‘Tyson vs. Jaws’: Paul de Gelder on Playing Cornerman to the Boxing Icon for Shark Week

Discovery Channel

Mike Tyson is an accomplished boxer known for his knockout punch, one that has taken down some of the toughest names in the sport. However, none compare to the Hall of Famer’s next big fight — not taking place in a ring on pay-per-view, but in the ocean waters.

Tyson vs. JAWS: Rumble on the Reef is a special helping kick off Discovery’s long-running Shark Week. Audiences will see“Iron Mike” square off with some of the top apex predators of the deep. This is, of course, is in a manner of speaking. The network promises “no sharks were harmed (or bitten)” in the making of the episode. Adding to the fun will be ring announcer Michael Buffer lending his iconic voice to call the action.

Tyson’s cornerman for this epic journey is “Shark Week” staple Paul de Gelder, an Australian Navy diver who lost an arm and a leg to a bull shark. That hasn’t scared him away from the ocean, even taking the likes of Will Smith and Ronda Rousey along on adventures. Tyson was another memorable name added to his already star-studded list.

“We had to treat him with kid gloves because we didn’t know if he was going to get in the water and freak out,” de Gelder recalled. “We had to build him up step-by-step with chain mail and protection all the way through. He told us he was not going to dive below 20-feet. We had him at 45-feet surrounded by sharks. That journey is going to be really fun to watch. We were out there for about five days in the Bahamas. Scuba diving works every single muscle in your body. Mike would throw up before or after every dive. He was that afraid or exhausted from it.”

Before the proverbial gloves come on and the bell sounds, we sat down with de Gelder to preview what’s to come.

What have you learned over the years from these dives with celebs?

Paul de Gelder: I find the elite athlete of the spectrum with Ronda Rousey, and even Will Smith, who did a lot of intense training for a lot of his roles including Muhammad Ali. Those people are easy to train. They’re easy to coach and soak up information and apply it very well. When you get a bunch of comedians with what happened with Shark Trip where you have Joel McHale, Adam Levine, Rob Riggle, where you get under water, and it’s like herding mosquitoes.

They’re very different sorts of personalities and interests in what they’re doing. The interesting part of Ronda and Mike is the situations we’re putting them in. It’s very, very dangerous. I don’t think there are too many shows where it’s not just me and Andy Casagrande and Dr. Craig O’Connell. We risk our lives doing these shows. But then we get to take these people along on these really risky missions to spread the love for sharks and how they should be respected and not feared. It’s a pretty awesome experience.

Discovery Channel

Ronda Rousey and Paul De Gelder pose before their dive beneath the waters off the Fiji coast.

How would you describe the first time meeting Mike?

They told me I wouldn’t be doing any diving on the shoot because I was going to be Mike’s cornerman. I was pretty much upset about that because we were in the Bahamas. I wanted to get in the water with the sharks. Then I got in the pool with him and thought about how terrible he was underwater.Then I counted my blessings that I didn’t have to get in the water with him because I didn’t want to be responsible for him. Then I ended up diving on every dive anyway. Meeting Mike was incredible. He’s a living legend. He is an icon. I grew up in his heyday when he was the world champion. Getting to meet him in person and learn about him and his passions, it’s pretty surreal for a small town Australian kid.

How would you describe his progression? How focused was he at the task at hand?

He was very focused on his fears. He sounded very hard to get outside of that. It’s a pretty strange thing to see from someone like Mike. You see this man mountain who has literally traded blows with some of the most powerful men on the planet. All of a sudden he’s afraid and out of his element. He had never done it before. He had to get trained from the ground up. In a very short amount of time he went from someone who never dove to being in the water surrounded by sharks in a feeding frenzy. He was scared, and it comes out in the show. That’s what is going to be really great about it. Seeing the journey of Mike. Going from being afraid to overcoming that fear. Showing that if Mike is afraid of something, then it’s okay for the rest of us to be afraid. And that you can combat fear.

Do you think this experience will help him mentally heading into the 54-year-old’s first fight in 15 years coming up September 12 against Roy Jones Jr.?

He hasn’t fought in a very long time. He is much older. His body isn’t what it used to be, even though he touts he is feeling better than ever. The wear-and-tear he has been through is absolutely going to put the pressure on him and his desire to perform. I think doing something like the shark dives right before he has this fight is going to help him realize he can overcome fears in the ring as well.

What do you think viewers will take away from this particular episode?

The goal for me when I’m doing these episodes is to bring in a whole new viewership. If we can get Mike’s fans to not only tune into his episode but all of “Shark Week” where they’re going to get this plethora of knowledge for all of the scientists we have on the shows. Then we can spread that love of sharks. We can push that sense of respect for the sharks, so they’ll want to protect them…I’ve done about 18 shows. It’s a dream come true.

Is there anything on your bucket list?

One of the greatest things I got to do is Return to the Island of Jaws. I saw my first great white shark with Andy on my very first “Shark Week” show. Then I did my first cage dive with him. Then on the Return to the Isle of Jaws I got to do my first cage-less dive with great white sharks. We went to the bottom of Australia where nobody has done this before and dropped the cage 110 feet. We encountered seven massive male great white sharks on the way down…I got out of the cage surrounded by these massive great white sharks. Andy had this massive camera to push them away. I had this GoPro on a stick. I’m 30-feet away from the cage sitting in this kelp and these great white sharks are swimming directly at my head. You have to be in control and trust the training and these animals are not malicious. I’m here alive today, which I think is proving that point.

Is there anything you’re afraid of?

My two greatest fears in the world before I got attacked by a shark were sharks and public speaking. Now I’m a shark diving public speaker. There is nothing in life to be afraid of to be honest.

Tyson vs. Jaws: Rumble on the Reef, August 9, 9/7c, Discovery

Paul de Gelder is also featured in Great White Double Trouble, August 12, 10/9c, Discovery