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Mike Tyson throws a punch during the third round against Roy Jones Jr. in an exhibition boxing bout Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020, in Los Angeles.

Joe Scarnici/The Associated Press

Mike Tyson showed glimpses of his destructive prime Saturday night during the 54-year-old boxing icon’s return to the ring for a lively exhibition bout with 51-year-old Roy Jones Jr.

Both fighters had impressive moments during a fight that was unofficially ruled a draw by the WBC judges at ringside. Tyson and Jones fought eight two-minute rounds, and both emerged smiling and apparently healthy from a highly unusual event at Staples Center.

“This is better than fighting for championships,” Tyson said of the heavyweight exhibition, which raised money for various charities. “We’re humanitarians now. We can do something good for the world. We’ve got to do this again.”

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The former heavyweight champion of the world’s return to the ring after a 15-year absence attracted international attention, and Iron Mike did his best to show the form that made him a legend to a generation of boxing fans. Tyson tagged Jones with body shots and a handful of head punches during a bout that was required to be a fairly safe glorious sparring session by the California State Athletic Commission.

“The body shots definitely took a toll,” said Jones, the former four-division world champion widely considered the most skilled boxer of his generation. “It’s something to take the punches that Mike throws. I’m cool with a draw. Maybe we can do it again.”

Jones walked to the ring with gloves and trunks honouring Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, while Tyson wore his signature all-black trunks. After the traditional pre-fight pomp and an introduction by Michael Buffer, the 50-something champions both came out throwing punches that evoked echoes of their glorious primes.

They also tied up frequently on the inside, and their occasionally laboured breathing could be heard on the microphones in the empty arena.

Hip hop star Snoop Dogg’s witty television commentary was among the loudest noises inside Staples, and he had a handful of zingers: “This is like two of my uncles fighting at the barbecue!”

Tyson and Jones were the headliners in the most improbable pay-per-view boxing event in years, engineered by social networking app Triller and featuring fights interspersed with hip hop performances in an empty arena.

The event was derided as an anti-sporting spectacle by some critics, yet both Tyson and Jones appeared to handle themselves capably and safely. Fans were clearly enamoured, with the show getting enormous traction on social media.

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“I hit you with some good shots, and you took it,” Tyson said. “I respect that.”

In the co-main event, YouTube star Jake Paul knocked out former NBA player Nate Robinson, stopped in the second round of Robinson’s pro boxing debut. Paul, in his second pro fight, recorded three knock-downs against Robinson, the three-time NBA Slam Dunk contest champion, before an overhand right put Robinson flat on his face and apparently unconscious.

Tyson retired from boxing in 2005, saying he longer had “the fighting guts or the heart” after he quit in a dismal loss to journeyman Peter McBride. Finally free of his sport’s relentless pressure, Tyson gradually straightened out his life, kicking a self-described drug addiction and eventually succeeding in acting, stage performance, charity work and even marijuana cultivation while settling into comfortable family life in Las Vegas with his third wife and their children.

The idea of a boxing comeback seemed preposterous, but Tyson started toward this unlikely fight when he started doing 15 daily minutes on a treadmill a few years ago at his wife’s urging in a bid to lose 100 pounds. The workouts soon became multi-hour affairs encompassing biking, running and finally punching as he regained a measure of his athletic prime through discipline and a vegan diet.

Tyson posted a video of himself hitting pads on social media early in the coronavirus pandemic, and the overwhelming public response led to several lucrative offers for a ring comeback. With the chance to make money for himself and for charity, Tyson eventually agreed – but he had to find an opponent.

Jones fought steadily into his late 40s, but thought he was done with the sport after winning his last bout in 2018. He couldn’t resist the chance to take on Tyson after the greats never met during their first professional careers because Tyson was a heavyweight and Jones mostly was a light heavyweight (178 pounds).

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Tyson and Jones negotiated with the California commission over the limitations of their bout, eventually arriving at eight two-minute rounds of hard sparring with only ceremonial judging and no official winner. The WBC still stepped in to award a ceremonial “Frontline Battle Belt” to both fighters.

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