Fresh from a visit to the beach with his family, former middleweight world champion and now professional trainer, Andy Lee talks to Boxing Social about stepping away from the sport and the intrigue that surrounds Mike Tyson’s rumoured return to boxing…
I can understand fighters who think they can do it. All the guys who come back once they’ve been long retired and, sometimes, they think they’ll be even better for it. You see with age, you always reflect on your career and the things you did when you trained, and when you fought, and how you could handle those situations. Mostly, you think about what you would like to do differently. I can totally understand that, because it even happened to me after I had retired myself.
I would think, ‘I never used to do those things in training, I prepared wrong for this fight’. And with the passing of time, it gives you a different perspective on some things. It happens, and some part of you even thinks that, ‘Yeah, I could make those changes and I could come back and have even better results’. But your body and your ability will decrease with that passing of time, and you’re just not the same. You’re not as fast, you don’t have the reactions and, sadly, you don’t have the power anymore.
When I was watching that recent, 15-second clip of Mike Tyson, I could see that he was slightly off-balance, especially at the end of his combinations. At the end of your combinations is when you’re most vulnerable. Even 15 years ago, Mike Tyson was a shell of his former self. So how is he going to be now? That really just shows you the attraction or the lure of Tyson, though. Even just putting up a 15-second clip like that, now he’s got the entire boxing world talking. For him, there’s always gonna be that temptation because he knows that if he does return to the ring, I’d guess for the next five or six years, he’s going to make a lot of money – I’m sure he’s having a lot of money thrown at him already.
In terms of a potential Tyson v Evander Holyfield fight, it’s got to be said that you’re talking about two of the best heavyweights from recent years, perhaps even any era. Both men are legends in the sport and they owned parts of one of the division’s best periods, and I have a huge amount of respect for what they’ve achieved. If those two fighters are coming back to have an exhibition match, I don’t see anything majorly wrong with that. As long as when it’s showcased, it’s not competitive.
Those two men themselves though have so much pride, so much at stake in terms of reputation, that it would have to be competitive – they’re going to let their hands go, and it could be dangerous for one of them. I always try to be open-minded and think, ‘Do what you want to do’. It’s up to them and, if it is a just three-round fight, I don’t see that being too much of a problem, to be honest.
Recently, somebody asked if bowing out after a victory allowed me a sense of comfort, or peace perhaps, compared to guys like Holyfield or Tyson who suffered losses late on. I don’t know if it did, to be truthful. Although I went out with a win, it wasn’t a high-profile win. It was a nice sign-off to fight in the Garden, and just to end my career that way. A part of me thought I was done, but I’m not sure if the win really made a difference.
You read so much about Mike Tyson in the past and you’ve heard the stories about how chaos always seemed to surround him. He even talked about when he fought Lou Savarese at Hampden Park in Scotland. He said he smoked weed the night before the fight and had to use like a fake penis to take drug tests and stuff. During the second half of his career, it seems like his professionalism went out the window. I have to admit that with the passing of time, sometimes your reputation almost grows – Mike’s certainly has.
I think when you consider being in that moment and measuring your reputation, for most of us as fighters, we don’t really appreciate what we’re doing, and people don’t really appreciate you as much when you’re actually fighting. But when you retire, people – as well as you, yourself – seem to reflect on the things you’ve done more favourably. Only then do you appreciate it more, because there’s more of a charm to it. I guess that’s because it’s not happening anymore.
When you fight, you don’t really think about recognition; it’s just the next fight, the next fight and so on. I’ve had it at different times where I’ve had great victories and I’ve never appreciated them for myself. I just wouldn’t be satisfied. Towards that last run of my career, I fought John Jackson and he was a good fighter. If I tally it up; I went from Jackson, to Matt Korobov, to Peter Quillin, and then to Billy Joe Saunders in the space of four fights. Three of those guys were undefeated, and all of them were world class. That was an amazing run. But at the time, you don’t think about it. It’s just, ‘What’s the next fight?’ because you want to keep winning. You want to keep beating them, and to keep proving yourself.
I never watch my fights back, but I actually recently had to watch that Quillin fight because it was part of a podcast I made with ‘Second Captains’ here in Ireland. And even then, I’m looking at me in there and I’m thinking, ‘Why wasn’t I doing this? Why wasn’t I jabbing him more? Why wasn’t I loading up more with my right hook?’ There were so many little things I could see – things that I could do to improve. I’m sure other fighters do this. They probably think that if they can make those improvements, then they can actually come back and perform again like they’ve planned. I’d imagine after Mike Tyson’s been hitting the pads and getting himself into shape, maybe he thinks he could do something if he was to return.
Ultimately, there are many reasons for fighters wanting to come back. The main one, I think, is financial. It’s for money first and foremost. The money you can get when you’re active in boxing is incredible. For one night’s work, you’ll never get it again once you hang up your gloves. Once you retire, you’re never getting that type of money again for just one night – especially at Tyson or Holyfield’s level. There’s no way in the world you’re going to make six figures for one night’s work, so it must be tempting.
The second reason? The recognition and the acclaim or the fame. That to me wasn’t something I ever really looked for, even when I was fighting at the top level. So, I don’t really miss that, but I know a lot of fighters do. A lot of fighters, their identity is tied up with being a boxer. And when you don’t have boxing anymore, they struggle to find out who they really are – they have an identity crisis. They can’t find their place in the world without it. I think that’s part of these comebacks for retired fighters. But that part probably bothers me least, because I know about that world, and I know that I can be somebody else outside of it.
I don’t think it’s one fit for all, in terms of ‘how long is too long’ when considering these types of comebacks. I think it depends on how you live your life during your retirement or your time off. Those things are huge factors – how you live your life outside of the gym. But with most boxers, as soon as they’re retired, the wheels come off because boxing is primarily a weight category sport. Most boxers have some type of eating disorder, I guess. Your whole life when you’re boxing, it’s based around what you can eat, what you can’t eat. And minding those things constantly, managing them, being on weight, making weight, it’s really draining.
Once you retire and you don’t have to need to be disciplined, you can eat what you want to. There’s no real stopping required! You’ve already sacrificed so many years, so you say, ‘Why not?’ It’s hard. You can’t drink, you can’t go out, you can’t smoke, you can’t eat fast food, but then once you don’t have that focus, or you don’t have boxing in your life, it’s easy to slip into those habits. That’s why I think a lot of retired boxers do fall into substance abuse. It’s a case of, why not? If I’m not in that regime anymore, then why not?
The fast food and going out for a pint with the lads were the biggest things I enjoyed after hanging up the gloves. I used to be in the depths of training camp, and I’d be in wartime; it’s your fight, at the pinnacle of the sport, and I would envy everybody. I’d be just driving past the pub and seeing people coming home and having an after-work drink. They’re standing outside the pub, having a chat and a laugh, because I had never done that. I just used to wish for a simple life sometimes. You always want what you don’t have. But let me tell you, when you have it, you wouldn’t change it for the world!
Now obviously I’m looking after a couple of pros and, when coaching fighters, it’s a totally different accomplishment. The satisfaction it gives you, seeing something that you’ve worked over and over actually paying off in a fight, or giving an instruction in the corner where it immediately has an effect within the next round. That’s very satisfying – it fills the gap that was opened up after retirement. Obviously, the biggest fight I’ve been involved in so far is Tyson Fury’s win against Deontay Wilder. That was huge win for me as a coach. It was an unbelievable night, and a great achievement for me.
It is a strange, addictive thing, boxing. I don’t even know how to describe it, but it feels like a game sometimes. And it is a more difficult game than most, because it’s mental and physical in extremes. When you dedicate yourself to a training camp and you win against somebody who’s equally as good as you, that’s what really leaves you with that feeling of fulfilment. You just can’t match that – so I understand why these older fighters like Mike Tyson or Evander Holyfield let their minds wander and consider comebacks. It just won’t be me…
Andy Lee was talking to Craig Scott