Few boxers can understand what Mike Tyson is going to face on Saturday when he returns to boxing to face Roy Jones Jr. in an eight-round exhibition bout at Staples Center in Los Angeles, than “Big” George Foreman.
Foreman retired in 1977 after a surprising loss to Jimmy Young on March 17 in Puerto Rico. He was 28 years old and in his theoretical prime.
He went into the ministry and his career seemed done forever when, in 1987, a familiar, if not puffier, face returned to the game. Eight days short of 10 full years, Foreman returned to boxing and began yet another pursuit of the heavyweight title.
Tyson, now 54, isn’t planning to pursue a championship as far as we know. And he’s been out 15 years and five months, making it a significantly longer period than Foreman.
Foreman told Yahoo Sports that Tyson will have it easier than he did for one specific reason.
“He’s coming back in an exhibition with hardly any consequences,” Foreman said. “I wish I could have had the privilege of doing it that way. I came back and they were real fights that meant something. I was off for 10 years and then I came back and said, ‘I’m back to become the heavyweight champ of the world again.’ He’s back in an exhibition and he’s not going to have it as difficult.”
But Foreman said the biggest issue is dealing with someone with fast hands again. When he was training for his 1987 comeback, he enlisted the service of a middleweight from Houston named “Sweet” Reggie Johnson. Johnson would go on to win a middleweight and a light heavyweight world title, but in 1987, he was still a young fighter on the rise.
Foreman, who had put on a tremendous amount of weight during his exile, found Johnson’s speed to be overwhelming.
“I needed all the sparring and he was in the area and he did me a favor and came over to work with me,” Foreman said. “I remember, I made this move in one of our sparring sessions and he had seen me and was waiting for it. When I made the move, pow, he hit me with a straight left hand. He didn’t have the power to knock me down, but I felt it.
“I remember saying, ‘I don’t mind you bringing me guys who have power; just don’t bring me guys with speed like that.’ I think that’s going to be an issue for Mike against Roy, because Roy has speed. Even at his age , he’s going to be faster than Mike, and that’s something when you have been away, it takes a while to get back how to deal with that and be used to it.”
After seven years, Foreman won the title by knocking out Michael Moorer with a jab and a clubbing right hand. HBO Sports play-by-play man Jim Lampley famously shrieked, “It happened! It happened!” which has become a huge part of boxing lore.
What is not as well known is that in 2004, when Foreman was 55, he was training for yet another comeback. Had he done that, he’d have been only a few months older than Tyson is now.
Foreman said he was confident he could have regained the belt again at 55.
“I won the title at 45 and I considered a comeback at 55,” he said. “I’d really started training, exercising, sparring and the whole deal. I got myself into pretty decent shape, but it rolled into my wife. I told her, ‘Look, I can be heavyweight champ of the world again.’ There was a guy who was No. 1 contender, David Tua. I said to her, ‘I can actually guarantee David Tua $5 million to fight me. I can beat him and that means I can get a shot at the title. He’s not going to turn down $5 million.’
“I kept training, getting into shape and was telling my wife what I could do. Finally, out of nowhere, she said, ‘You’re not going back to boxing.’ I said, ‘Oh yeah, I’m already in training and I’ve done well.’ And it was simple. She said, ‘No, you’re not going to do it.’ She put her foot down. I’d never seen this lady like that. I told her, ‘You can’t tell me what to do,’ but you can see, she won [the discussion]. I had my speed, the instincts and the willingness to work out and do it. Believe me, 55 was no problem. But she put a stop to all that talk.”
George Foreman has a word of warning for Mike Tyson
Foreman, who said he thought Jones would have beaten Tyson had they fought in 2003 as had been discussed, said he doesn’t know why for sure that Tyson is planning to come back.
But he said he knows his reasons and he’s talked to other fighters and there is a common theme that he suspects is driving Tyson. But he cautioned Tyson it’s not all peaches and cream.
“It’s temporary insanity,” he said, laughing. “I liken it to a guy who wants to get on a boat and go out to sea. It seems like so much fun, so peaceful, so he wants to get out there and do it. Then he gets out there and the big waves start coming and the sea is rough and it’s raining and the wind is blowing and he asks himself, ‘Lord, why did I ever do this?’
“It’s happened to so many of us. And you realize you should have stayed home on the dry land where everything is nice and safe. The thing that is hard when you start to think of coming back, you remember what you could do back in the day. But you have to reclaim that hardness you once had and the timing. That’s what you lose after so many years away and it’s so hard to get back.”
Tyson has released photos of his training and he looks to be in fantastic shape. Both Tyson and Jones have undergone drug testing administered by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency and have so far passed everything.
Tyson looks fearsome and Foreman doesn’t doubt his power, though Andy Foster, the executive officer of the California State Athletic Commission, insists the bout will only be hard sparring. Referee Ray Corona will instruct the fighters before the fight not to try to knock each other out, Foster said.
Foreman said speed, not power, will be Tyson’s biggest issue.
“Mike Tyson has been out of the ring a long time, but he always had power and I think he’ll have power again [on Saturday],” Foreman said. “But you see a human in front of you and you say to yourself, ‘Oh, hit him,’ and then that human moves. It’s a different dynamic and you say, ‘Man, I can’t hit him.’ It takes a few fights to get that, so I’ll be interested to see how Mike deals with Roy’s speed and movement.”
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