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Johnny Nelson warns against Tyson, Holyfield trying to fight again

The former cruiserweight titleholder has the perspective that intrigued fans may lack.

GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images
Scott Christ is the managing editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2006.

Boxing headlines in recent weeks have seen a lot of Mike Tyson, as the 53-year-old former heavyweight champ has been training again with an eye on possibly doing some charity exhibition bouts. There was footage of him tearing up the pads that went viral.

His old rival Evander Holyfield, now 57, has announced similar plans. Holyfield stoked the fires a bit by suggesting he and Mike meet a third time.

Diehard boxing fans fully understand that Tyson being able to rip the pads up may be cool to see — and he’s a frightening guy compared to the average ham-and-egger, without question — but that beyond an exhibition of some sort, the aged Tyson should not fight again.

But there are a lot of people out there who don’t seem to recall what we saw from these two legends at the ends of their careers. Holyfield fought until 2011, long past his best days, and was a shell of his former self by the early 2000s. Tyson hasn’t fought since 2005, when he went out feebly in back-to-back losses to Danny Williams and Kevin McBride, not exactly Hall of Famers.

Those people seem to think there’s legitimate intrigue in Tyson, in particular, fighting again — like, for real.

But real life isn’t Rocky Balboa, where a 60-plus-year-old Balboa, played once more by Sylvester Stallone, made a comeback in what was officially an exhibition, but was a true fight with fictional heavyweight champion Mason “The Line” Dixon, played by Antonio Tarver. It’s an inspiring and entertaining movie, but in real life, an in-prime heavyweight champion would beat the snot out of the old man. We’ve seen it before, with far lesser age gaps and absences from boxing than the fake Balboa, or in this case the real Holyfield or real Tyson.

Johnny Nelson, a former cruiserweight titlist and now a Sky Sports boxing analyst, breaks down why that’s such a bad idea:

“Once you’ve had time out to reflect and assess, you think ‘I could do that’. But it’s our mind playing tricks on us, because when you get in the ring and you come up against a youngster who’s not as good as you, technically, but has more pace than you, he will do you every day of the week.

“We’ve seen Mike Tyson hit the headlines on the pads. And everyone’s like ‘oh my gosh, he’s the don.’ We’re remembering the good times but we’re not remembering the back end of the career when the body didn’t switch as quick as it used to. The body didn’t react as quick as it used to.”

The Sky article also cites the case of Donovan “Razor” Ruddock, the former contender who fought Tyson two times in the early 1990s, and earned Tyson’s respect with his toughness. Ruddock retired from boxing in 2001, having fought club level bouts after a 1995 loss to Tommy Morrison. But at age 51 in 2015, Ruddock returned. He won a couple of low-level fights in Canada, then challenged Canadian champion Dillon Carman, who wasn’t exactly Wladimir Klitschko, in Sept. 2015.

Premier Boxing Champions title card at the Ricoh Coliseum Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images

For what it’s worth, Ruddock looked at a glance in decent shape for a 51-year-old man. But he was soft in the body for a fighter, owing really just to age. And then the fight happened, and it was not good. Ruddock was able to throw shots, but they were slow and often had to be loaded up beyond a jab that seemed to have no real snap. He had been a hell of a puncher in his prime, and this was not his prime.

Carman, 29, felt him out early and then in the second round began pouring on some pressure, chopping away to the head and body. Ruddock could only try to cover up. He didn’t have the quickness to punch back in exchange or counter, and he was audibly breathing hard. He did land a hook late in the round, and Carman responded by hammering away in return.

In the third, Ruddock went down in the corner on two chopping right hands. He got up, but was clearly in no shape to continue. Referee Mark Simmons allowed him to try, though, and the result was Carman knocking Ruddock flat out on two more right hands to the head. It was a scary scene for a moment, and though he wound up OK overall, it was a reminder of what time does to all fighters.

Charity fights with big gloves and no intensity of competition? Fine. But anything beyond that is a terrible idea.

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