Sat within the familiar opulence and grandeur which came to delineate much of his life as one of the most recognised athletes on the planet, Mike Tyson is perched over a chessboard.
It’s a fitting setting as the 50-year-old begins to loosen his tongue and relax his broad shoulders into a conversation about the sport he once ruled.
Boxing is, after all, a bit like chess and the potential rewards not too dissimilar to that of the grandiose presidential suite the former undisputed heavyweight champion of the world is occupying.
Behind boxing’s naked violence is a cerebral element, one of tactics and strategy both in and out of the ring. It is also a sport which can elevate athletes from pawn-like status into kings as the sweet science is littered with examples of fighters who have reigned over it and taken on global prominence.
In the mid-1980s Tyson was one such man and he senses a new talent is about to ascend into the crown – Great Britain’s IBF and WBA heavyweight champ Anthony Joshua.
Indeed, Joshua has been catapulted into popular mainstream culture after the 27-year-old conquered the king of old Wladimir Klitschko in front of 90,000 fans at Wembley Stadium last month.
The nature of the clash, one hallmarked by several plot twists and just the right amount of savagery, captured the imagination, not just in Britain where it is widely expected to break the pay-per-view record previously set by Floyd Mayweather’s flop of the century fight with Manny Pacquiao, but across the globe.
The 41-year-old Ukrainian was resurgent after his defeat to Tyson Fury in 2015 and he picked himself up after being put down in the fifth round to drop Joshua in the next session for the first time in his career.
But Joshua rose from the canvas and into his new throne as he tactically conserved his energy before delivering a shattering uppercut and then an eruption of blows to force a sensational stoppage in the 11th.
“There’s a new king now,” Tyson says with a grin. “Anthony Joshua is a superstar.”
Speaking exclusively to Sport360 in Dubai’s Atlantis Hotel for the launch of his Mike Tyson Academy franchise in the UAE, ‘Iron Mike’ revealed his delight in Joshua’s success.
By living up to his pre-ordained hype in a blockbuster bout of worldwide significance, Joshua has helped to inspire the reawakening of the heavyweight giants.
With his transcendent appeal and ferocious physical attributes, the Olympic gold medallist leads a pack of hungry heavyweights with names like Fury, WBC title holder Deontay Wilder and WBO champ Joseph Parker all potential opponents. But Tyson believes Joshua has what it takes to reign atop the division for a long time and bring the big men back into the big time.
“It was great fight because he got back up!” he says. “He got hit with a really good shot but he got back up and even though he was still hurt he pulled through.
“Oh he got heart! He got it for sure because he was able to get back up. Klitschko performed really well and I never counted him out but for Joshua to go down and get back up, I don’t care how old Klitschko is 41 or whatever, for him to go down from a clean hard punch and to come back and be successful that says a lot about him.
“I like that he’s patient, too, he’s like Frank Bruno but on steroids (sic). He’s like a super Frank Bruno as far as his toughness and everything. The way he throws them overhand punches it reminds me of him but he’s such a specimen.
“It’s amazing because he’s only had 19 fights and he’s already champion of the world so he has a long way to go. He’s going to do a lot of good things. If he can keep his mind right and stay out of controversy he’s going to make a lot of money.”
The victory ensured Joshua stayed perfect with his record stretching to 19 fights, 19 wins and 19 stoppages. That he has reached the pinnacle of boxing having only gloved up for the first time nine years ago is a testament to not just Joshua’s discipline but his mental fortitude. Tyson, though, believes there is another feature of Joshua which could see him become one of the most successful athletes of all time.
“AJ is the superstar. I’ve never seen an entrance quite like his before with the flaming ‘A’ and ‘J’,” he adds. “That’s why he’s going to change boxing because that’s entertainment. It’s not just about knocking guys out.
“He’s the big man around the campus now. The heavyweight champion is the man, especially a guy like that who is knocking guys out quick. He looks like the heavyweight champion too, the way he carries himself and the shape he is in. Apart from Klitschko, most of the heavyweight division look like truck drivers.”
In Tyson’s own words, one fighter has seemingly altered what was a bleak landscape for boxing. Indeed, the lingering stench from May/Pac two years ago coincided with the rise to prominence of the UFC and headed by superstar names like Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor, a definite shift in popularity saw MMA progress as boxing regressed.
Tyson himself is a fan of MMA and has regularly been seen Octagon-side with close friend UFC president Dana White. And while the former ‘Baddest Man on the Planet’ is a keen follower of the UFC – noting bantamweight champ Cody Garbrandt as one of his favourite fighters to watch – he believes the balance of power is tipping back in boxing’s favour.
“I know all the fighters, I watch all the fights, I love it,” he says. “In boxing we have one discipline but we use it in different ways but in MMA there’s so many different disciplines, it opens up so many different ways to win.”
He adds: “Everybody gets their moneys worth with the UFC and that’s really what fighting is about people going there to be entertained.
“That’s why boxing dwindled because there are great fighters but not great entertainment.
“But with Joshua boxing is going to be a whole different ball game and everyone is going to want to watch him fight. He’s got the potential to be one of the biggest boxing stars of all time.”
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