Mike Tyson Is Still the Biggest Name That Boxing Has To Offer
(Bloomberg) -- Novelty boxing matches have a long and colorful history. Fifty years ago, The Super Fight depicted the results of a fictional contest between Muhammad Ali and Rocky Marciano, at that time the only two undefeated heavyweight champions in history. Released in 1970 at 1,500 movie theaters around the world for one night only, the film generated close to $35 million in today’s adjusted dollars.
Marciano was 45 years old at the time, had not fought professionally for 13 years, suffered from obesity and serious back problems, and did not feel camera-ready after losing his hair. But a cash-strapped 27-year-old Ali, caught in the middle of his exile from boxing after refusing to be drafted to the Vietnam War, signed on to participate after being offered $10,000.
A similarly peculiar spectacle will take place on Saturday night, Nov. 28, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles—only with real blows being exchanged. Boxing legends Mike Tyson, 54, and Roy Jones Jr., 51, will mount an eight-round exhibition (two minutes each) as the headliners of a $50 pay-per-view event.
Tyson hasn’t fought in 15 years, since failing to answer the bell in the seventh round against journeyman Kevin McBride. Jones Jr.’s career began a precipitous decline after his shocking 2004 loss to Antonio Tarver, the first of five knockouts he would suffer over the last 14 years of his professional career.
Despite these facts, Saturday’s showdown looms as the most marketable spectacle boxing can offer. It’s available on the streaming service Triller, which began in 2015 and is advertised as “an AI-driven music and social media experience bringing together creators, artists, and brands around the world.” It has positioned itself as the U.S. version of TikTok and, in August, tried to buy the app’s U.S. operations for $20 billion.
The site is backed by Hollywood producer Ryan Kavanaugh, a co-founder of the film studio Relativity Media. “This is a one-time, once-in-a-lifetime battle,” says Kavanaugh. “This will be an epic entertainment event with something for everyone. We are pinching ourselves right now that we actually brought this to life and believe it will be one of the iconic moments of the year.”
Exactly what the viewing public’s expectations are for the event remain in question. The undercard features a line-up that includes Jake Paul (20.2 million subscribers on Youtube) going head-to-head for six rounds against Nate Robinson, a former basketball player for the New York Knicks.
Since the fight was announced, Andy Foster, the executive director of the California State Athletic Commission, which is sanctioning the bout, has been adamant that there will be no judges, no cumulative score, and no winner will be announced for the main event.
He added that the bout will be stopped if there’s a “bad cut,” without offering further clarity on what that might mean. Foster organized a Zoom meeting with Tyson and Jones Jr. to gain their assurances that the event would not offer “some kind of real fight” and explicitly stated he didn’t want anyone to get hurt.
“People shouldn’t be getting knocked out,” Foster said. “[Referee] Ray Corona won’t let people get hurt. He understands what an exhibition is. It’s not a fight-fight.”
Shortly after Foster’s public comments, Triller’s Kavanaugh assured me that Saturday’s main event was definitely a real “fight-fight.” Tyson has also echoed that sentiment. Jones Jr. has said he views the fight as the most dangerous of his career.
Given these contradictory statements by the bout’s organizers, I turned to two boxing experts to see what they expect from Saturday’s main event.
“This is not a serious boxing match,” says Thomas Hauser, author of the Pulitzer Prize-nominated biography Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times. “Either it will be a sparring session or it will be something much worse,” he says. “Fifty-year-old people should not be getting punched in the head by other 50-year-old people trained in the art of hurting. Roy has two bad knees. He doesn’t have the greatest chin. He’s suffered five horrible knockouts. I think this event speaks to the sad state of boxing today. A lot of people are buying this fight hoping it ends up a train wreck.”
Andre Ward, the retired undefeated light-heavyweight champion and current ESPN analyst, says he wouldn’t promote a fight like this. “Not that I don’t love both guys,” he says, “but because I know what can happen. If it goes bad—and it very well can go bad with one punch from either guy—then all bets are off.”
When Ali and Marciano entered the studio in Miami five decades ago, it was to softly spar for 70 one-minute rounds before cameras. The footage was then edited to give the impression the boxers were something like marionettes being manipulated by an NCR 315 computer. Marciano lost almost 50 pounds and sported a toupee, which Ali accidentally knocked off at one point. Ketchup was used for the cuts and bloody nose Ali inflicted upon him.
Curiously, the outcome differed depending on which continent you watched it from. European audiences watched as Ali knocked out Marciano in the 13th round, while American and Canadian audiences witnessed Marciano knocking out Ali in the 13th. (Ali sued for defamation.)
But it was a commercial success, and Hauser thinks this bout could be, too. “There are a lot of gullible people out there,” he says.
©2020 Bloomberg L.P.