Sunday, December 14, 2014

Mike Tyson is Still Fighting the Fight

Mike Tyson will tell you that he never believed he would live long 
enough to put his words into a book about his life. It is that life which he lays bare in his memoir "Undisputed Truth," written with Larry Sloman.

It is a fascinating look at the life of the former heavyweight champion of the world - “warts and all” as the saying goes. Tyson is a subject that is easily hated and then easily loved a few pages later. His incredible journey is a swinging pendulum of dichotomy and contradictions.

From his troubled upbringing on the streets of Brownsville, Brooklyn to his ascension to the throne of the heavyweight boxing championship to his incarceration for the rape of Desiree Washington to his eventual rebirth as a prizefighter and eventually to a drug addled vagabond - it is all here.

I found it stunning that I thought I knew all there was to know about Mike Tyson. He and I are close in age and I have been a boxing writer, author and fan since I was a child. I followed his heavyweight championship reign and all the news that was all things Tyson very closely for 30 years. But in the book Tyson details his story in his words and tells of his ill-fated marriage to Robin Givens, his troubled relationship with promoter Don King and the three years he spent incarcerated during the early 90s.

Tyson’s insecurities and inferiority complex virtually consumed him even as he proclaimed himself to be “the baddest man on the planet” during the heyday of his boxing career. An admitted alcoholic whose favorite drink was Hennessy cognac coupled with cocaine, pot and sometimes a morphine drip, Tyson traveled the world spending up to $300,000 at a time on Versace clothing. His sexual conquests read like a Who’s Who of the celebrity world even as he spares many names to protect the innocent.  

At times, Tyson comes off as a vile monster. Other times, he is a helpless soul meandering through life in an  identity which he created and that has taken on a life of its own. This is a central theme of the book and it helps one to see how this troubled man was at times taken advantage of, but also how he took advantage of others. His mentor, father-figure and savant Cus D’Amato helped to shape and mold him as a youth, but when he passed away prematurely Tyson was left to navigate the shark-infested waters of his boxing career - and ultimately his life - all alone.

Tyson pictured with Cus D'Amato in Catskill, New York.
An obvious student of history, war and human dynamics, Tyson is analytical and very introspective about his actions and his place in the world. The accidental death of his daughter had a profound effect on him and it still threatens to destroy him to this day. The grief he feels is such that he will likely never overcome it. His continuing battle with alcohol and drugs also threaten to derail his very existence.

While every man ultimately reaches a tipping point in life which they believe will lead to a better future, it is not clear whether after all that he been through if  Mike Tyson has reached his. Being the student of history that he is, perhaps Tyson is destined to repeat the mistakes of his boxing heroes such as Harry Greb, Sonny Liston and Joe Louis, Their lives ended tragically and Tyson identifies strongly with their plight.

While this book is voluminous, it is a quick and fascinating read. The title “Undisputed Truth” is the truth only as Tyson perceives it and it has been said it’s not a lie as long as you believe it. Certainly others would dispute much of Tyson’s recollections. He has undeniably made many enemies throughout his life and points the finger of blame mainly at others. He has apologized for many of his past misdeeds (including biting a chunk out of Evander Holyfield’s ear) and he has made many efforts to reconcile his past. He credits his current and third wife, Kiki, for providing him with a moral compass and guiding him through the dense forest of his life. 

However, one can’t help but think this is only the first volume of the free fall flight which is a life that has only recently emerged from decades of turbulence. In the end, Tyson is clear with his readers that he is still a work in progress and that each dawn presents new doubts and new questions. The same old demons frequently rear their ugly head and because of that his fight is far from hearing the gong of final bell.  

December 2014



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