Yes, I know Mike Tyson bit off a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear and spit it across the ring, yes, I know he was convicted of raping a beauty queen in 1991 and he actually has a tribal tattoo on his face. I know about Robin Givens, the cocaine and that at one point he was stupid enough to trust Don King. I know all that, but last night Alex and I watched some of his “greatest hits”. These were Tyson’s early fights, a teenager under the tutalage of Cus D’Amato. And he was phenomenal. Over and over he knocked enormous guys out with a lead punch, a jab! Who the hell knocks guys out with a short jab?
In some ways Mike Tyson, with his extaraordinary talent and bizarre personality, reminds me of Michael Jackson. They were both brilliant monsters.
I like Mike Tyson, he’s not my hero, but I like the guy and here’s why.
I can’t forgive Tyson attracious behaviour but I think there are some facts folks should remember. As a little boy he was picked on and bullied for being pudgy and having a lisp. And he was picked on by the worst street thugs in America. I’m not talking run of the mill playground bullies. When he was 11 or twelve the bullies found out he loved carrier pigeons and kept a coup on top of an apartment building. One afternoon they made him watch as they broke his favorite pigeons neck.
That’s the kind of stuff that can mess up a boy’s brain.
At some point he stopped being pudgy and turned mean because that’s what it took to survive. His mother was nearly non-existent in his life and he never knew his father. Then some boxing dudes found him in juvenile detention.
He ended up with Cus D’Amato, a famous old trainer who could teach him to fight but couldn’t teach him to be a man. At seveenteen he was a punk but everyone in his world, all his trainers and coaches, knew he could be the next heavy weight of the world so most of them didn’t try to fix him.
Once Mike turned pro he was everything they expected. In 1985 he fought fifteen times in one year and won every fight by knockout.. And most of these guys went down because of that sick jab which caught taller men right on the jaw line in front of the ear.
In watching his early fights you could still see a sweetness in Tyson. As soon as he knocked most of them down, he tried to help them up or hugged them afterwards. There was still a softness in his eyes
Then Cus died, just a few months before he became the youngest heavy weight champion in history. The only anchor he’d ever known was gone. In a documentary Tyson made a comment about moving into the home of Cus D’Amato and his wife. He couldnt’ believe they let him sit at the dinner table with them even though they knew he’d robbed and beaten up so many other old white people.
Cus was dead and Tyson was only 19 or 20 year old boy. He was a stupid kid with millions and millions of dollars. The more violent he became the more the world loved him. And there were more drugs and women available…all the time. He was constantly rewarded for his bad behavior. Until the day he crossed a line he didn’t really know existed and ended up in prison. We all loved him right up until the moment that we hated him.
Mike Tyson was doomed. He had no moral compass, no family, no mother and no idea how he was supposed to act. As parents we teach our kids how to behave, how to act like men rather than cruel punks. Mike Tyson never had that. He might as well have grown up on an island fighting wild animals for survival.
Today Tyson is still Tyson, but I believe he’s grown a soul and a heart. He’s not the same horrific but talented monster he was twenty five years ago. He’s grown up. He’s a dad and he’s a decent guy trying to find his place in the world again. And he still loves pigeons.
So give Mike Tyson a break and next time your mom tells you what to do, give her a hug and say, “yes ma’am”.