed in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic when Tyson posted a video of him training with rapid-fire intensity on social media, declaring “I’m back.”

Speculation swirled of a comeback and for two months it seemed as though he’d rekindle his rivalry with Evander Holyfield, Tyson’s conqueror in 1996 and 1997 and the first boxer since Muhammad Ali to win a world heavyweight title three times.

But, at the end of July, Tyson announced instead that he’d be fighting Jones.

Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) trade punches on June 28, 1997 in their WBA heavyweight Championship fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
Jeff Haynes/AFP/Getty Images
Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) trade punches on June 28, 1997 in their WBA heavyweight Championship fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

“You get a call from the great Mike Tyson – it’s very difficult [to say no],” Jones said.

Tyson is dictating the terms of the fight; first the deal was to use 16-ounce gloves with headgear, then it was 12-ounce gloves without any protection – and the lighter the glove, the harder the punch.

It’s an eight-round exhibition fight, although the rules have reportedly been adjusted so it can be ended with a knockout, which the Jones camp knows is Tyson’s intention. Fortunately, they say, their man is prepared.

Jones said he will need to avoid the early barrage of blows and stay in the contest, then he expects the tide to turn in his favor.

“You got a cheetah on one side, who can run 60 miles per hour, but only for 30 seconds. And on the other hand, you’ve got a wild dog, with strong jaws, that can run all day,” he explained.

“I’m taking a big risk going out there with no head gear and 12-ounce gloves. Every day, he’s a killer. The referee or the commission can say what they want, but you can’t tell Mike ‘don’t do this.’ You can tell him, but he won’t listen.”

The passage of time won’t have changed anything regarding Tyson’s style, Jones said, “That’s all he knew. So how can you expect to get something else? Dogs don’t meow. They bark.”

Going vegan

The rounds will be 60 seconds shorter than usual – two minutes, instead of three, and it’s been sanctioned by the California State Athletic Commission.

The fighters have been rigorously tested. On the day of this interview, Jones said he’d submitted to a bloodwork test, explaining: “I gotta get a brain scan, gotta get a heart scan, gotta get a cardio test. I gotta get a lot of stuff because they are concerned about our health. They want to make sure we are fit before we go in.”

Tyson has said he’s lost 100 pounds to get in shape, telling ABC’s “Good Morning America” that he’s been on a vegan diet – and he’s been joyfully removing his shirt on television appearances to show off his physique.

And clothing isn’t the only thing that Tyson apparently can do without. He told the talk show host Jimmy Kimmel that he plans on giving all of his purse to charity, saying: “I want to die with a good conscience. I’m here to make this [world] a better place.”

Jones said he’ll be donating money towards charities that fight human trafficking and breast cancer.

The fight is a pay-per-view event and it’s being sold for $50 in the US. It remains to be seen whether two boxers in their 50s can live up to the hype, even if they are legends of their sport.

It is certainly an intriguing match up and the fans are hoping to get their money’s worth; it might be an exhibition fight, but they haven’t paid to see anyone dancing.