Mike Tyson staying clean but still sparring with temptation
By Mike CostelloBBC boxing commentator
Repulsive and compulsive, Mike Tyson touches nerves. And his story might just be the most fascinating study of the human condition across the past 30 years of sport.
For so long, he's been too drunk or too high - often both at the same time - to tell it.
At 47, he has reached an age many predicted he would never see. He looks well, still intimidating but also accommodating.
Before our interview, coinciding with the release of his autobiography, The Undisputed Truth, there is not so much as a second of awkwardness as he breaks into a soliloquy about rugby and how those who play it need certifying. This from a man who once
munched on Evander Holyfield's ear.
It is sometimes tempting as an interviewer to play the role of psychiatrist, try to force a sporting personality to bare heart and soul. But only the most experienced medical professionals - and perhaps only a few of them - could begin to unpick the mind of Tyson.
Mike Tyson between the ropes
6 March 1985
- KOs Hector Mercedes in one round on pro debut
6 March 1985-10 March 1986
- Wins first 19 pro bouts inside the distance
22 November 1986
- KOs Trevor Berbick to win WBC title and become youngest heavyweight world champion in history at 20
3 March 1987
- Outpoints James 'Bonecrusher' Smith to win WBA title
1 August 1987
- Outpoints IBF champion Tony Tucker to unify world heavyweight crown
27 June 1988
- KOs former heavyweight world champion Michael Spinks in 91 seconds
25 February 1989
- KOs Britain's Frank Bruno
11 February 1990
- KOd in 10th round by James 'Buster' Douglas
16 March 1996
- KOs Bruno to regain WBC heavyweight title
9 November 1996
- Stopped by Evander Holyfield
28 June 1997
- Disqualified in his rematch with Holyfield after biting off a piece of the champion's ear
8 June 2002
- KOd by Britain's Lennox Lewis
11 June 2005
- Stopped by Kevin McBride in his final fight
Either side of
a conviction for rape,
he won and lost the world heavyweight championship and prompted legendary trainer Emanuel Steward to rank him as the most exciting heavyweight of the past half-century.
Having earned hundreds of millions of dollars, in recent years he remembers counting the items in his supermarket trolley for fear of being embarrassed at the checkout.
"I've either been dirt poor, almost homeless, or else I had all the money in the world," says Tyson. "I've never been balanced before. We're not rich but we're not broke."
Now married to Kiki, his third wife, he is forever sparring with temptation. "What date is it today?" he asks at one point. "On December 14th, I'll be four months clean.
"I'm not going to sit here and tell you I'm not going to drink again or get high," he adds. "Hopefully, I won't make a fool of myself. That's what normally happens, normally I won't stop till I'm arrested or I'm in a car accident.
"But you don't hear anything about me now. I don't go to clubs no more, I don't have 45 girlfriends."
Missing from the celebrations was the man who had shaped the teenaged Tyson.
an irascible white trainer based in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York, nurtured Tyson after they came together via the Tryon School for Boys, a young offenders institution, in 1979. D'Amato died a year before his protege's crowning glory.
"Cus had an extraordinary impact on my life," says Tyson. "He adopted me, pretty much became my legal guardian, like my father figure. I never knew what it was like for most people that had fathers.
"He'd call his old friends, 70 and 80 years old, and tell them: 'I've got this kid, he's only 14 and he's going to be the heavyweight champion of the world.' He would light up like a light bulb."
A birth certificate names Mike's father as Percell Tyson. They never met. The man Tyson came to know as his dad, Jimmy Kirkpatrick, was rarely on the scene in Brownsville, Brooklyn, a "drug-fested, crime-infested neighbourhood".
"I wouldn't go to school because people would pick on me," says Tyson. "I was really fat and had a lisp. I so desperately wanted to be like the so-called tough guys. I started flying pigeons with these guys and they had me help them build a pigeon coop.
"When I was just a little kid, 10 or 11 years old, they went to this school dance. I never knew you had to go home and change and wash. So I went to this little centre and they all started laughing at me because I had pigeon droppings on me, tar on me, I didn't wash. I smelled and I laughed at myself too.
Tyson makes a meal of Evander Holyfield in their 1997 rematch, biting off a piece of his ear
"One of the older kids told me to meet him at the pigeon coop the next morning and he taught me how to rob houses and we spent the whole day robbing. He took me shopping, bought me a whole bunch of new clothes and told me to go to the school dance the next weekend. It was totally different.
"People didn't know I was the same guy they were laughing at last week. Psychologically, I knew then it was all about how you represented yourself."
"I'd done it before against better fighters and was successful," he says, "so I thought I could do it again with a lesser fighter."
In 1992, he was convicted of raping a beauty pageant contestant in Indiana and served half of a six-year prison sentence. He claims, vehemently, that he was the victim of a miscarriage of justice and at this point the interview becomes uncomfortable.
He rejects my suggestion that he is asking for acceptance, having "done the crime and served the time". "Don't put words in my mouth," he says. "Do you hear me?"
While there were dissenters 13 years ago, others welcomed him with open arms. Brixton was reduced to a standstill and
whipped into an orgy of adulation.
To avoid the stampede, Tyson had to take refuge in, of all places, a police station. "He is a hero to people here," said a local community leader at the time, "whether we like it or not."
They had come to salute Tyson the boxer, whose place in sporting history was secure. Of all the great names to hold the heavyweight title, he got there quickest - at a younger age than Ali, Louis, Dempsey and the rest.
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