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Dignity? My thoughts on Roy Jones Jr. vs. Mike Tyson

Mike Tyson Roy Jones Jr.

By Joseph Hirsch: Boxing fans don’t need me to tell them that Roy Jones Junior and Mike Tyson are set to fight an exhibition match in Carson, California this coming September, in a venue ironically named Dignity Health Sports Park.

Neither do the fans need another screed about how boxing is at times morally suspect? Sure, greybeard commentator, Larry Merchant is correct when he says that boxing is the red light district of the sports world, but they don’t call that vice the oldest profession for nothing. Boxing is, like that other vice, beyond eradicating permanently, and it would be a waste of time to talk about ending or even reforming it.

Pointing out that both men can be hurt severely (or even worse) in the fight would also be a waste of breath (or keystrokes). The Gods of Boxing are quite fickle, and a roughly fifty-year-old man (Bernard Hopkins) can get knocked through the ropes, exit the ring headfirst, and bounce like a foursquare ball into Press Row only to dust himself off and be fine in the next minute.

Meanwhile, a perfectly healthy Olympic-caliber athletic can have a healthy spar session and inexplicably die from a brain bleed.

Sure, we know more about the brain than we once did, but the mind is still in many ways terra incognita, and we don’t know quite how it works.

Also worth remembering is that the brain doesn’t work alone but in tandem with a bunch of other organs and body parts. Hardcore boxing heads will remember the name of Johnny Owen, the “Merthyr Matchstick” (who bore a striking resemblance to DJ Qualls of Road Trip and Hustle and Flow fame). The rail-thin Welshman died in a donnybrook while fighting Lupe Pintor for the WBC bantamweight title. Part of the reason he sustained the fatal brain injury is explained by his strong jaw of all things, since the blow from “El Grillo de Cuajimalpa” that would have broken another man’s jaw (thus releasing the pressure from the blow) actually traveled up Owen’s head and found an outlet in his skull suture, which caused the damage to the soft organ tissue of the brain. In other words, a good jaw was the proximate cause of death in the ring that fateful night at the Grand Olympic Auditorium.

But you and I already know all of this, as assuredly as Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. are more than aware of the hazards of their profession.

So when I say now that I will probably be skipping this fight (just as I did the Mayweather-McGregor cash grab), it won’t be because of any guilt complex. I probably won’t watch the fight simply because I think it will be boring, and thus the risk doesn’t make sense.

To wit: both men are not only well-past prime, but the traits that we most admired in them were already pretty much spent in the twilight of their pro careers. “Iron” Mike Tyson’s great gift was not power alone, nor the aura of menace he brought with him, but a blinding speed that made the delivery of that ferocious power a thing of beauty; he could get off a hook and an uppercut almost as fast as Muhammad Ali could pepper you with two throwaway jabs.

That skill is not exactly gone, and like everyone else, I’ve seen the mitt workout video circulating, but eight rounds (even in an exhibition) is a grueling thing, much different than a filmed and coordinated display of speed with one’s trainer.

I think that Mike will have a couple of good rounds against Roy, definitely leading in the early going. He’ll land some eye-catchers that get the crowd into it, but Roy will survive the early onslaught by tying up, and not just by tying up, but by leaning on Mike in the clinches so that Tyson’s age-induced stamina issues tell him on him even faster. The ref better be prepared to work at least as hard as the two principles (may I suggest either Tony Weeks or Jack Riis?).

Now to Roy Jones Jr., the most preternaturally gifted and exciting fighter of his era, and one of the most talented to ever lace up the gloves. His greatest gift was the ability to keep his hands down, use his seemingly open chin to bait fighters in, and then to devastate them with triphammer power punch counters usually delivered in waterfall-fluid combos. But just as Tyson didn’t have it as early as his loss to England’s Danny Williams (who is still going as a registered pro, by the way, with a ledger of 54 wins and 28 losses), Roy could not pull the trigger as early as roughly twelve years ago, when the Pride of Wales, Joe Calzaghe, diced the former great to mince in a one-sided contest almost as wince-worthy as Calzaghe’s masterclass against Jeff Lacy.

Mankind has been posing a paradoxical question to itself since as early as the Third Century A.D: What happens when an immovable object meets an unstoppable force? People are still mulling that one over and coming to wildly different conclusions.

The question I’ve been posing to myself since this “fight” was announced is a simpler one: what happens when a man whose fists were once fast as lightning meets a man who used to be able to coil fast as a Cape Cobra prepping to strike? The answer, I think, is that you catch glimpses of what once was, if you’re lucky, and if not, probably not even that. More than likely, you go home feeling cheated afterward, like the mark at the midway who paid his nickel to see a unicorn skeleton and ended up seeing horse bones with a narwhal tusk glued to the head.

Or maybe it’s more like going to see a reunion performance of a group you once liked, some musicians who once filled stadiums now performing to half-filled fairgrounds. Maybe you get lucky and see a vintage show that reminds you of your misspent youth, and the singer doesn’t strain to hit any of those high notes. Or maybe you see a cynical shell of some once-great crooner up there in front of the bandstand, going through the motions and hoping it doesn’t rain at the outdoor venue and that the promoter doesn’t stiff him on his pay packet.

The difference, of course, is that the old band is not risking their lives for your amusement or their paycheck or their pride or whatever the case may be. Mike and Roy are risking it all, and it’s not just unnecessary; it’s ill-advised.

Yes, they’re grown men, and they know all this, as I’ve pointed out already, and I would have no problem with the fight were there anything left for either man to prove, but that’s just not the case anymore.

I’ve got the sinking feeling that morbid curiosity is the driving force this time out (aside from the usual greed). I hope I’m wrong and that Dignity Health Sports Park lives up to its name.

And if this one’s a barnburner, or at least worth the price tag, I’ll don the napkin and tuck into as much humble pie as you want to serve up. I’ve been wrong before. The difference this time, though, is that I hope I’m wrong going in.


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