The fight Mike Tyson turned down in his prime because he ‘couldn’t win’ – a deathmatch with MMA legend Royce Gracie

In the 1980s and 1990s, Mike Tyson was the most fearsome man on the planet.

In 1986, he had a record that read 28-0 when he became the youngest heavyweight champion of all-time at 20 years old.

Tyson is one of the most devastating fighters of all-time and was heavyweight champion of the world at at the age of just 20

His explosive power and phenomenal speed made him a once in a generation talent. En route to those 28 victories, he only had two fights go the distance. He was a box office sensation.

The loss to Buster Douglas in 1990 was a shock to everyone, but the writing had been on the wall since his manager Cus D’Amato passed away and Tyson relaxed his training.

Still, he wasn’t called the Baddest Man on the Planet for nothing and he beat most of his opponents before the first punch.

But that was boxing. In the infant world of MMA at the time, the Gracie family were leading the uprising and many credit them for the formation of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

At UFC 1, Shamrock lost to jiu-jitsu master Royce Gracie, who submitted him
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The first ever UFC event took place in 1993 and Royce Gracie submitted three people in one night – including the legendary Ken Shamrock – to win the inaugural tournament.

Royce has been responsible for guiding brothers Nick and Nate Diaz down the years but in the early to mid-90s, he was at the peak of his powers.

However, MMA was firmly in the shadow of boxing. It wasn’t even on the same commercial radar. But Royce saw the opportunity to change that by challenging Iron Mike himself.

In a memoir by sports writer Fiaz Rafiq,’ To The Top: Enter the Octagon, the Ring and Entertainment’, it is revealed: “[Tyson] was challenged by the Gracie Brothers, in particular Royce, back in the early 1990s.

“The UFC champion’s perception was that Tyson was the best boxer in the world, but he refused to accept that Tyson was the best ‘fighter’.

Ali Abdelaziz poses with the legendary Royce Gracie
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“The Gracies had a point. They had been beating all-comers from various styles long before the Octagon was first engineered.

“And Royce wasn’t going to rest until he did everything within his means to provoke the heavyweight champion into accepting a real fight in a no-holds-barred setting.

“To settle the matter once and for all, Royce formally challenged the most feared boxer of our time to a fight to the finish, and so did his elder brother Rickson.

“What Royce lacked in brute force, he clearly made up for in technical skill, as his opponents – including a professional boxer – quickly discovered.

Tyson was a box office sensation in the early 1990s
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“‘There’s only one way to find out,’ he told me, as a smirk crept across his face followed by loud laughter. Sadly for posterity, Tyson declined.”

The former undisputed heavyweight word champion then spent three years in prison when convicted of rape.

Once he got back out, in 1995, Tyson recaptured the WBC and then the WBA world titles to establish himself back at the top of the boxing world.

Mike Tyson wisely passed on a MMA fight with Royce Gracie

In 1997, Gracie tried his luck again with Iron Mike and this time, Tyson wanted to do it.

“Years later I asked Royce about the famous challenge, and discovered that the heavyweight had been, at least in theory, willing to put up.

“‘I heard that my brother tried to bring him in [to the UFC],’ Royce explained.

“He had accepted but people around him – the lawyers, managers, and the Commission – said no way, because boxing had too much to lose.

“But he had accepted and he wanted to do it. I talked to him before and he’s like, ‘I’d love to try this stuff out, man’.

“But people around him did not allow him to do it. If he lost a fight, if it happened, well, boxing was already in the decline in America so it wouldn’t be good for boxing’.”