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Friday, 05/03/2013, 09:13 am

Mike Tyson Explains His Love of MMA

It seems that from the first moment he saw mixed martial arts ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson was hooked.

Tyson, the 46-year-old former heavyweight boxing champion, has long been a fan of the sport. Tyson’s been seen at many a UFC event, spotted in Dana White’s popular video blogs, and even showed up in an episode of this season’s ‘The Ultimate Fighter.’

While out promoting his well-reviewed one-man show, ‘Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth,’ Tyson talked with ESPN.com Jake Rossen about the past, present and future of mixed martial arts. Below are some selected highlights.

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.

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: 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’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.

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