Julius Francis Uncovers the Intense Reality of Going Head-to-Head with Mike Tyson, Embracing the Challenge of His Epic Return


Mike Tyson’s boxing masterclasses have kept fight fans entertained during lockdown.

The retired former heavyweight champion has been posting videos of him training ahead of a comeback to the ring at the age of 53 for a series of exhibitions.

Tyson’s devastating power and speed do not seem to have diminished, but what is it like to take a punch from ‘Iron Mike’? Julius Francis knows very well, having not shirked the challenge when given the opportunity to share the ring with him in January 2000.

But the fear he is referring to is not related to Tyson or even his own time spent in prison.

He is talking about a half-time appearance at Old Trafford in front of 60,000 fans where Manchester United were playing Middlesbrough ahead of the bout.

“I didn’t want to be there because I was preparing to fight, but [promoter] Frank Maloney insisted and as I put my foot over the touchline, the roar was deafening.

“It went through me, but then when I fought Tyson at the MEN Arena in front of 23,000, it didn’t intimidate me. Frank was smart in that sense.”

He had come a long from his debut at Crofton Leisure Centre in south London, which doesn’t even exist anymore.

“It’s now a school, whether that was my doing, I don’t know,” the 55-year-old said laughing.



Fighting, although an eventual career for Francis, had always been in his life.

“I used to fight, but I had no idea I was ever going to become a professional fighter.”

By that he means sometimes he could be with Millwall fans on the weekend in the 80s or he just found himself in a situation that required self defence given that he was bullied in his younger days and stabbed when he was 19.

But to avoid spending the best part of his life in prison, he found a way to make a living.

Kickboxing began his eventful career in early 1990, winning the European heavyweight title later that year, while was also an amateur boxer, though his stint on the unlicensed circuit put an end to that.

So in 1993, as ‘Iron Mike’ was at the start of a six-year prison sentence, Francis turned professional, fighting Graham Arnold on his debut.

The path towards his biggest fight had began – a path that before Tyson, also took in John Ruiz and Vitali Klitschko.

By the way, what about the Daily Mirror sponsorship on the soles of your boots?

“That was Frank [Maloney],” he answered.

“All I needed was boots, but maybe a week before the fight, Frank brought it up.

“I was so disinterested in that side of things – I was preparing to fight Mike Tyson – so my focus was on him.

“So it wasn’t my idea, but if someone is going to pay you £40,000… you know?


“I got paid £350,000 for the fight, while Tyson got £7m. I’m not annoyed about that, but people think I got a lot for it.”


And while Francis trained at Aldershot army barracks, Tyson lived it up in London where he and his entourage stayed in the Grosvenor Hotel.

The purse reflected his draw. It was huge news Tyson, a convicted criminal who had served three years, was being allowed into the country by foreign secretary Jack Straw.

And a casual walk in Brixton, south London even saw him spend time in the nick when thousands of fans turned up to catch a glimpse of the superstar, forcing him to take shelter in the local police station.



“Look, I’m a south Londoner and if I wasn’t fighting Tyson I would have gone, as a fan, to see him because I understand his draw,” Francis said of the circus.

By the time Tyson came over, though, Francis was British and Commonwealth heavyweight champion and was not someone easily intimidated.

“This guy has got two hands and two legs and feels a pinch and punch.

“I’d beaten a prolific puncher in Danny Williams and the other two best guys out there in Pele Reid and Steve Welch.”

So, the first round…

“I only remember the first knockdown,” he said.

From the bell, Tyson let loose with some solid punches and Francis explained the American’s intelligence as a boxer meant he was drawn in and ultimately didn’t box his fight and utilise his jab.

A life spent fighting meant he wasn’t ready to take a step back.

“I thought ‘Who the f*** do you think you are hitting me, so I went toe-to-toe with him,” he said.

“If I had boxed and run around the ring I do not think I would have got any respect from him.”

Francis was full of praise for Tyson’s head and foot movement, which made trying to return his punches extremely difficult.

The fight was then stopped during the second round.

“I’ve got no regrets.

“I’ve lived a relatively good life and been able to say I became a professional boxer and fought one of the baddest guys who ever boxed.

“It opened the door to me to for so many different things and not just commercially.

“I try to inspire young kids, whom I work a lot with. I tell them ‘if I can do it, you certainly can do it.’”

Welch, who also joined talkSPORT at Wembley’s Box Park to watch the iconic bout, hailed his friend for going toe-to-toe with Tyson.

“He didn’t take a backward step and wanted to fight him to the end. That is unbelievable.”


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