Andre Ward has mixed feelings.
On one hand, the retired two-division champion is excited. On the other hand, he’s concerned.
When Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. enter the ring for their eight-round exhibition bout Saturday, Ward will certainly be tuned in to witness hands get thrown between two of boxing’s biggest former stars.
“It gives both fighters an opportunity to kind of scratch that itch, because I know they’ve still got it. It gives them a reason to get in shape, get back in the gym, then back in the minds of boxing fans around the world, and [the initial reaction] was just excitement like, ‘Wow, what are they doing?'” Ward said. “And then from there, you kind of start thinking about the reality of it with them being older now, and ‘Should they be doing this?’
“Mike and Roy have earned the right to do what they want to do in the boxing ring and they know what they’re getting into,” he added. “They’ve been doing this their whole lives, and if they want to fight an exhibition, who am I to say that they shouldn’t do it? So, I’ve got mixed feelings about it, but I’m excited about it.”
At age 51, Jones insists that his return to the ring isn’t to relive any past glory. His résumé speaks for itself.
“Nah. That’s already all on YouTube. That’s on all the highlights,” Jones told ESPN. “They’ll get a glimpse when they see me, but [my legacy is] already etched in stone.”
At his best, the former pound-for-pound king dazzled fans with his blinding hand speed, a signature left hook, cat-quick reflexes and God-given physical talent to defy all boxing fundamentals while inspiring future stars such as Ward and current undefeated welterweight champion Terence Crawford along the way.
“Roy Jones always was my favorite fighter, him and Floyd Mayweather. Even as a kid, I used to always just run home and make sure I watched Floyd Mayweather and Roy Jones Jr. fights,” Crawford reminisced. “I really didn’t care too much about everybody else. I used to watch boxing like crazy, but those were the two fighters that I really admired watching.”
Jones won titles in the middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions, almost always in entertaining contests.
Through his first 50 bouts, Jones’ only loss was via disqualification to Montell Griffin. He easily regained his title in a rematch with a devastating left hook/uppercut that floored Griffin. His dominance faded following a 2004 TKO loss to childhood rival Antonio Tarver, and he lost eight of his next 25 fights. But no matter how hard he’s been challenged over the years, Jones has never entered the ring against a hard-hitter like Tyson.
To Jones, fighting Tyson is a bucket list moment, even with Iron Mike being 54 years old.
“It’s a beautiful thing, but that’s why you can’t really turn a situation like this down,” Jones said. “They respect you because you’re a legend, but they also respect you because you was a legend that didn’t duck nothing, so if you duck [a fight with] Mike Tyson, something that you wanted to do in your prime, if you duck it now, are you really still gonna be looked upon as that legend?
“No, you’re not, because you ducked him because you thought, ‘Oh, you was too old,’ or you’re worried about your health all of a sudden. Wait a minute — you’ve boxed for how many? Thirty-nine years and now, you’re all of a sudden worried about your health. Be for real. C’mon bruh.”
By the time the fall of 2002 rolled around, boxing didn’t feel the same to an 18-year-old Ward.
His father, Frank, died of a sudden heart attack on Aug. 26 that year, and despite his successful amateur career being on the rise, he was risking it all while grieving.
“That was a very tough time for me in my life because I had just lost my dad and I was kind of reeling from that,” Ward said. “I was in the streets, messing up, getting in trouble.”
But a life-changing opportunity was presented to him by his eventual manager, James Prince, to meet Jones, his boxing hero, while Jones was at the peak of his prowess. Prince, a Houston-based rap mogul, set it up for Ward to spend some time with Jones in Portland, Oregon, where Jones was set to defend his light heavyweight championship against Clinton Woods.
“I just wanted him to see what it felt like to be in that limelight, because once you get in that limelight like that it makes you hungry for it. Run-DMC did it for me,” Jones recalled. “As a kid, I got to go see Run-DMC, and after the concert I gave them a ride back to their hotel and it was the funnest thing ever to me.
“To see all the people looking up to them, wanting to be around them and wanting to get to see them and wanting to know them — it was very inspirational to me,” he continued. “So that inspired me to want to be something, and I said if I could give that back to another kid, I would and I wanted to give that back to Andre. I let Andre come see how it was to be me and kind of give him an inspiration.”
From the showman ring entrance, where he performed his solo rap song “And Still” with women dancing around him after being lifted from the ground, to his dominant sixth-round TKO win over Woods, which forced Woods’ corner to throw in the towel, Ward was taking notes. His teenage face can be spotted in the ring raising one of Jones’ championship belts. Then they snapped a picture together afterward.
Ward, perhaps buoyed by the time he spent with Jones, went on to become a 2004 Olympic gold medalist in Athens, Greece, and went on to have a prolific career of his own, retiring as an undefeated professional champion at age 33. And even after spending a considerable amount of time inside the boxing broadcast booth watching fights almost every week, Ward still lists Jones as his favorite fighter of all time.
Crawford, who Jones puts at the top of his current pound-for-pound list, is just as curious as to how this Tyson-Jones fight will play out. He also cannot help but reflect back on all of Jones’ accomplishments which drew him into the sport as a youngster.
“Just all of them. Like his ring entrances, when he knocked out Montell Griffin. When he beat Vinny Pazienza,” Crawford recalled of Jones. “Those was great moments of Roy Jones Jr. or when he went up to heavyweight and he beat John Ruiz. That in its own right was great and a lot of people don’t talk about the fight with him and James Toney and the first one with Bernard Hopkins. Those was great moments where he showed a lot of skill, speed and just everything in those fights because he had to.”
Crawford wonders if Jones has one last hurrah left, and he’ll most definitely be watching.
“Of course. It’s entertainment,” Crawford said. “You seen Julio Cesar Chavez get in the ring and do an exhibition. A lot of old fighters get back in the ring and just do it for the love of the sport or to raise money, and that’s them giving back.”
Ten years in the making
The bout between Jones and Tyson was years in the making, and it was being discussed well before this exhibition bout was finally realized. Ten years ago Prince tried to set up a bout between the pair.
“We had talked about that, we went out to Texas … Houston at the time, and we talked about it, but it just never materialized,” Tyson confirmed.
That curiosity of what could’ve happened years ago is a reason they’re here today as older men. Jones compares his mental approach before entering the ring against Tyson to another boxing legend.
“I really was speaking more on the mental tip of how the minds work,” Jones said. “I would wonder how Muhammad Ali’s mind would’ve worked against Tyson’s mind, and now I’ve got a mind that’s similar to Muhammad Ali, so I see an opportunity there.”
To this day, it’s tough for Jones to pinpoint a specific moment that cemented his greatness in the sport. Instead, he leaves that to the analysts and younger fighters, such as Ward and Crawford, who profess their love for his fighting style.
Although the bout against Tyson will give him another chance to pursue his lifelong passion, deep down inside it won’t define his overall career. It’s just another fight, and if it goes well, it could open the door for other former fighters to get another taste of ring action.