There will be — there already has been — much rending of garments in the boxing world about whether a card headlined by two men in their 50s and a former N.B.A. player fighting a YouTube star is good or bad for the sport. And if you are a hard-core boxing fan, that probably seems like an important debate.
But for everybody else, this fight card was … fun? There were some real fights, and some less real fights. Nate Robinson got knocked out badly, and Jake Paul said he wanted to take on Conor McGregor, causing his interviewer, Jim Gray, to noticeably laugh. Seemingly every N.B.A. player tuned in, only to see Robinson audition for the next edition of Shaqtin’ A Fool.
Mike Tyson, even at 54, showed he still has some of that speed and power that made him such a devastating fighter. And Roy Jones Jr., after his obviously losing performance was judged a draw, was asked for his thoughts and exclaimed, “I wear draws, I don’t do draws.”
Snoop Dogg replaced Lil Wayne at the last moment, and rapped a number of his hits while smoking out. He then joined the announcers to form a four-man socially-distanced booth and commentated on the fights, and somehow it worked? He described Tyson and Jones as “two of my uncles fighting at the barbecue,” among a number of other laugh-out-loud lines. (“Grandma, they in the back fighting again!”)
Michael Buffer asked if we were ready to rumble. French Montana performed a set in front of what looked like a futuristic version of the pyramid in front of the Louvre. The lights and camera angles were cool.
We are about to enter month nine of the pandemic, month nine of hopefully most people staying home every Saturday night, maybe watching Netflix or playing a card game or going to bed early. But an exhibition fight on FiteTV, presented by Triller and Weedmaps, was honest to God entertaining. That’s worth something.
Tyson, a former heavyweight champion and once the most fearsome fighter in the world, moved forward and threw heavy punches, moving his head from side to side to dodge incoming fire.
Jones, a past champion in four different divisions, was faster, and looked to rattle Tyson with salvos and well-timed left hooks.
Soon, both men were breathing heavily, which is understandable between two combatants in their 50s. The biggest shock might have been that two men that old could fistfight for 16 minutes without a serious injury stopping the action. No broken bones, no torn tendons, no trick knees locking up.
Not even a bruised ego, thanks to the bout’s judges.
The World Boxing Council enlisted three retired fighters to score the fight, and they ruled it a draw.
In a post-fight interview with Jim Gray, a still out-of-breath Jones stood with his arms folded across his midsection, and talked about the force of Tyson’s body shots.
Tyson, still glistening in sweat, sounded reborn as a fighter, and gleefully speculated about his future as an exhibition headliner.
“We gotta do this again,” he said to Jones, who never responded to the prospect directly.
For about 30 seconds there, it looked like both boxers were going to go all out in the final round, but then reality set in. “Not a battle of the ages, but a battle of the aged,” the announcer quipped.
Tyson looks like he could go a couple more rounds, while Jones looked done a couple of rounds ago. Tyson got some shots in, while Jones got maybe one.
Tyson won the round, and should have won the fight.
The three celebrity fighting judges scored the fight a draw.
Why a draw, and not a split decision? Were the judges actual scoring the fight for real, or just having some fun? Was it decided even before the fight that it would be a draw?
Who knows, and who cares? Mike Tyson fought Roy Jones Jr. in 2020, everybody had fun and nobody got seriously hurt. A draw seems appropriate.
Jones opened this round with a salvo, bouncing lefts and rights off Tyson’s dome.
The offense didn’t deter Tyson, who pressed forward with big lefts and rights.
So Jones opened up again, pelting Tyson with another flurry of punches.
The first round Jones won definitively.
But seven rounds in we haven’t had a serious injury, so they’re both winners in that sense.
Since this is technically an exhibition there isn’t supposed to be a knockout, but Tyson threw a couple of punches midway through the round that had lights out intent. They just missed Jones.
Besides that, a lot of clenching. Jones landed one clean shot near the end of the round.
Tyson looks fresher. He landed a right hand to the body early, and several left hooks upstairs as the round progressed.
Jones is still clinching, still looking to force Tyson to carry his weight, but Jones is fading fast.
Between rounds he slumped in his corner, grimacing and breathing heavily while his cornermen doused him with water.
More of the same: Any time Tyson got close, Jones wrapped him up as quickly as possible, even being warned by the referee at one point.
Jones showed a bit of an attacking strategy, trying to catch Tyson surprised with unconventional footwork and a quick jab or two, but it didn’t particularly work.
When he wasn’t being grabbed, Tyson landed a couple of right-handed hammers to the body.
Jones is deep into his game plan for this fight: lean on Tyson, walk him back if possible, and make him tired. A solid strategy if you’re fighting a 54-year-old, but not quite as foolproof if you’re 51, as Jones is.
Tyson threw the heavier blows. Jones threw the faster punches. Neither fighter landed many clean shots.
Lots of heavy breathing though.
Tyson opened the second round by immediately exploding into Jones, with Jones quickly grabbing him to slow things down, much like the first round.
Tyson landed the biggest shot of the night so far 30 seconds into the round, a strong left to Jones’s face.
There was a bit of extracurricular activity after the bell, and for a second it looked like there was some animosity. But then the fighters remembered it was an exhibition and hugged each other.
Roy Jones trainer: Make turns quicker
Tyson started fast, bobbing, weaving, jabbing, hooking, and missing.
Jones started quickly, too — moving feinting, jabbing, and missing.
Eventually the two faded fighters fell into a clinch, one of several that defined the first round.
Roy Jones Jr.
Nate Robinson got absolutely dominated by Jake Paul, getting knocked down three times en route to his knockout loss. Robinson’s former teammates and opponents in the N.B.A. all seemed to tune in.
Nick Young was disappointed:
That was no representation of the NBA Family lol
— Nick Young (@NickSwagyPYoung) November 29, 2020
Stephen Curry was concerned …
… while Andre Iguodala replied to him with a “Friday” reference.
Bradley Beal got dragged into a meme:
And Markieff Morris had the wisest tweet of the night:
Boxing ain’t that sport to play with!!
— Keef Morris (@Keefmorris) November 29, 2020
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night? The production value of the stream is actually pretty good.
Even with a $49.99 pay-per-view price, an event on Fite TV sponsored by Triller and Weedmaps doesn’t necessarily scream professional. The quality of a phone pointed at a television screen would not have been too unexpected.
But these fights actually look great. There is a lighting grid right above the ring — which probably wouldn’t work outside of the pandemic because it would block the view of fans — that is shining directly onto the fighters. All other lights are off, giving the fights a cinematic feel, like a better version of how the Barclays Center is lit for Brooklyn Nets games.
The camera work is also quite different from normal. The main camera seems to be both lower and closer than usual, and it is never still, slowly panning as if it is being shot by a drone. There are no camera operators on the posts, but additional cameras are on jibs for close-up and alternate angles.
Most professional sporting events this summer and fall suffered from being played in cavernous venues that often felt lifeless without fans. But this feels like something completely different, a production wholly conceived of during the pandemic that takes advantage of no fans rather than suffers for it.
Boxing purists might not like it. The moving camera may cause queasiness. The look wouldn’t be out of place in a boxing video game. But at least it is different and interesting.
The former Knicks basketball player Nate Robinson entered the fight with a stark speed advantage over the YouTube star Jake Paul, and Robinson showed it off repeatedly, sprinting across the ring throwing wild punches before falling into a clinch. When the referee would separate the two novice fighters — combined pro boxing experience: one bout — Robinson would back off and then run in again.
Paul isn’t a craftsman, but he has spent the last year training with boxers, including Floyd Mayweather protégé J’Leon Love. So even if he’ll never contend for a title, or even beat a full-time boxer, he’s boxed enough to recognize a pattern.
So late in Round 1, when Robinson rushed straight in, Paul clipped him with a right hand to the back of the head for the fight’s first knockdown.
In the second, Robinson still hadn’t varied his tactics, so Paul had no reason to do anything besides try to time him with a big right hand.
And it happened.
The first one dropped Robinson, but the 37-year-old beat the referee’s count.
The second one deposited Robinson flat on his face, midway through the second round, ending the fight, and sparing us four more rounds of rushing, clinching and mauling.
The California State Athletic Commission, which regulates all fights in the state, has been down this road before. Last year, about this time, the agency sanctioned a fight between Logan Paul and KSI, two YouTube stars who had fought once before, in London. Calling them amateur fighters is both accurate and insulting to real amateur fighters who train and fight for years.
But deciding whether or not to permit a bout between two YouTubers wasn’t particularly difficult. As Andy Foster, the executive officer of the commission, explained it, the basic goal is to make sure all fights are safe, allowing for the fact that the two fighters are trying to pummel each other in the face. Two physically matched, mostly unskilled YouTube stars is a safe, even match, even if it doesn’t sound particularly compelling.
By that token, Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr., both in their 50s and former professional fighters who know exactly what they are doing are, well, professionals.
Record-wise, the fight will not count; it is considered an exhibition. But every other fight will, including the one between Nate Robinson, the former N.B.A. player, and Jake Paul, the YouTube star and brother of the aforementioned Logan Paul.
Late in Round 1, 33-year-old prospect Blake McKernan landed a right hand to Badou Jack’s head, the kind of clean punch that wins the Sacramento, Calif., native respect and room to operate when he’s fighting the kind of guys that fill out his 13-0 record.
But Jack isn’t a journeyman like Alfredo Contreras or Miguel Cubos. He’s a former world champ at 168 and 175 pounds, and he absorbed the shot without blinking, which made sense. That punch was McKernan’s only connection in the opening round. Jack landed 16 times.
The remaining seven rounds were only marginally more competitive.
Jack stalked McKernan and landed every variety of punch — jabs, right hands, lefts and rights to the body. McKernan retreated and chose his spots to counterattack, but Jack overwhelmed him.
Every judge scored every round for Jack, who improved to 23-3-3, and now hopes for another title fight against Jean Pascal, who defeated him last December. McKernan left the bout with his first loss and a hematoma above his right eye.