Wednesday, May 29, 2024  |


Why is Roy Jones Jr. facing an MMA fighter tonight? Program exec talks

Fighters Network
Photo by Scott Foster

Photo: Scott Foster

Roy Jones Jr. is fighting tonight in Arizona and for anyone familiar with his last performance in December when he was knocked cold by Enzo Maccarinelli in the fourth round, it should not be viewed as a good thing.

Years ago an occasion to see Jones fight was met with excitement. But not anymore. When the news hit that the 47-year-old Jones was involved in a new kind of combat sports promotion in which he would fight a fan off the street in a boxing match to see what would happen, the circus-like concept caused a mini uproar. Was it true?

“Roy Jones Jr. will fight a fan!” the advertisement read on the website, the streaming service putting on the PPV card ($11.99) that also includes MMA bouts from Celebrity Theatre near downtown Phoenix (6 pm PT/9 pm ET). “Think you’ve got what it takes? Beat the champ and WIN $100,000!”

Not really. The Arizona State Boxing & MMA Commission balked at the idea, saying he needed to fight someone with professional fighting experience, as Norm Frauenheim reported on’s website last month. Would this damage the promotion? Not really, says Aaron Avruskin, Director of Programming for

In a nearly 30-minute interview with, Avruskin explained how this idea came about, why 33-year-old MMA fighter Vyron Phillips, who was chosen to fight Jones from a pool of candidates, has the chops to pull the upset in this state-sanctioned event and just why this might be an elixir (at least for a night) for frustrated boxing fans everywhere. “Look, our network is all about connecting fans with celebrities like never before,” he said. “And what better way to do that than by allowing them to punch each other in the face?”

Q: How did you get Roy Jones involved in this event?

A: Our president, Jason Falovitch comes from the world of boxing, specifically talent management. He used to formally represent Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe in addition to heading one of Muhammad Ali’s foundations. So Jason is really plugged into the talent world. When it came about that a fight night was something that we wanted to do on a PPV event, obviously his first stop was what he knew best and that was boxing. And he had a contact with Roy Jones and we just developed it from there.

Q: Who’s idea was it to have Roy fight a fan?

A: Well, we looked at other alternatives, other opponents. We had some interest from some well known people in MMA and in boxing. Their schedule didn’t work out for whatever reason and then we decided, ‘Look, our network is all about connecting fans with celebrities like never before. And what better way to do that than by allowing them to punch each other in the face?’ So we thought it would be a fun idea. It had never been done before. We allowed fans to submit a video as to why they should be chosen and then let fans vote on who should get the shot.

Q: Roy was on board with this idea immediately or did it take some arm-pulling?

A: Roy was open to it. He thought it was definitely different and an interesting idea. Obviously, it’s a little nerve-wracking when you don’t know who your opponent is. And this went viral pretty quickly and got a lot greater reaction than we probably imagined at the onset. There were some really talented guys in there (who applied). I think Roy thought it was going to be a cakewalk. But as he saw the competitive draw his competitive juices started to flow. So we’re looking forward to putting it on and what we expect to be a more competitive fight than maybe people are giving Vyron credit for.

Q: Did the Arizona State Boxing & MMA Commission’s decision to only allow Roy to face someone with pro fighting experience change the whole idea of the promotion?

A: It really didn’t. We had over a 1,000 people submit an entry as to why they should get a chance to fight Roy. From there we short-listed to about the top 20, all of whom- and this was before the commission went public with that statement- all of these 20 had either professional experience, professional MMA experience or significant amateur boxing experience. You know I find it a little laughable that people are criticizing our event saying, ‘Oh, you said it was going to be a fan and now it’s someone who’s a professional so you marketed it the wrong way or it was misleading.’ What would have happened if we chose to put someone in there with absolutely no experience? What would the backlash be in that event? It would be insane. So do people want to see someone who has absolutely no chance and is just getting off the couch or someone who’s a competitive fighter and is just waiting for the right opportunity? All of the finalists are still a fan of Roy Jones Jr. I mean if you’re a fighter and you’ve watched Roy- you’ve tried to emulate his style. I would argue that they’re bigger fans than the guy on the couch because they’ve actually been inspired by Roy to their craft.

Q: How was Vyron Phillips chosen to ultimately face Roy?

A: Well, as I mentioned we narrowed the list down to the final 20 and we shared those with the commission and they let us know who they were most comfortable with. So we put out a final four competitors and from there we put them up on the Facebook page and let fans vote by liking and whichever picture/profile and video got the most likes, that was the winner and that just happened to be Vyron.

Q: Were you impressed by the backgrounds of the finalists?

A: Yes, all of them in-ring experience, ranging from a guy from New York named John Vargas, who was 18-1 as a pro boxer but just fell out of love with the sport for a bit and has been on hiatus for the last 10 years but tried to give it a comeback for this. The guy who came in second place was a guy named Anthony Trotter from Kentucky and he had like a 2-0 pro boxing career and was 4-3 in MMA, a Kentucky State trooper. And then Vyron who’s 6-3 in MMA but 5-3 has been reported, was 6-1 as an amateur boxer. So he’s got good hands.

Q: Did you guys get any applications from any recognizable pro fighters?

A: There was not one who was turned away because we thought they were over qualified. But no one who would be household names in my estimation. The competition was only open for a couple of weeks and we had to really move quickly on this.

Q: Was the Arizona commission’s decision to change the contest viewed as a setback?

A: It really didn’t. It might of changed the public’s perception of the process but it really didn’t change our process. We were just looking for someone who was deserving of the shot and not sitting on their couch eating chips and had been working their whole life for this. It would have been silly to do otherwise. We want to make this a competitive fight and Roy Jones Jr. is a legendary boxer but we want to make it a possibility that there is someone who can shock the world.

Q: Does Vyron have a chance?

A: I think he actually has a chance and certainly far more of a chance than these so-called pundits are giving him. Some people are saying no way in hell but look at Vyron. Look at his body type. I know that he fights MMA at 170 pounds but it kills him to get down there. He walks around just over 200, the same as Roy does. And Roy is probably not cutting any weight at this point in his career. Vyron is the taller fighter. He’s the rangier fighter. His wingspan is absolutely insane. I was told he has a wingspan longer than Jon Jones. Jon Jones has the biggest wingspan in the UFC at light heavyweight. Well Vyron fights at welterweight usually so he’s an incredibly rangy guy so if he can keep the distance (he has a chance). He’s the younger fighter. He’s only 33 years old. He trains full time, trying to make a career out of it so he’s in good shape. If you look at the photos of him, his hands are enormous. So if he puts together a competitive game-plan I think he can still make it a fight but it’s still Roy Jones Jr. we’re talking about.

Q: Roy is 47 and was violently knocked out in his last fight. Is there any concern for his health and safety facing a much younger guy?

A: George Foreman did it and became heavyweight champion. This isn’t a match where we’ve got a young boxer who we’re looking to use Roy as a steppingstone to build him into a future PPV draw. This is just about a young guy who’s dedicating his life to a combat sport getting an opportunity that he otherwise wouldn’t. Everyone would love to see a true Rocky story, so I think that’s what we’re trying to present to the masses.

Q: Vyron can win $100,000. What about Roy? What will he make? How is the pay structure for the fighters? And what do you expect in terms of PPV numbers?

A: I don’t want to confirm his purse. Roy will obviously receive a purse but I think what’s more interesting- we have a very unique model in that we spread all revenue that we derive with our talent. So whether that’s advertising product placement, sponsorships, but most importantly PPV- the lions share of the gross revenue is going back to the talent. So there are purses that are guaranteed pay that they will take home at the end of the day but if our event were to sell a million PPVs these guys would be making far more than they would anywhere else. All that we ask in return is that they do their best to promote the event to their fan base and the harder they work the more they stand to directly benefit.

Q: The reaction seemed to be mixed when Vyron was announced as Roy’s opponent. Perhaps they were hoping for a normal fan. Were you hoping for more interest, for a better response?

A: For the most part the media is touting him as an unknown 5-3 MMA fighter with a so-so ranking out of Canada. They obviously haven’t done their research to find out what Vyron is about, like I mentioned. He’s taller than Roy. Younger than Roy. He’s got an incredible wingspan and all of his MMA victories have come by way of knockout. His losses are due to grappling, so hands are where he excels. People first put out, ‘Oh, well, here’s Vyron and he has no professional boxing experience.’ That’s the nature of the business. You can’t please everybody. I think for the most part people are very interested to see how this plays out and getting to know Vyron and seeing what he brings to the table. He’s a very likable guy. He has a very interesting back story- he grew up in a very rough part of town in Minnesota. His 11-year-old brother was killed in a drive-buy shooting by a stray bullet. So he’s got a lot to fight for and a lot to prove. He needs this. Roy doesn’t need it at this point in his career but Vyron does but Roy is going to give no quarter. That’s just how the game works so it will be interesting.

Q: Did you hear the rumors that Roy was considering retiring recently? And did that ever come up in talks to get Roy to agree to this event?

A: I personally haven’t but he obviously is committed if you check out the website you’ll see a video that we posted of Roy welcoming the challenge and I think some of that talk (of retiring) might have stemmed I believe from the loss in December (to Enzo Maccarinelli by fourth-round knockout) but you pick up the pieces, you move on and you show you’ve still got (something) left.

Q: What do you hope to ultimately accomplish by this show?

A: I think people are looking for entertainment in various forms and I think that’s what they’re going to get with this event. It’s a lot of fun. It’s different. It’s something you’ve never seen before. And if you tune in- be prepared to be entertained.