Via USA Today
(LOS ANGELES, 12/5/20) - The week after his first boxing match in 15 years, Mike Tyson still was relishing the big night — but not his performance in the eight-round exhibition against Roy Jones Jr.
“How did you like the set?’’ he asked.
He was referring to how the boxing ring had been artfully staged inside the Staples Center. Crisp white ropes and white canvas. An LED screen overhead showing round numbers. And the ink-black darkness outside the ring masking the absence of spectators in the cavernous building.
“That was Kiki Tyson,’’ Tyson said with pride of his wife’s creative vision.
It also was Sophie Watts, the other half of a one-two combination that delivered big on Saturday night.
Watts, a media executive from London, is co-owner of Tyson’s new venture, the Legends Only League, which launched with his comeback fight. Kiki Tyson is a whirling dervish wife who also plays a significant role in her husband’s business affairs.
Together, they helped stage an event that featured six boxing matches, six musical artists and was broadcast around the globe.
“Everyone was telling us we had to have a big-name boxing promoter,’’ Kiki Tyson said. “But Sophie told us from the beginning we had the winning combination."
In addition to the two women and Tyson, they had Azim Spicer, Kiki Tyson’s brother, and Johnny Ryan, Watts’ business partner, who handled the boxing.
Said Watts, “I’m so proud that two women from very different backgrounds, from very different experiences, willed this into being.’’
Kiki, 44, grew up in Philadelphia and is the daughter of Shamsud-din Ali (formerly Clarence Fowler), a Muslim cleric who knew promoter Don King and took his daughter to boxing events.
Watts, 35, grew up in London and is the daughter of Tessa Watts, a noted music promoter and video producer who worked with the likes of Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney, Phil Collins and Beyonce.
Earlier this year, when Mike Tyson’s business prospects brought Kiki and Watts into the same room, the odds were not necessarily in their favor.
“Because of who my husband is, I’m apprehensive about certain female energy just because him being a prominent figure,’’ Kiki Tyson told USA TODAY Sports. “You know how you can’t trust certain women around your husband because of the energy that they bring. And I’m super particular just about who is around because we’re more than just a business.’’
Kiki Tyson is more than a gatekeeper for her husband, too.
She manages the family’s homes, one in Henderson, Nevada, and the other in Newport Beach. Manages their two children, 12-year-old daughter, Milan, and a 9-year-old son, Morocco. And helps manage the erstwhile Baddest Man on the Planet.
“She does everything.” Mike Tyson said.
“It’s crazy,’’ Kiki Tyson told USA TODAY Sports this week. “Sometimes I can’t get a shower in until nighttime because I’m literally in my exercise clothes all day just running around. I’ll start on the treadmill and then I’ll have to get off because I’ll have to take a call, so it’s been pretty crazy.’’
The title of matriarch belies her role. She co-wrote "Undisputed Truth," Mike Tyson’s one-man show that was directed by Spike Lee and made Broadway in 2012, and also is involved in all of his business ventures — such as the cannabis company, podcast and a potential biopic. Then came the boxing comeback and a face-to-face meeting with Watts.
“Immediately I just felt a connection to Sophie,’’ Kiki Tyson said. “She’s so respectful, she’s so genuine.”
“She just looks like this sweet little girl. Like a little Peter Pan. But she’s a killer if she has to be. In the sweetest way.’’
Watts is the CEO of Eros Innovations, a global venture creation group and, once she earned Kiki Tyson’s trust, helped formulate Mike Tyson’s newest venture: The Legends Only League, which will feature legendary sports figures in one-off events like Tyson’s return to the ring at the age of 54.
“Mike is the driving force behind everything and I’m just very grateful that he trusts me to put me in a position where I can execute his vision,’’ Kiki Tyson said. “So that’s primarily what I am. I’m a vision executor for my husband. Me and him, we’re a really good team.’’
When Mike Tyson began training full time in June for the fight, he needed someone outside of the ring to tend to his business affairs. Kiki Tyson and Watts engaged in frequent communication.
“Since the top of this year, we have disagreed, we have had different points of view, but there has never been an argument that was not fair,’’ Watts said. “There has never been a disagreement that we didn’t find a solution to.
“Whether it was set design, the fighters we were booking, music acts, pacing, the storyline for the docuseries, every single thing that happened was a conversation between purely Kiki and I. And Kiki, who knows Mike clearly better than anyone else on the planet, really understood and helped translate his vision."
Tasked with bringing Tyson's vision to life, Watts called on Carleen Cappelletti, who has produced high-profile events for clients such as Rolex, Chanel and Louis Vuitton. The boxing stage design was a mix of nostalgia and freshness that Kiki Tyson envisioned.
Cappelletti brought it to life while Watts brought it all together.
Distribution deals with global reach. A 16-part docuseries. A full-blown merchandise line. And all the logistics involved in a four-hour show that featured 12 boxers and six musical artists.
Then came the big night, which required 1,000 people to pull off and no more than 300 people in Staples Center at one time because of COVID-19 restrictions.
“It became an all-hands-on-deck ballet,’’ Watts said. Shortly after it was over, Watts said, she got a phone call from Kiki Tyson.
“She said, ‘What’s next?’ ” Watts recalled with a chuckle. What’s next is likely another Mike Tyson fight in early March, but not a repeat of the Legends Only League debut.
“What if we did a mega-fight card?’’ Watts said. “And what if it wasn’t just boxing, it was MMA as well? And what if spanned a weekend, so you had a kind of Coachella of combat sports?"
Kiki Tyson is excited about another idea — a potential five-on-five soccer match featuring legendary women’s players. And a possible car race.
What comes next, like the Legends Only League debut, will hinge in part on the teamwork of Kiki Tyson and Watts.
“They qualify to play those roles,’’ Mike Tyson said. “And you haven’t seen nothing yet."