AJ’s Emphatic KO was Good for Boxing but the Circus Hasn't Left Town


By Arne Lang

In the wee hours of a Saturday morning in Saudi Arabia, Anthony “AJ” Joshua sent Francis Ngannou to dreamland with a brutal right hand, his third knockdown of the MMA star in less than six minutes of actual fighting. Ngannou was unconscious before he hit the mat and was administered oxygen before he was helped to his feet.

It was Joshua’s best showing in almost eight years. Not since April 9, 2016 had he looked as spectacular. On that date he ripped the IBF heavyweight title from Charles Martin in a bout that was also over inside two rounds.

In the interim, Joshua became one of England’s richest and most famous sporting personalities, but inside the ring he had his ups and downs and lost esteem in the eyes of knowledgeable fight fans. At times, despite his impressively sculpted physique, he looked fragile, inviting comparisons to Frank Bruno, a British boxing star of a previous generation who unraveled when the spotlight became too intense.

And then, when Francis Ngannou – in his very first pro fight -- came very close to upsetting lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, the entire sport of boxing lost esteem relative to its upstart rival MMA.

AJ righted the listing ship with that emphatic knockout. “The good he has done for his medieval sport is profound,” wrote Jeff Powell, the dean of British boxing writers, in the Daily Mail.

The renowned boxing writer Donald McRae had a somewhat different take: “Joshua restored some order and clarity to boxing – by underlining the dangerous folly of crossover bouts. They should not be allowed because lasting damage may yet happen,” wrote McRae in the (London) Guardian in a story that was picked up by Yahoo.

Flash forward to July 20. On that date, Internet bad boy Jake Paul is scheduled to box Mike Tyson at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, the home of the Dallas Cowboys. The fight will air free to subscribers of Netflix, the biggest streaming service in the world with a reported 260 million paid users, of which 80 million reside in the U.S. and Canada.

The announcement came Friday on the very day that the Joshua-Ngannou card was getting started. “The biggest fight of the 21st Century, in the biggest NFL stadium in the US, broadcast live on the biggest streaming platform in the world,” harrumphed Jake Paul on his social media platform.

In his prime, wrote Associated Press sports columnist Tim Dahlberg, “[Mike Tyson] reigned supreme, seemingly unbeatable, knocking out fighters with vicious intensity and making them frightened to get in the ring.”

But that was a long time ago. Iron Mike turns 58 on June 30 and almost 23 full years have passed he scored a lopsided decision over Razor Ruddock in their second encounter in what some people consider his last big win against a treacherous opponent. And his career certainly didn’t end well. In his penultimate fight, he was knocked out in four rounds by unheralded Danny Williams and then, in his farewell fight on June 11, 2005, he suffered the indignity of losing to Kevin McBride, a lumbering mediocrity from Ireland.

In that fight, Tyson quit on his stool after six rounds after a futile attempt to get disqualified. In the sixth, referee Joe Cortez took two points away from Tyson for head-butting, which was of no consequence when Tyson turned to his chief second Jeff Fenech at the end of the round and said “I’m finished.”

Some say that Tyson’s poor efforts against Williams and McBride said more about his mindset than about his skillset. Perhaps, but in Dahlberg’s view, Tyson, approaching his 39th birthday when he fought McBride, looked older by the minute as the match wore on. “Another broken down old fighter who stayed too long at a brutal dance,” wrote Ron Borges in the Boston Globe.

Tyson has had one ring appearance since then. On Nov. 28, 2020, he fought an 8-round exhibition with 51-year-old Roy Jones Jr at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. That match was a predictable stinker, but it was a blockbuster, purportedly attracting over 1.6 million pay-per-view buys and generating $80 million in revenue. (It helped that Jake Paul was on the undercard; he fought former NBA slam dunk champion Nate Robinson, and it helped greatly that the fights were conjoined with a music festival with acts pitched at young millennials.)

Tyson vs. Jones was fought with 12-ounce gloves, larger than the customary “10,” and the referee was instructed to halt the exhibition if it gave any hint of turning into a true “blood and guts” prizefight. Presumably similar rules will apply when Jake Paul and Mike Tyson touch gloves at Arlington Stadium on July 20. The Texas Boxing Commission can’t possibly certify this as a genuine prizefight with conventional boxing rules. Or can they?

I don’t want to come across as one of those crabby old faultfinders who look back on the past with rose-tinted glasses. Those folks are annoying, unlike the snarky fellow who chimed in on the satiric news site The ONION and made me laugh with the news that Jake Paul has already chosen his next opponent after fighting Mike Tyson. Yep, it’s former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

However, the very idea of people salivating at the thought of a 58-year-old man exchanging punches with someone more than half his age distresses me. Remember, it’s very easy to lose one’s composure in a make-believe fight.

If this fight is on the level and if, perchance, Mike Tyson is damaged, a whole bunch of folks should be charged with criminal negligence.

Photo credit: Mark Robinson
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i was at a party this weekend and someone said "you know Tyson is fighting soon" now you have to be polite sometimes so i said yea i know..... And then it was talked about seriously by the other guy. You want to knock someone out when the talk gets like that but..... it is boxing fault not the guy who dont know boxing too well. the Tyson fight is part of the Josh fight last night a clown show that many bought into , and never realized who the N guy was or how he came about. Anything for a buck boxing anymore. The unusual has become the new normal in boxing anymore. That was a side show is now an event to many people. Boxing keep ruining itself n will continue until no one talks about it anymore. I am numb to all the noise about fights that dont matter that sell well in the sport that i used to love and respect and could acutally talk about when out and about those days are gone now...........