Monday, May 27, 2024

3 Hall of Fame boxers offer thoughts on Mike Tyson-Jake Paul fight, friendship

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The playful face-off between Mike Tyson and Jake Paul on Monday in New York fueled speculation their fight is rigged. Tyson and Paul quickly pushed back against that speculation, but another question lingers.

Are these guys too friendly to deliver on what Paul promises will be a “war?”

Paul, 27, refers to Tyson as “Uncle Mike.’’

Tyson, 57, regards Paul like you might a favorite nephew.

So when they climb into the ring July 20 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, will it be a slug fest or a hug fest?

“We all should have been showing more affection all along,’’ George Foreman, the Hall of Fame boxer, told USA TODAY Sports by text message. “Once the bell rings instincts come alive.’’

USA TODAY Sports reached out to Foreman and two Hall of Fame boxers to better understand the impact of friendship among fighters — and if it can undermine a bout.

How anger can affect a fighter

Winky Wright, a two-time lightweight world champion, said he fought a few boxers he considered friends.

“At the press conferences, I can laugh and joke, and after the fight I can laugh and joke,’’ said Wright, 52, who was inducted into the International Hall of Fame in 2018. “I have no problem with that because that’s not the fight.

“For me to be going around being angry and mean, that ain’t going to make me fight no better. When you box, you got to be able to think and be able to focus on what you want to do.’’

But Wright suggested friendship might impact Tyson differently considering Tyson in his heyday fought “killer instinct.” Indeed, Tyson has said he wanted to literally kill his opponents.

Could Tyson fight as ferociously against Paul without the killer instinct?

“This is not a real fight,’’ Wright replied.

Texas has sanctioned the fight as a pro bout, but Wright cites the fight rules – two-minute rounds instead of the standard three-minute rounds and 14-ounce gloves instead of standard 10-ounce gloves – as reasons calls it an ‘’exhibition.’’

“They’re going to go out there and throw some good punches and try to hit each other,” Wright said. “But, at the end of the day, remember, it’s Mike Tyson (at 58 on the day of the fight)… I hope they have fun. I hope nobody gets hurt. And it is what it is.’’

In the ring, it’s business

Mark Johnson, a three-time world champion and legendary flyweight fighter, dismissed the idea friendship could interfere with a fight.

“No, it really can’t mess with your intensity,’’ said Johnson, 52, who was inducted into the International Hall of Fame in 2012. “One thing about me was even when I did the faceoffs or I did the weigh-ins, I didn’t do no gritting that they doing now, looking you in your eye till somebody turn away. It was nothing like that. For me it was only business.’’

Something took hold moments before a fight, according to Johnson.

“When I get in that ring, I’m going to try to knock your head off,’’ he said. “That’s what Mike Tyson is saying.

“So it doesn’t really make a difference if you’re coming at the press conference or the weigh-in friendly. Once you get in that ring, when they sing that national anthem and they say ‘the home of the brave,’ it’s just something about that. You get amped up.’’

Foreman wanted to kill Ali

To many, George Foreman is the jolly former heavyweight champion who sold a gazillion George Foreman Grills. That’s Foreman 2.0.

Before a spiritual epiphany in 1977, Foreman was a glowering, brooding, intimidating heavyweight – and a perfect foil for Muhammad Ali. During the buildup to their historic “Rumble in the Jungle’’ fight in Zaire in 1974, Ali mocked and degraded Foreman, who later said he wanted to kill Ali in the ring.

Anger, not friendship, may be what derailed Foreman, who instead of killing Ali got knocked out in the eighth round.

The two men later became close friends. And Foreman, 75 and a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame Class of 2018, indicated another discovery awaited him.

“Later in life we find they were friends all,’’ Foreman told USA TODAY Sports.

And, on July 20 in Texas, slugfest or hugfest?

“Be careful with Paul,” Foreman wrote. “Only because Paul has tricks. Tyson gets hit with one punch at his age, you start to hear funny noises. Haha.”

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