Boxing is littered with examples of retired champions lacing on the gloves in order to turn back the clock and feel invincible all over again.
However, for every George Foreman, who shocked the world by winning back his heavyweight title 20 years after losing it to Muhammad Ali in the Rumble in the Jungle, there are countless others who have painfully discovered that the ring is no place for fighters past their prime.
The latest in a long line of high-profile boxing comebacks could be the most bizarre. On November 28 in Los Angeles, Mike Tyson, the man formerly known as ‘The Baddest On the Planet’, will exchange punches with another legend of the ring, Roy Jones Jr, in an eight-rounder that both appear to be taking very seriously.
With the newly formed WBC Frontline Battle Belt on the line, the pair won’t pull any punches in this ‘exhibition’.
Tyson spent the majority of the COVID-19 lockdown training intensely with sparring partner Joe Egan, not only showing off his incredibly honed physique through his social media, but also demonstrating that his legendary Cus D’Amato-inspired ‘peek-a-boo’ technique seems to be intact.
His ruthless sparring regime echos what he and Jones have said in regards to the seriousness of the fight. The pair have stated on numerous occasions that, despite this being an exhibition match, they intend to fight like the heavyweight championship is on the line.
Jones declared in a virtual press conference: “Who goes into the ring with the legendary Mike Tyson and thinks that it’s going to be an exhibition? 12oz gloves, no headgear, really? This is an exhibition?”
Many, however, could be forgiven for questioning the validity of such a fight. With Tyson now 54 years old, there is a question over whether good sense has finally deserted him once and for all.
When Tyson announced his return to boxing in May of this year, having Roy Jones Jr on the opposite scorecard was the last thing anyone expected.
Jones has the benefit of only retiring in 2018, whereas Tyson hasn’t laced on the gloves competitively for 15 years, since his one-sided beatdown loss to the cumbersome Kevin McBride.
What drives such a man into further risking his reputation and health? The answer is a selfish one. He needs to enter the ring for himself.
George Foreman shared his thoughts with TMZ: “I would just tell them (Tyson & Jones) it’s really dangerous, but when you make up your mind to do something like that, you can’t tell them, ‘Don’t do it.’ They’re not going to hear that.”
One does not need to look far to understand the sacrifices that all boxers are seemingly prepared for whenever they enter the ring. With every jab, punch and uppercut, another piece of you is exchanged for a chance at glory, and Tyson understands this very well.
He has witnessed the irreversible neurological damage of catching thousands of blows to the head, and emotionally recounts the case of his idol Ali.
“Ali’s a giant,” he said through tears. “He’s not like us, he gave up his life for this. I won’t die for this.”
Current WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury told IFL TV: “I know what it’s like to suffer with mental health problems and then give myself a massive goal to achieve, and I know what it’s like to set about achieving it.
“They know the risks, they know their responsibility and to see him fight someone his own age like an old timer as well, fantastic, I’d love to see it.”
Like many fighters before him, Tyson considers himself to be a warrior more than a boxer. It takes a lot to create such a man in the first place: the intimidating aura Tyson exerted from the mid-80s onwards was that of a caged beast, and came with the assumed knowledge that he was the most dangerous person in the room.
At the same time, it takes just as much to completely break a man.
Ever since his retirement he has battled with mental health issues, troubled by well-publicised alcohol and drug abuse, financial issues, and the death of his daughter.
Even during his rise, his volatile and violent first marriage and subsequent court cases drove Tyson to the very edge. He admitted on his podcast Hotboxin’ that ‘he lost the will to live’ at his lowest point.
It is fascinating to witness the rise and fall of a legend of the sport, though to many observers his return to the ring will be seen as desperation by someone who notoriously fell into a £34 million debt during his career.
In actuality, for the man himself Tyson’s return signifies something far greater. He’s longing to return to the one thing he has been good at; to recreate the feared fighter who was able to become the youngest heavyweight champion in history at just 20 years old.
Tyson misses the fearlessness of his youth, and he believes that he owes it to himself to prove that someone who suffered through periods of great depression can recapture his art form and become great again.
This month will be the 34th anniversary of Tyson becoming the youngest ever heavyweight champion, winning the title in dramatic style against Trevor Berbick, who succumbed to the young tearaway in just two painful rounds.
Tyson has seemingly come a long way in recent years regarding his battle with mental health. Let’s hope he doesn’t jeopardise it all as he attempts to become Iron Mike once again.