The life and hard times of Michael Gerard Tyson

Twenty-five years ago Mike Tyson was rightly being hailed as potentially the greatest heavyweight champion of all time. What is he today?

Mike Tyson

The bottom line is a washed up former boxer with a ludicrous tattoo on his face, a convicted thug and a convicted rapist, and easily the richest sportsman ever to file for bankruptcy. He has recently published his autobiography which has the alluring title Undisputed Truth, yet already on page 2 this book fails to live up to its promise with the claim “I did not rape Desiree Washington”. Oh yes you did, Mike.

The book is credited to Tyson and Larry Sloman. When he wants to be, Tyson is both eloquent enough and literate enough not to need a ghost writer. It would though have been wise for him to team up with not a professional wordsmith but a libel lawyer.

After these protestations of innocence comes a lot of talk about his boyhood, running with gangs, stealing and robbing people. There is of course the dreaded N word, ending in the letter a, and a word that is far, far worse, mother being the polite half.

That much can be found as a free sample on Amazon, but does anyone over the age of 30 need to read the rest?

When Mike Tyson burst onto the heavyweight boxing scene, he was literally like a whirlwind. Fight fans have seen that kind of hype before, of course. Careful selection of opponents and a series of early stoppages can do wonders for a reputation, but Tyson’s opponents although carefully selected were by and large anything but has-beens or low class journeymen. In November 1986, he ripped the heavyweight crown from the head of Trevor Berbick in just two rounds. It was though his 91 second victory over Michael Spinks a year and a half later that for many confirmed his greatness, though it has to be admitted that he had a great deal of cooperation from his opponent.

Spinks was the undefeated light-heavyweight champion before moving up to heavyweight to challenge the great Larry Holmes. Many thought this was foolish, but at nearly 36 it was the heavyweight champion who turned in a lacklustre performance, and Spinks won a unanimous decision. He consolidated that win with an extremely controversial split decision in the inevitable rematch, but after demolishing the over-hyped Gerry Cooney in 5 rounds, he must surely have been up for both the biggest payday and the biggest fight of his career, the unified heavyweight title.

Instead he turned up looking like a frightened chicken, and was slaughtered like one. Tyson had always had the ability to instill fear in his opponents. Now he seemed invincible; how wrong we all were.

Four months prior to the Spinks fight, Tyson married his first wife, actress Robin Givens, and what a catch she was. Alas...Beating a heavyweight champion is one thing, a heavyweight champion who beats his wife is another thing entirely. And the cause of this – mood swings? Mania? These are not causes but pathetic excuses.

In February 1990, Tyson tasted defeat for the first time, and what a defeat it was, a knock out loss to a 35-1 underdog. While it is true that Buster Douglas had the benefit of a long count in the 8th round, no one can take anything away from him over the way he fought that night. He gave Tyson a veritable boxing lesson before delivering a stunning knock out in the 10th round. Then Givens divorced him; the purpose of having a trophy wife is to exhibit her to the world, not to beat her. Divorce and defeat, how could things get any worse? Then he was charged with rape.

Although to this day including in his book, Tyson protests his innocence, there can be no doubt that he raped Desiree Washington in that hotel room. There is an interesting contrast here with Oscar Wilde, actually it is more than interesting, it is startling.

At the turn of the century, Wilde was brought down by a combination of his indulgence in perverted but consensual sexual practices and his extreme arrogance. Wilde’s activities would almost certainly not have brought him into conflict with the law in 1991, but rape is always a crime.

Before and during Tyson’s trial and most disgracefully after his conviction, nobody, certainly nobody in the boxing world, seemed to care a stuff about the victim, some even made coarse jokes about her, including those who should have known better, and the whole boxing world waited impatiently for his return.

Return he did, but although there were still big fights and big money ahead, his aura of invincibility was shattered forever, and in addition to a rapist he proved himself to be both a thug and a jerk. In February 1999 he was back behind bars, this time for assaulting two motorists. Then, incredibly, in 2003 he declared bankruptcy, which begs the question, where did that $300 million go? On wine, women, cocaine...and the rest he frittered away.

His last appearance in the ring was disgraceful; although physically formidable, Kevin McBride was both a limited fighter and a big underdog. Unlike Tyson though he had a big heart, and fought like a true warrior. When Tyson realised things weren’t going his way and he couldn’t intimidate the bigger man, he quit on his stool at the end of the 6th round. Among those in the audience to witness this sorry spectacle was a fragile Muhammad Ali, who must have thought he had been transported back in time 4 decades when Sonny Liston did exactly the same thing against him at the end of exactly the same round.

While serving time for his rape conviction, Tyson was said to have converted to Islam; certainly he went through the motions, but how much sincerity was there? If some of his new revelations are to be believed, none at all.

In August, Tyson claimed he was on the verge of dying from alcohol and drug abuse. He may look like a shot fighter, but does he look close to death to you?

His latest stunt is truly sickening, and was probably dreamed up by someone in the media; certainly it was carried out with the media’s full connivance. For all his sob stories and inexcusable behaviour in and out of the ring, Tyson is one of those people who can do no wrong in the eyes of the media masters. George Best was another; fabulously talented – if you believe kicking a ball ranks alongside the achievements of Isaac Newton and Madame Curie – Best was both a wife-beater and an alcoholic. In 1984 he was given a 3 month gaol sentence resulting from a drunk driving incident, and on his release a notorious tabloid turned what for anyone else would have been something shameful into a massive non-story, even though he served his sentence at Ford Open Prison along with all the accountants and bent coppers. In 1990, Best turned up for a television interview drunk, swearing on a family show, but was soon forgiven. In the end, he drank himself to death, arrogant and self-indulgent to the end.

Unlike Best, Tyson appears to have made a fresh start, alas, his newfound humility is nothing but a cynical put-on to engender unwarranted sympathy for him so that he can keep raking in the bucks; in truth the only episode for which he deserves any compassion at all is the tragic death of his 4 year old daughter in a freak accident while he was out of town.

Last week Tyson had the temerity to give Chris Brown advice. Surprisingly it was not “Don’t mark her face next time” but “get it together”. Yeah, right.

In March next year, the freak show Tyson has become will be in the UK; most of the tickets appear to be sold out already. If you haven’t bought yours yet, don’t, no one needs that kind of “entertainment”, even in the age of Z List celebrities and trash TV.

[The above review was first published November 23, 2013.]

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