Mike Tyson will box Roy Jones Jr. on Saturday night. (No, we haven’t entered some kind of time warp.)
Why? Mostly because it’s 2020, nostalgia is in, Tyson had some cool sparring videos go viral and Jones was willing to participate in a bout between former champions who were certainly at the top of the sport at one time.
That was long ago.
Tyson, 54, last fought in 2005, when Billboard’s No. 1 song was Mariah Carey’s “We Belong Together.” Jones, 51, has been in the ring more consistently and much more recently, but is a far cry from his trilogy with Antonio Tarver from 2003 to 2005, which started around the time Jones appeared in “The Matrix Reloaded,” the second film of another popular trilogy.
Saturday night’s main event is probably best described as a spectacle primed for meme-worthy moments with a $49.99 price tag and a sure place in internet lore — at least for a couple of hours.
So what exactly is this?
On its face, it’s a boxing card with bouts that normally couldn’t carry a pay-per-view event and with live musical performances that are actually a cut above the star power often booked for fight nights.
Event organizers are promoting musical performances by Lil Wayne, French Montana, Wiz Khalifa and YG, with Ne-Yo performing the national anthem. Michael Buffer is the ringside announcer (so yes, let’s get ready for the rumble line), and Jim Gray is lined up to do postfight interviews. The TV commentary team includes another boxing great, Sugar Ray Leonard, and the undefeated U.F.C. middleweight champion Israel Adesanya.
In the ring, there are seven scheduled bouts, split into a main card and an undercard.
Tyson vs. Jones, heavyweight, eight rounds
The YouTube star Jake Paul vs. the former N.B.A. player Nate Robinson, cruiserweight, six rounds
Badou Jack, a former supermiddleweight and light heavyweight champion, vs. Blake McKernan, light heavyweight, eight rounds
Hasim Rahman Jr. vs. Rashad Coulter, cruiserweight, six rounds
Jamaine Ortiz vs. Sulaiman Segawa, lightweight, eight rounds
Irvin Gonzalez Jr. vs. Edward Vasquez, featherweight, eight rounds
Juiseppe Cusumano vs. Greg Corbin, heavyweight, eight rounds.
Are these fights real?
They’re all real in that they involve two people punching each other.
Whether any of these bouts is in the context of serious competition and the sport at large is a different question.
This card is being sanctioned by the California State Athletic Commission. Every bout besides the Tyson-Jones main event will appear on fighters’ records. And every bout — except the cofeature, between Jake Paul and Nate Robinson — involves full-time professional boxers.
The biggest name not in the two featured events is Badou Jack, a former world champion at 168 and 175 pounds who has headlined cards in Las Vegas, New York and Toronto. He’ll face a 33-year-old prospect named Blake McKernan. The lightweights Jamaine Ortiz (13-0) and Sulaiman Segawa (13-2-1) will fight for a regional title, as will the featherweights Irvin Gonzalez Jr. (14-2) and Edward Vazquez (8-0).
They’re the kind of fights you’d see on the undercard of a midweek show on cable — meaningful to the competitors but not big enough to cause a ripple in the broader sports world.
This could be one of the most popular fights of the year. What’s that mean for boxing?
The promoters proclaimed recently that Tyson-Jones had broken presale records at FITE.tv, the event’s online pay-per-view partner. Without numbers or comparison points, it is impossible to know what it means to break FITE.tv’s pay-per-view presale record.
But we know that Tyson, a big draw in his late-1980s heyday, remains popular as an all-purpose celebrity in 2020.
Novelty bouts like this happen periodically, often attracting a large audience. And they nearly always prompt questions about what it means for the boxing industry when a farcical fight outdraws legitimate, high-level matchups, like Terence Crawford’s dominating knockout of Kell Brook on ESPN earlier this month.
The answer to that question is that it means nothing.
Boxing is a niche sport with a reliable TV audience of one million to 1.3 million viewers for title fights on cable. That number hasn’t budged for years.
Novelty fights appeal to a broader audience by matching people who are famous for something besides boxing. Full-time fighters on the undercard might win some new fans among the drive-by viewers tuning in to watch Tyson, Jones, Paul or Robinson, and those fights won’t drain fans from Teofimo Lopez, Tyson Fury or anybody else near the top of boxing’s pound-for-pound list.
Who’s bankrolling this thing?
The website for this fight card is TysonOnTriller.com, and it is not an accident that Triller, a TikTok-style app where users post quick-hit videos, has its fingerprints all over this event.
Before Triller embarked on a spending spree to bring internet-famous content creators to the platform or faced reported allegations of inflating download and user stats, it had Tyson under contract and a plan to promote and broadcast this exhibition.
Will Saturday’s fights help Triller challenge TikTok as the it app for posting short, edited videos?
It’s hard to tell, but the tactic isn’t new. Before Triller took on TikTok, Shots tried to go head-to-head with Instagram. Shots, you probably don’t remember, was a photo-posting app backed by Floyd Mayweather and Justin Bieber. It was similar to Instagram except that it didn’t allow comments on posts — only likes. Mayweather would use it to break news of coming fights, urging his followers on other platforms to download Shots for major announcements.
Mayweather and Bieber couldn’t make Shots a social media fixture, and it is difficult to see how Tyson, who has 1.3 million followers on Triller, can make that app mainstream. But he does potentially expand Triller’s pool of potential users by introducing it to people old enough to remember him as the world’s best heavyweight.
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