Is the world ready for Tyson versus Tyson?
Promoter Bob Arum is.
But only in an exhibition bout for charity, with headgear, big gloves and small expectations.
Like much of the boxing world over the past week or so, Arum, who promotes lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, was intrigued by the video of Mike Tyson, still ferocious looking at 53, beating the hell out of a pair of hand pads held by a trainer.
But unlike most of the boxing world, Arum is in a position to do something about it. Such as cash in.
And in the week since the Tyson workout video went viral, the 89-year-old promoter said he was approached by a member of Team Tyson about getting involved in an exhibition match featuring the former heavyweight champion.
Arum’s first reaction, appropriately, was skepticism. After all, the last time Tyson performed publicly in a boxing ring was in a 2006 exhibition against Corrie Sanders, a 290-pound tomato can who interrupted a career-ending seven-bout losing streak to work four sluggish rounds before a booing crowd in Youngstown, Ohio.
But then he had an idea.
“I would entertain the idea of Tyson Fury fighting an exhibition against Tyson if the money was going to a legitimate charity,’’ Arum said. “I wouldn’t finance it. I would put sweat equity into it. I think it would be good for Tyson.’’
He meant Fury, not Mike.
But Arum knows deep down that the likelihood of Tyson — Mike, not Fury — ever fighting a professional is remote at best, a dream stoked largely by a combination of nostalgia and ignorance.
Nostalgia for the days, now more than 30 years ago, when a Tyson fight stopped the world in its tracks.
And ignorance over just how great a fighter Tyson really was.
The dream is that somehow, despite not having fought in 15 years, the geriatric Tyson is about to come back and pull boxing out of its long, slow death spiral.
This ignores the fact that in the last dozen fights of his career, beginning with the totally unexpected and thoroughly convincing thrashing he took from Evander Holyfield in 1996, Tyson was a .500 fighter — five wins, five losses, all by KO or DQ, with two No Contests.
And it glosses over the disgrace of his last two fights, in which he was not only beaten, and not only stopped, but made to quit by a couple of journeymen, Danny Williams and Kevin McBride.
It neglects the reality that all of Tyson’s best work was done before his 22nd birthday — that came three days after his terrifying 91-second dismantling of Michael Spinks in 1988 — or that unlike the truly all-time great heavyweights, Tyson never got up off the canvas to win a fight or even rallied from behind on the scorecards. The closest to that may have been when he knocked out overweight, undermotivated Tony Tubbs in the second round in Tokyo after having lost the first round on one of the three cards.
And it forgets that after Tyson’s cloak of invincibility was shredded by Buster Douglas in 1990, he was pretty much just another good, but beatable heavyweight. And three years in the joint after his rape conviction certainly didn’t help.
The hard truth is, even at his best, Tyson was a classic front-runner, unbeatable with the lead, but all too eager to spit the bit when challenged. The revisionist history regarding Tyson’s 39-month title reign is largely the work of a generation that seems to believe boxing began and ended with the career of Floyd Mayweather Jr.
So the belief that Tyson could somehow return to the ring and clean up on the likes of Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua, Deontay Wilder and Andy Ruiz — an admittedly subpar crop of heavies — is rooted not so much in reality but wishful thinking.
And basing the chances of Tyson’s success on how impressively he hits a passive target held by a trainer being paid to make him look good is about as accurate as judging the talents of a major league ballplayer by how well he hits against the third-base coach in batting practice.
Clearly, a previously undetected symptom of COVID-19 is its effect on the common sense of a sports-starved populace.
And besides, even if Tyson could still fight, is such a thing even possible? Could a 53-year-old get a license to box professionally anywhere in the world? And considering the fact that the quarantine rules during the pandemic require that all sporting events be held in empty arenas, would any self-respecting fight promoter risk his own bankroll on a pay-per-view only event?
The answer to the licensing question, sadly, is probably. Although the major boxing states such as New York, New Jersey and Nevada would be unlikely to approve a license for a 50-plus boxer, there are states out there that certainly would.
I once covered a Tommy Morrison fight nine years after his license had been permanently revoked due to a positive HIV test. Morrison came in waving a piece of paper saying he was miraculously HIV-free, and that was good enough for West Virginia to license him.
And of course, there are always the Saudis — who spent lavishly to bring Joshua-Ruiz II to Riyadh — once it emerges from lockdown, of course.
Which brings us to the question of whether any boxing promoter, a breed which throughout history has been reticent to risk so much as a nickel on a newspaper, would underwrite the multi-million dollar guarantee Tyson is sure to want hoping to make it all back on pay-per-view.
Arum, for one, would not.
“I think it could do a lot of pay-per-view business,’’ the promoter of such blockbusters as Hagler-Leonard conceded. “But would I want to bet on it by putting up my own money? No way. Millions of people are unemployed. Would they be willing to spend $80 to watch a 50-year-old man perform in the ring? I have my doubts. Without the backing of a site fee, I don’t think it’s possible.’’
But would Arum consider matching Tyson — Mike, that is — against a real heavyweight in a real fight?
“No way,’’ he said. “You cannot reverse age.’’
Father Time never loses. And the hand pads never hit back.