MMA: Jake Rossen

Tyson on the UFC, the Gracies and charity

May, 2, 2013
5/02/13
11:06
AM ET
Rossen By Jake Rossen
ESPN.com
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Mike TysonJosh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesMike Tyson is a fan of mixed martial arts since the early days of Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock.

Seven years ago, Mike Tyson did what prizefighters are rarely willing or able to do: recognize when their time is up.

A mercurial figure of the ‘80s and ‘90s who often courted as much trouble outside the ring as he did inside of it, Tyson walked away from boxing after consecutive losses, telling spectators he refused to disgrace the sport with subpar performances.

That'd be an awesome fight from the fans' standpoint. All the fans want to see two invincible fighters from two different weight divisions. It would be very interesting.

-- Mike Tyson on a possible Jon Jones-Anderson Silva matchup.
Based on his past indiscretions, many expected him to implode. Retirement, however, had a strange effect on Tyson: Instead of feeling cast adrift, he appeared ecstatic at the prospect of leaving the fight business behind. Cameos in "The Hangover" films and viral videos turned public perception around; removed from the mindset of having to try to tear a man down with his fists, there was little trace of the savage behavior that made him famous.

The story of that transformation is part of "Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth," a one-man stage show Tyson is currently touring. As he prepares for his final dates in Atlanta, Newark, New York and Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Tyson -- an unabashed fight fan who recently appeared on "The Ultimate Fighter" -- spoke with ESPN.com about the past, present and future of mixed martial arts.

Jake Rossen: You’ve been touring the show for a few months now. When you started, was the idea of public speaking more nerve-wracking than fighting?

Tyson: Absolutely. I’m not the most didactic guy when it comes to my linguistics skills. Spike [Lee, the show’s director] hired a voice coach, a speech teacher, so I could pronounce the words in a proper fashion. I still sometimes garble my G's and R's, though.

They’re ready to film this for television, it’s gotten so good. Spike has hinted at it. Though I might talk too much and then he’ll say, "Hell, no, we’re not going to do it now."

Rossen: You were one of the first boxers to acknowledge mixed martial arts as a legitimate combat sport. Do you remember when you first watched the UFC?

Tyson: My friends were all at my house one day, and we see these guys promoting these cage fights, right? When everybody was over, people were normally inebriated, so we said, “We’re putting this on. We’re gonna watch this!” Next thing you know, we’re watching Ken Shamrock and someone fight. Bang! I’m saying, “This is real, man. This is on!”

We started watching it every time we got the chance. We’ve been following the guys since [Royce] Gracie, Shamrock, [Dan] Severn. It just kept evolving and evolving.

Rossen: At those early shows, sometimes people in the crowd would hold up signs saying, “Tyson vs. Gracie.” What would you think when you saw that?

Tyson: Yeah! That was so awesome. I love all kinds of fighting. To say I only love two guys putting on gloves and only punching, I would be a moron to say that.

Rossen: Did you ever seriously consider an offer to fight MMA when you were active as an athlete?

Tyson: Not really, because by the time it took off, I was already doing boxing. This is something you have to start when you’re 12 or 13. It has to be a passion. That’s the problem with boxing: There’s no passion. People want to be record producers, rappers. In MMA, you see that passion. Georges St-Pierre, this is all he wants to do. That’s why he’s so successful.

Royce Gracie
Dave Mandel/Sherdog.comRoyce Gracie changed the face of MMA in the eyes of Mike Tyson.
Rossen: But back in those days, it wasn’t so refined. I know it’s a hypothetical, but what do you think would’ve happened if someone had put up enough money for you to fight Royce Gracie? He was a much smaller man.

Tyson: It doesn’t matter. If I hit him with a good punch, OK, but if he gets hold of me and in a position I’m not familiar with, I’m not going to win the fight. I would have to be equipped with grappling skills as well. Gracie changed the whole game around. To be involved in this kind of fight, you have to know that style right off the bat.

Everyone learned his style of fighting. Everything we have now is because of the Gracies taking it to the next level. Their name isn’t on it, but that’s what it is. It’s Gracie Fighting.

Rossen: Have you ever grappled?

Tyson: Never in my life, no. Unless I had a street fight where I had to grab someone and slam them. [Laughs]

Rossen: There’s always talk MMA is set to “replace” boxing. Do you think the two will continue to coexist?

Tyson: I think there’s room for both [MMA] and boxing, but boxing just has too many black eyes. It doesn’t have a good image. In MMA, even though people are fighting, they have a good image. Very few of them get into tragic troubles where they’re beating people up and stuff.

Rossen: Do you see Jon Jones versus Anderson Silva as MMA’s version of Manny Pacquiao versus Floyd Mayweather Jr.?

Tyson: That’d be an awesome fight from the fans’ standpoint. All the fans want to see two invincible fighters from two different weight divisions. It would be very interesting.

Rossen: As a fighter, though, when you have a lucrative win streak going, do you think it makes either of those guys reluctant to do it?

Tyson: The essence of fighting is this: to push yourself to the limit. Say you get defeated. Do you push yourself to another limit to overcome that defeat? This is what fighting is about. That’s why it’s such a metaphor for life. Even though you’re going to lose and you know you’re going to lose, you still have to fight and fight to win.

Rossen: Are you more of a boxing or MMA fan now?

Tyson: I love MMA and love boxing, but I’m always watching the MMA stuff. With boxing, you don’t know if the guy’s going to get a [good] decision, you know? In UFC, there’s the Ultimate Fighter house -- you cultivate the fighters spiritually, work with them, it’s a team effort. In boxing, it’s like, “The hell with you.” The fighters dislike everybody. The MMA fighters are killing each other and they’re friends!

Rossen: You seem to have a good relationship with the UFC. Would you ever consider doing commentary for them if asked?

Tyson: Absolutely. I would also work in boxing if I could get a chance to clean it up, get it organized and government-operated. It has to be. Look at all the atrocities that have happened in the history of boxing.

Rossen: You’ve spoken before about being a huge fan of Fedor Emelianenko. Is there one fighter in the UFC you love to watch compete?

Tyson: It has to be Jon Jones. But I like Anderson Silva, too. And Cain Velasquez! He showed what a champion is. He took a humiliating defeat, came back focused and beat Junior dos Santos [in the rematch].

I look at MMA totally differently from how the fans look at it. I look at people overcoming adversities. Most guys being knocked out the way Cain was would’ve lost all of their spirit. He could’ve come back for a payday and gotten knocked out in one round. Instead, he examined his loss and changed the outcome.

Rossen: There are some parallels there to your own life. You have a charity now, Mike Tyson Cares. What gave you that initiative?

Tyson: My wife and I were piggybacking on other established charities. We were so happy we were able to put smiles on so many faces, get medication into hospitals, get people educated. We’ve gotten 7,000 homeless kids medical supplies, school supplies, by piggybacking with these other organizations. It gave us great satisfaction.

I just want to continue to be of service, continue to help people, and do good things in life. I want to have moral achievements more than tangible, physical ones.

10 Count: Hyped debuts that didn't deliver

February, 21, 2013
2/21/13
4:16
PM ET
Rossen By Jake Rossen
ESPN.com
Archive
An unprecedented level of media coverage has surrounded the UFC debuts of female fighters Rhonda Rousey and Liz Carmouche at this weekend's UFC 157. While Carmouche has enjoyed press for making history as the promotion's first openly gay athlete, it's Olympic Judo player Rousey that remains the show's main attraction.

Dimpled, quick-witted and savage, Rousey is expected to emerge as one of the sport's top drawing cards. Having barely broken a sweat in her MMA career, winning seems to be a foregone conclusion.

But magazine covers are no guarantee of success, and not all heavily hyped debuts have gone the way promoters had hoped. Here's a look at fighters who failed to meet expectations their first time out of the gate:

10. Brock Lesnar (vs. Frank Mir, UFC 81, 2008)

A Renaissance man of violent contact sports, amateur wrestler Lesnar acquired his celebrity through a stint as a World Wrestling Entertainment attraction. When he tired of that industry's grueling road schedule, he decided to try out for the Minnesota Vikings despite never having played a day of college ball. When he failed to make the team, his focus turned to MMA -- realizing his dream, he once told an ESPN reporter, to "pick a fight on every street. If I wouldn't lose money, I'd fight ... every day."

Lesnar's UFC debut wasn't his first sanctioned bout: months earlier, it took him a minute to pummel an overmatched Min-Soo Kim in a little-seen pay-per-view event. But coming into the industry's leading promotion meant an unprecedented level of attention: Much was made of Lesnar's "lunchbox-sized hands" and a frightening level of agility for being a 280-pound slab of lean mass. It was a promotional tactic used by Japanese matchmakers for years to see if the pro wrestler had any real fight in him.

For a good portion of the 90 seconds he spent against Mir, the answer was yes. Lesnar quickly took Mir down and pounded him through the mat. But referee Steve Mazzagatti's restart -- Lesnar was docked a point for hitting behind the head -- seemed to slow his momentum, and his lack of submission knowledge cost him when Mir locked in a kneebar, forcing Lesnar to tap and exposing his limited training.

It was a painful education, and one Lesnar took to heart considering he practically disfigured Mir in their 2009 rematch.

9. Karam Ibrahim (vs. Kazuyuki Fujita, K-1 Dynamite, 2004)

While MMA has hosted a number of Olympic-level athletes and medal winners, the majority have been either alternates, bronze/silver competitors, or years removed from their prime. The Egyptian-born Ibrahim, however, holds the distinction of being the only mixed martial artist to have a prizefight the very same year he won his gold medal.

A Greco-Roman style wrestler, he was enticed by the promise of a sizable payday from Japan's K-1 promotion. Ibrahim's credentials were impeccable, and their choice of opponent was seemingly a gift as Fujita, an experienced fighter who nonetheless had Greco skills (as a national champion in Japan), paled in comparison to Ibrahim.

Call it an adrenaline dump, pure instinct, or just a temporary leave of his senses, but Ibrahim entered the ring completely forgetting his superior wrestling ability and decided to slug it out with Fujita -- a man dubbed "Ironhead" by the press for his near-inability to be knocked out. Predictably, Fujita brushed off Ibrahim's rudimentary strikes and needed barely a minute to send him crashing to the canvas.

Despite being in his athletic prime and world-class in the same base of wrestling that brought Randy Couture great success, Ibrahim never again competed in MMA. He remains one of the sport's greatest "what if" stories.

8. Renato "Babalu" Sobral (vs. Mikhail Zayats, Bellator 85, 2013)

A 16-year veteran, Sobral has fought all over the world and for virtually every major promotion, cultivating a name that made him one of Bellator's highest-profile acquisitions.

"Sobral is an awesome addition to the Bellator family," Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney said at the time. "He's beaten some of the greatest fighters in the sport, and poses a tremendous threat to every fighter in our light heavyweight division."

While that may hold true, he posed little threat to Zayats, another debuting fighter for Bellator who held zero major wins over seasoned competitors. With seconds to go in the first round, Zayats uncorked a spinning back fist sending a dazed Sobral to the canvas where he was finished with strikes. Bellator's long game of having Sobral meet fellow 205-pound attraction Muhammed Lawal down the line was also TKO'd.

7. Satoshi Ishii (vs. Hidehiko Yoshida, Dream, 2009)

As Rousey and predecessors like Karo Parisyan have proved, Judo can be an extremely effective base for MMA since few athletes train enough of it to become proficient, and even fewer are prepared for some of the more unorthodox throws and trips that a seasoned Judoka can pull off.

Ishii won a gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Games and almost immediately declared his intentions to pursue a fight career. His credentials were impressive enough for the UFC to take the rare step of entering into discussions -- despite Ishii being a neophyte in the fight game -- before he had even a single bout to his credit.

Owing either to failed negotiations or the realization of the caliber of opponent he’d be tasked with, Ishii instead opted to make history by participating in the sport’s first gold medalist-versus-gold medalist bout against Hidehiko Yoshida in Japan. While Ishii was fresh off his win in the Games, Yoshida was nearly 20 years removed from his Olympic appearance and had lost four of his previous five bouts. It was intended to be a passing of the torch, and the likely emergence of a new star in the fading Japanese fight scene.

Unfortunately for Ishii, Yoshida wasn’t discouraged by statistics: he dominated Ishii standing en route to a unanimous decision win, smothering Ishii’s hype and prompting him to make the unprecedented move of accepting two amateur fights after he had already competed as a professional.

6. Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic (vs. Eddie Sanchez, UFC 67, 2007)

You'd have to go back to Mike Tyson to find a striker that prompted more tremors in opponents than Filipovic, a K-1-groomed kickboxer who made a grand entrance to mixed-style fighting in 2001, splitting open Kazuyuki Fujita's skull practically down to the bone. Where most strikers could often be nullified by wrestlers, Filipovic -- who had no amateur grappling background -- was able to defend tackles and expose the rudimentary stand-up of his opponents. "Cro Cop" was simply vicious, and his high kick carried the very real threat of serious injury.

Coming into the UFC after a long run in PRIDE, Filipovic had just enjoyed arguably his best success ever: winning that show's loaded Absolute tournament, pummeling names like Wanderlei Silva and Josh Barnett to claim the championship. Only months later, he was in the United States and facing the uncelebrated Sanchez, a grappler with little name recognition. Coming off a who's who of opponents in Japan, Sanchez seemed like a step backward.

Unlike most on this list, Filipovic did win his debut. But in doing so, he revealed a slower, more apprehensive fighter than he'd displayed during his run in Japan. In the end, there was no spectacular highlight-reel knockout that the announcers had practically guaranteed -- Filipovic knocked Sanchez down and threw some strikes to finish the job. After watching him fold men in half and rip away their self-awareness with a sniper's professionalism, this version of Cro Cop couldn't have been more unexpected. Or disappointing.

5. Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto (vs. Demetrious Johnson, UFC 126, 2011)

Before the UFC began to heavily publicize the lighter weight divisions, there was one name that made the trip across the Pacific: "Kid" Yamamoto, a dynamic 140-pound fighter with an amateur wrestling background who could easily be mistaken for a striker. Fighting kickboxing star Masato Shiozawa, he managed to knock the bigger, far more experienced striker down -- a losing effort that nonetheless opened up eyes to Kid's potential as an all-around threat.

For years, Yamamoto was considered the fantasy matchup for Urijah Faber, the WEC's featherweight champion. Kid's 2009 loss to Joe Warren in Japan dulled the shine of that bout, but the UFC still pursued Yamamoto when he was contractually available. Making his debut at 135 pounds, Yamamoto was expected to outhustle Johnson. But Johnson -- now the UFC's flyweight champion -- beat Kid at his own game, being evasive and landing swarming strikes. For someone who had been discussed as a UFC hopeful for nearly a decade, Kid's debut was too little, too late.

4. Shinya Aoki (vs. Gilbert Melendez, Strikeforce, 2010)

The sport's one-time tendency of elevating the reputations of Japanese fighters often came from their lack of challenging competition -- it's easy to look fearsome when your opponents are overmatched.

To Aoki's credit, his employers weren't shy about throwing him to the wolves. During a tremendous run in the DREAM promotion, he faced Joachim Hansen, Caol Uno, Eddie Alvarez, and Gesias "JZ" Cavalcante -- beating them all and displaying a world-class grappling game that defies description.

That history led to high expectations when Aoki made his U.S. debut in Strikeforce, facing the lightweight champion Melendez. But whatever magic Aoki could conjure in his country didn't seem to make the trip over. He put Melendez in no danger whatsoever, and instead faced 25 minutes of excruciating offense in a ridiculously one-sided fight.

If there is such a thing as a hometown advantage in MMA, Aoki certainly benefits from it: he won his next six fights in Japan.

3. Hector Lombard (vs. Tim Boetsch, UFC 149, 2012)

From his April 2009 debut to spring 2012 exit, Lombard delivered 13 wins under the Bellator umbrella with no losses. (He would take three of those fights in other promotions, with the organization's blessing.) Despite the fact that the competition was underwhelming, Lombard's record and marble-carved physique led to a lucrative UFC deal and the hint of a showdown with Anderson Silva. Boetsch, despite going on an impressive win streak at middleweight, was supposed to be a warm-up.

Owing to injury, nerves, or just getting the losing end, Lombard was unable to make any kind of statement against Boetsch, who landed more significant strikes to earn a split-decision victory. An anomaly? Possibly. Lombard went on to destroy Rousimar Palhares last December. But you only get one chance to make a first impression.

2. Bas Rutten (vs. Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, UFC 18, 1999)

Rutten was a star of Pancrase, a Japanese fight league that didn't adopt striking with a closed fist until late into its existence. During his tenure, he was a tenacious fighter even with palm strikes. In signing with the UFC, the idea that he could now exchange proper punches seemed like a good reason to keep a plastic surgeon on standby. UFC didn't ignore that potential: the poster for the event discreetly billed him as "The World's Greatest Martial Artist."

Against Kohsaka, a durable grappler who cut his teeth in RINGS, Rutten didn't quite look the part. He was often shut down by Kohsaka's aggression and takedowns, and it wasn't until an overtime round that he finally turned on an offensive flurry that seemed to warrant his advertising copy. (Rutten would compete only once more in the UFC, beating Kevin Randleman in a controversial decision for the heavyweight title.)

1. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua (vs. Forrest Griffin, UFC 76, 2007)

Rua's run in PRIDE was nothing short of Hall of Fame material. At 12-1 -- his only loss the result of a poor break fall that left him with a broken arm -- Rua tore through Quinton Jackson, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Alistair Overeem and Ricardo Arona to be crowned the 2005 Grand Prix Champion. At the time of PRIDE's demise and Jackson's KO of Chuck Liddell, Rua was considered by many to be the top light heavyweight in the world.

Griffin, meanwhile, had been alternating wins and losses after winning the first season of "The Ultimate Fighter," and was largely derided as a "reality TV star" who had little business against elite competition. At the time of the bout's announcement, Rua's fans seemed annoyed he wouldn't be getting to work up more of a sweat. A title bout with Jackson seemed inevitable.

But the Rua that dominated the PRIDE ring post to post was nowhere to be found against Griffin, who endured some early aggression before getting Rua's back and sinking in a rear-naked choke. Was Griffin underestimated, or did Rua fail to shift into second gear? Either way, no one has ever entered the Octagon with more hype -- or left with so little of their reputation left intact.

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