Being Mike Tyson: Boxing Legend Talks New Show, Inner Demons and Starting Over
Being Mike Tyson?
That's easy. Reckless, impulsive and angry, the old Tyson moved through life without a care in the world for anyone but himself. The world, after all, belonged to him—all because of the speed and power in his fists.
Tyson made and lost more than $400 million over the course of his career, living like a king. Today, all of that is a blur—and a part of the past.
"The journey was worth it. I've met wonderful people and done incredible things. There's a lot of things I would have never been privileged to do if I were just Mike with a job," Tyson told Bleacher Report, almost wistfully, before changing directions on a dime.
"I was very successful, but that past is not meaningful to me...I was a different person back then. I was never balanced. I was taught that I would be successful because of my poverty. Because of my lack of a good life and lack of love."
It's that love, and the pursuit of it, that has led Tyson to where he is today. An absentee father, at best, to his first six children, he's traded in that fast life for the family life, living in domestic bliss with his wife Kiki and his young children, Morocco and Milan. He is trying to give his kids what he never had.
"I look at my children and wonder, 'How can you act like that? So carefree.' That's the love. I was never loved as a kid," he said. "If I had been loved maybe I'd be the way my kids are now. They're really happy, they have a lot of friends. I didn't have happy friends. The friends I had were killers, murderers and muggers. It's just a whole different dynamic. Lack of love changed the whole dynamic of my life."
But being Michael Tyson? Father, husband and responsible citizen?
It's not always so easy. Every day is a battle with sobriety, with faithfulness and with the compulsion to lash out at himself and others.
"I just want to do the right things for the right reasons," he said. "I don't want to do the right things for the wrong reasons."
Raised for the ring, Tyson was once rewarded for every aggressive impulse. Violence and mayhem were the goal, not something to be avoided at all costs.
And so, Tyson struggles, with the present and the past, looking for a happiness he has never known. As he seeks contentment, his attention often turns inward. What does it mean to be happy? Can someone who's seen what he's seen, done what he's done, possibly know peace?
That is the central question of his life these days, one he's taken the curious step of sharing with the public on Being: Mike Tyson, a documentary series that debuts Sunday on Fox before finishing its run of six episodes on Fox Sports 1.
"A check with a lot of zeros" is what Tyson says convinced him to open up to the world. But there's redemption to be found in peeling back the layers of the past as well. More than a glimpse into a strange world, this is public therapy, healing old wounds, ripping away the rot at the core and emerging a new man.
"It's for me. It's me forgiving myself," Tyson said. "It's up to me to forgive myself, which is hard to do. I don't owe anyone nothing, and nobody owes me nothing. The only thing I owe myself is peace of mind."
The show follows Tyson around the country as he performs his one-man stage act and takes him places, both emotionally and physically, he has never been. From the prison he once lived in for three years to a long afternoon with former rival Evander Holyfield, there is no topic the show doesn't explore, no area too raw to probe.
"He said, 'I'm ready to go. Let's do this.' It was all access, all the time. We were never in a position where he shut us out," producer Steve Michaels said.
Michaels had worked with Tyson in the past, filming the sports documentary Beyond the Glory in 2003. That Tyson was still surrounded by sycophants and handlers, and was carefully guarded. This time around, it was different.
"Because Mike is in a better place, and the only person we had to deal with was his wife Kiki, there really was nothing off limits," Michaels said. "We threw out every crazy thing we wanted to do and he said, 'No problem.'"
This is no standard reality fare—something the viewer, and Tyson, realized the minute production rolled into Indiana. They were returning to the literal scene of the crime, to a place where Tyson was arrested and convicted for the rape of Desiree Washington in 1992.
It's still a bitter pill for him to swallow, a crime he says he didn't commit.
"It was really hard talking about these things. Because you know what I found out, brother? I still have resentments," Tyson said. "I didn't know what resentment meant, but when I found out the definition I realized I still have resentments and I'm really bitter. I didn't know that. I had no idea I felt that way, but this is who I am. I'm really bitter, and I have a lot of resentment. It's almost like recovery. I'm working on it."
It's powerful television. Tyson met with an assistant warden who had seen him at his darkest. He was eager to please and to make amends. This man, he says, had seen him "with sh*t in my hand, throwing my sh*t at people."
It was a revelation that shocks, and not coincidentally, one that let producer Andrew Fried know something special was happening in front of his camera.
"I'm looking at Mike Tyson, and I'm realizing there's no filter here," Fried said. "There is no attempt at manipulation here. He is being raw and honest, and it's my job to keep up."
Tyson, for his part, isn't sure how people will respond to his frank portrayal of his life, warts and all. Fans remember a man from 25 years ago, violence incarnate in black trunks and a white towel. Will they accept a kinder and gentler Tyson?
"I was just doing what I was told and giving the best I could with any issue they wanted to talk about," Tyson said. "I was really pretty emotional, naked and honest. I did what was necessary of me, and I don't know what people are going to take away from that. I didn't put any kind of message out there. At least not intentionally. I am a man and this is how I lived my life. And this what happens when you live your life in this particular way."
Being: Mike Tyson is revelatory. Joyful in moments, especially quiet ones with his children, yet at times profoundly sad, like when Tyson and Holyfield are hawking the latter's "Real Deal" barbecue sauce to a small gathering of people at a Chicago grocery store.
But Tyson never seems the least bit defeated by his changing circumstances. He is seemingly content in his new domesticity and less glamorous lifestyle.
"Boxing is a metaphor for life. Even when a man gets knocked out, knocked down, they keep coming back to fight. Because he got knocked out, because he got beaten up, that doesn't mean he's going to lay down. You keep fighting and one day you're going to win," Tyson said. "I'm just really grateful. That's what I'm trying to convey. I'm not the smartest guy in the world. I'm still going to make mistakes, but I'm going to learn from the mistakes I make."
The Death of Iron Mike
It's a struggle to become Michael Gerard Tyson after decades as "Iron Mike."
Despite being declared "dead" by Tyson, Iron Mike is a character he can never quite escape. He's everywhere, the reason why people come up to him constantly for pictures and autographs. He's the reason Tyson can still make a living, banking off the past to feed his family.
"I never saw Mike Tyson, in all of the time I spent with him, say no to an autograph or a picture. I've never even seen him annoyed by that. He loves it," Fried said. "I don't know that he gets it. But he appreciates it. It's nostalgia. People see Mike as a benchmark in their own lives."
It's what drives people to approach him, to offer him their thanks for memories long past. There are plenty of handshakes and hugs to go around, people willing to forgive and forget the tabloid excess of the past in order to feel young again.
"It's funny—I'm so used to negativity; positivity is offensive to me a little bit. 'Why are you smiling at me?' I'm sorry, I'm trying to get used to it," Tyson said. "I'm overwhelmed by all the love and support. I'm trying to be a normal guy and to live a normal life, but that's not going to happen."
What a normal life means to him is an open question. Iron Mike lived big in a way most people can never understand. Tyson's expectations are different than anyone else's. When he complains of his reduced circumstances, of living in an "OK house in an OK neighborhood," you don't expect the camera to reveal a glorious million-dollar home. But when you've seen what Tyson has seen, things can seem pedestrian awfully quickly.
"There were times I would say to him, 'That was pretty cool.' And I'd go home at night and realize what a dope I'd been," Fried said. "Is there anything cool to him? He's a man who had pet tigers and all of the other legendary things. He's lived a huge, huge life. This guy has lived as big a life as anyone. He has met everyone. He has traveled everywhere. This is a man who has earned and lost $400 million in his life. It's hard for normal people to put into context what that really means."
For Tyson, just being here is a minor miracle.
"He's lived 10 lifetimes worth, and he should probably be dead," Michaels said. "I've done a lot of documentaries, but I haven't seen anyone who had quite as remarkable a life as Mike Tyson."
Best of all, it's a story that seems far from over. Despite almost 30 years in the spotlight, the 47-year-old Tyson still manages to enthrall and captivate.
"Just when you think you've seen it all. Just when you think you've heard it all. That's when he really surprises you," Fried said. "I was happy to find we hadn't even scratched the surface. He is at a crossroads in his life right now that is so compelling to watch. There are certain characters in our life we know from growing up and we never stop caring. They never stop being fascinating to us. That's Tyson."
Being: Mike Tyson premieres on Fox on Sunday, September 22 before moving to Fox Sports 1 on Tuesdays at 10:30 p.m. ET.
Jonathan Snowden is Bleacher Report's lead combat sports writer and the author of Total MMA: Inside Ultimate Fighting, The MMA Encyclopedia and Shooters: The Toughest Men in Professional Wrestling. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were gathered firsthand.
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