By VICTOR ORDONEZ, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — When asked what word would best describe the 54-year-old former heavyweight boxing champion today, without hesitation, Mike Tyson responded “unconquerable.”
On Nov. 28, Tyson will face off against “Captain Hook” — former four-division world champion Roy Jones Jr., 51. Tyson’s long-awaited return to the ring was teased on social media for weeks, but the fight also marks the beginning of his newest venture: Mike Tyson’s Legend’s Only League.
Bringing back legends
The idea was simple enough, to bring retired athletes back to the sport they love for one-off nostalgia-filled events.
“They are still healthy, they are still beautiful and they still look beautiful doing what they do,” Tyson told ABC News.
Before founding the league, Tyson said he heard a sports analyst say on broadcast that NFL legend Jerry Rice was no longer formidable.
“They said he can’t play football anymore, he can’t be a wide receiver anymore. That is ridiculous!” said Tyson. “I bet you there are more people who want to see Jerry Rice play right now than they do the guy who is running his old position right now on the San Francisco 49ers.”
The league plans to create similar events in a wide array of sports, including soccer, tennis, football and more. Tyson teased that Rice himself, along with Hockey Hall of Fame legend Wayne Gretzky, have called to inquire more about the league, possibly indicating similar returns in league-sponsored events.
“I had so many athletes that called me want to be involved with it. You got Jerry Rice, [Joe] Montana. Listen, there are so many people that want to do this stuff,” said Tyson.
Per his own wishlist, Tyson added that he’d love to facilitate Brock Lesnar’s return to mixed martial arts.
The league’s mere existence has fueled questions as to whether Evander Holyfield would also consider a return to the ring. He and Tyson last faced off in 1997, in a fight that was later dubbed “the Bite Fight.”
“That’d be awesome if he were to get in the league too,” Tyson told ABC News, though he did not confirm whether or not talks are in place.
Presented by Triller
Shockingly, Tyson’s return to the ring won’t be presented by HBO, ESPN, Showtime or any other legacy network; instead, the fight will be presented by Triller, an up-and-coming music video app akin to TikTok.
Along with the rights to the live event featuring Tyson, Triller — an app with no footing in the world of sports — obtained streaming rights to a soon-to-be-released, 10-part docuseries featuring behind-the-scenes footage of the fight. Two episodes will be released each week leading up to the match.
Founded as a music video app, the platform allows users to create professional-looking music videos in a matter of seconds using artificial intelligence — the CEO described the app as “the voice of an American-based Gen Z platform.”
“For those younger audiences, Triller is a perfect platform for them to see a side of Mike that they haven’t seen before,” said CEO of Eros Innovations and part owner of the league, Sophie Watts. “They’ve seen him in ‘The Hangover,’ they know him as a cultural icon, but they probably only know through their parents or their family about his [boxing] legacy — it’s a chance for them to be introduced to that.”
“They’re going to see what they’ve been hearing about all their lives,” added Tyson. “The entertainment is seeing these people come back and still entertain you like they did when you were young.”
A three-hour live event, the Tyson vs. Jones bout, will last eight rounds and be part of a multiple-fight card. The event will have several undercard matches — including controversial YouTube star Jake Paul against NBA free agent Nate Robinson — as well as musical performances, which will be announced in the coming weeks.
Although Triller will host the league’s first official event, Watts said the league can and likely will expand to other platforms for future events.
“The Triller deal is a one-off deal for this fight,” Watts told ABC News. “Do I think a three-on-three basketball game of legendary NBA players… do I think that would be a different demographic? Absolutely.”
The league has yet to announce additional events, but Watts teased the return of more retired athletes in the near future.
Tyson talks return to the ring
Earlier this year, Tyson told Joe Rogan in a podcast interview that he had no plans to return to the gym — let alone the boxing arena.
“They offered me money to come back, and I didn’t understand. I thought it was a joke, and I thought it was stupid,” Tyson said at the time.
Still, he reconsidered when he realized how many people he could help by donating part of his earnings to charity.
“This completes me: being considerate and generous to people less fortunate than myself. That that helps me,” Tyson said.
But, Tyson admitted his return to training in the ring was rocky at first.
“I want you to know this… the first time I went back and boxed in 15 years, I got the sh– kicked out of me,” he said. “But, do you know what happened in that process? I said, ‘I belong here. This is where I belong."”
Tyson said one of the biggest issues returning athletes face when going back to their sport is relearning mental preparation.
“What fighters and what athletes in general have to overcome is more psychological and mental than it is physical,” said Tyson. “You can do all the drills and all the preparation, but if you don’t go into a fight mentally controlled… you’re going to have a disastrous day.”
As of today, Tyson said he feels “unconquerable,” and is looking forward to showing younger generations that he’s more than a comedian and actor.
“Look, at the end of the day, I am an entertainer,” said Tyson. “But after they watch this fight, people are going to be very careful not to make jokes about me.”
Overcoming the pandemic
While major professional athletic programs have struggled to overcome COVID-19-related challenges, Tyson’s Legends Only League was conceived amid the pandemic. The event will be streamed without a live audience, per California state regulations.
“The reality is our model isn’t built around live audiences, unlike a traditional athletic organization that has extraordinary debt or obligations to traditional broadcast partners, which require a live audience to monetize that system — we don’t,” Watts said. “We’re excited to take these fans who want to feel nostalgia and connection and really live inside the world of an athlete they’ve revered — that opportunity exists at home just as it would exist in a stadium.”
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