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Men’s boxing Mike Tyson v Roy Jones Jnr

BOXING provides an abundance of excuses to climb into the saddle of your moral high horse.

It is, after all, the back alley of sports, where decency is a midget in comparison to the indecency that too often predominates — this the product of a culture in which greed routinely outweighs honour by a factor of a hundred and more. 

Perhaps, though, the moral desert which boxing occupies is central to its fascination in an ever more censorious world in which to put a foot wrong is to suffer condign punishment.

Thus the moral and ethical release which boxing provides allows us to tap into the darker recesses of the soul — a place where Nietzsche’s admonition that you should “live in conflict with your equals and with yourselves! Be robbers and ravagers as long as you cannot be rulers and owners,” does more to capture the essence of the human spirit than Christ’s Sermon on the Mount.

Excepting Sonny Liston, when it comes to darkness no heavyweight ever stalked a boxing ring accompanied by the forces of such as Mike Tyson did.

Indeed, when in his prime, such was his aura of menace and capacity for violence that the courage required just to walk to the ring to face him was of the Victoria Cross and Purple Heart variety. 

By the end, though, those forces of darkness upon which he so heavily relied had deserted him, reducing him in the winter of his career to a mere shadow of what had gone before, reflected in defeats to the likes of Britain’s Danny Williams and Ireland’s Kevin McBride.

The news, then, that Tyson is returning to the ring on September 12 to face another fallen legend, Roy Jones Jnr, in an eight-round exhibition bout in Los Angeles, will doubtless leave a bitter taste in the mouth of the purist and the curdling anticipation associated with a looming train crash in the stomach of everyone else.

What is it about boxing that makes it so hard to let go for men who’ve reached the age of contemplation and reflection?

Is the yearning for past glories so strong? Does it reflect a failure of the human psyche that it can surmount the last fortress of reason to blind those caught up in its net as to the insanity of stepping into a ring to trade blows at the age of 54 (Tyson) and 51 (Jones Jnr)?

Even taking in hand the fact that each fighter will be wearing bigger than average gloves and that they’ve agreed that neither will try for a knockout, by any and all objective measure this is an event pregnant with risk.

Tyson’s last fight was his loss to McBride 15 years ago, while Roy Jones Jnr last fought competitively in 2018, winning a unanimous decision against a complete unknown by the name of Scott Sigmon to clinch the WBU cruiserweight title (German version). 

Jones is one of the more fascinating characters to have graced the sport. He went from all-time great during his peak in the ’90s, a fighter who electrified the sport with his freakish speed and reflexes, to a man who fought as if he was underwater towards the end of a career that went on way past the point of relevance but yet who didn’t seem to care. 

It still only seems like yesterday that he put in a dismal performance against Britain’s Joe Calzaghe in Las Vegas in 2008.

The Welshman’s last fight, by rights it should also have been Roy Jones Jnr’s.

Yet on he went, doggedly determined to recapture that which by now was impossible to recapture, like a man refusing to accept the limitations imposed by Father Time.

Far be it from me or anyone else, though, to criticise a man with the spirit of a Roy Jones Jnr.

And, too, what right does anyone have to lampoon those who refuse to voluntarily adorn the straitjacket of conventional wisdom?

I just make the point that even in his prime, a fighter climbs into a boxing ring with more to lose than he could ever gain.

To do so when his avenues of escape have been depleted with the diminution of his speed and reflexes is on a par with Russian roulette.

Tyson’s physical rebirth has been astonishing to behold. The recent training footage he’s been posting on Instagram and elsewhere would have you believe that he’s miraculously discovered the secret to eternal life.

The explosiveness, speed and lateral movement for which he was famous in the ’80s is present as he smashes the pads and heavy bag with his aplomb of old.

But and but, though, the difference between training and fighting is the difference between driving in second gear and driving in sixth.

Of course fighting in an exhibition is not the same as fighting with bad intentions. But who knows what can happen in the course of a fight, any fight, when the ugly twins of adrenalin and pride decide to get involved?

For all concerned, let’s hope that Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jnr satisfy whatever it is that has driven them to embark upon this event.

Let’s hope that they both emerge intact. And let us hope also that neither man feels it necessary to repeat the exercise afterwards.

This being said, that sound you hear is the sound of floodgates being opened.

John Wight’s book, This Boxing Game: A Journey in Beautiful Brutality (Pitch Publishing), is currently available from all major booksellers. 

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