In 2020 the idea of staging a boxing exhibition — a fight that isn’t really a fight, that is — is a far stranger concept than it should be. Receiving money for fighting another person and then not actually having to fight them is the ideal transaction, from a fighter’s standpoint. Tricking a bunch of people into paying for something like that is about as 2020 as it gets.
News of Mike Tyson and Roy Jones, Jr. fighting some kind of poorly-defined exhibition had no business surprising as many boxing people as it did, even if only due to the history of such endeavors. Tyson and Jones play prominent roles in fight memories from the last 20 or 30 years and maybe we’d just gotten used to them being gone.
Cutting to the chase, boxing exhibitions have been around since at least the 1800s. Lightweight great Joe Gans, “The Old Master,” fought several of them in the late 1800s, for example. He wasn’t the first nor the last, and it was all about making a few bucks.
Jack Dempsey, one of boxing’s biggest ever names, wasn’t immune to fighting exhibitions either. Over the course of about one year, from 1931 to 1932, Dempsey reckoned he faced at least 175 foes in exhibitions, knocking out more than 100 of them. The Great Depression hit the ex-champion hard and fighting for real wasn’t an option.
Joe Louis did it too. He participated in approximately 100 exhibitions while serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, but he also fought over 150 more in his final years as champion and the years immediately following those. And the ones in the Army he did for free.
On this episode of the Knuckles and Gloves Boxing Radio podcast, boxing historians Patrick Connor and Aris Pina briefly discuss #TysonJones before talking about some notable and less-notable exhibitions from history. Pre-fight, post-fight… This is your Mike Tyson vs. Roy Jones companion podcast.
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