Mike Tyson earned his iconic status in the late eighties as boxing’s undisputed World Heavyweight Champion. He defended his title against nine would-be contenders with a swift knockout punch that put multiple opponents to sleep inside of the first round. In watching Tyson’s old boxing footage, his lethal right hook left me stupefied. I found myself shouting, “Goodnight!” as each of Tyson’s opponents fell to the mat like docile sacks of potatoes.
Speaking with Mike Tyson some two and a half decades later, there is softness to his demeanor that seems to belie his earlier image as a ferocious fighting machine. The Iron Mike Tyson of the eighties and nineties was indeed authentic, but Tyson is the first to admit that his killer instinct, both in and out of the ring, has been replaced by calmer savoir-faire. Mike Tyson has softened, like a sharp-edged rock that knocks against the shoreline until its edges are rounded and worn in. Tyson’s evolution is due, in part, to finding the love he craved for most of his life. After years of “not knowing if my mother ever loved me, or who my father was,” as he told Reuters in a recent interview, Tyson has finally found home with his wife, Kiki, and his large brood of children.
These days, Mike Tyson has a childlike desire to “entertain” people, as he puts it; even if it’s at his own expense. He doesn’t seem particularly concerned with how the history books will recall his boxing career; rather, he is excited by the pop culture Mike Tyson of recent years. In The Hangover movie franchise, Tyson has been game to show audiences that he can laugh at himself while commanding a level of respect and awe that his former World Heavyweight Champion-status deserves.
While being inducted into the WWE’s Wrestling Hall of Fame on April 2, 2012 (a sport Tyson dabbled in after hanging up his boxing gloves), professional wrestler Shawn Michaels proclaimed Tyson, “at one time the most ferocious, most intimidating man to ever step inside a boxing ring.” As Tyson explained to me, his superhuman blows in the ring had less to do with pure physical brawn, and were more a product of the mental conditioning bestowed on him by his late boxing coach and adoptive guardian, Cus D’Amato.
Tyson’s main focus this month is an intimate one-man show titled, Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth, where Tyson will take audiences on a journey through the well-documented extreme highs and lows of his athletic career, his personal life and past tumultuous relationships. Through Undisputed Truth, Tyson hopes to make people understand where he came from and who he is.
PR.com (Allison Kugel): There is something you said a while back about happiness and success. You said, “When you have something in life that you want to accomplish, greatly, you have to be willing to give up your happiness.” Do you still feel that way, today?
Mike Tyson: Wow. It would have to [be] reminiscent of that, yes. This show (“Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth” at MGM Grand in Las Vegas) is a small, little show. I used to have arenas, like with WWE, thirty thousand people. To me, this is like my living room with my family, seven thousand people. But I’m still serious and I still want to do well. Even when I had a billion dollars, I just wanted to do well. That’s how I am. Sometimes in wanting to do well I have to block out any chances of being happy, because I want to accomplish a goal. That’s how I’ve been raised by Cus D’Amato. Happiness is not worth your goal.
PR.com: Tell me how your one-man show, Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth, will be orchestrated for the audience.
Mike Tyson: I’m going to discuss things and then the situation is going to come up in the video. I’m going to discuss my fight with Mitch Green, my affair with Robin [Givens] and then it will come up on the screen and I’ll say, “Ok, now we’re going to talk about that.”
PR.com: Do you feel more whole now, like you can get on the stage at the MGM Grand theatre and focus, not just on doing well, but on connecting with your audience?
Mike Tyson: That too, and it will feel something like therapy. It will be talking to people and having fun, and making people laugh and cry. They’ll go through a roller coaster of emotions.
PR.com: Are you answering questions, or will you just be talking about your life like a scripted show?
Mike Tyson: No, I’m just speaking. I said to my wife that I am not going to get too involved with the audience. I am just going to shoot it off the cuff from the script. It’s my life.
PR.com: When did your wife, Kiki, decide that she wanted to be involved as a co-writer for this show?
Mike Tyson: I was just telling her my story and I was explaining to her to write it, but to put it in her own personality. I explained my life and she just wrote it from my perspective.
PR.com: Did anything shock her?
Mike Tyson: No, because she didn’t look at it as me as an individual. She looked at it as a project.
PR.com: You were recently inducted into the WWE Wrestling Hall of Fame. Why did they want to make you a part of wrestling history, being that boxing was the main focus of your athletic career?
Mike Tyson: You’d have to call Vince McMahon and ask those guys. It was something that I truly appreciated. I’m very grateful. I was a wrestling fan before I even started, when I was a little kid. Wrestling is the light part of my career; and boxing was the dark part. In order for me to be this Iron Mike Tyson guy I had to be dark. But over here I’m light, and I like this guy. He’s pretty cool.
PR.com: Who was your favorite wrestler when you were a kid, and what did you like about him?
Mike Tyson: Bruno Sammartino. Bruno was a strong guy, he didn’t talk much and he got the job done. He was the Joe Louis of wrestling. He was champion for, like, twelve years.
PR.com: Did you have to be angry to be a good fighter, or could you be happy and fight?
Mike Tyson: You can be very happy. I looked at boxing from a different perspective than other people. I looked at boxing that I’m only better because I’m superior in everything. I’m superior in my thinking, my breathing… I’m only the best because I’m superior. This is some sick shit. This is how I was taught with my trainers, you know (laughs). This is not me being this. This is me just saying this shit. So don’t think I’m this guy no more. But this is how it was, it was all about superiority. This is how I was raised; that I was better, smarter. But this is some crazy shit. I sound like fucking Hitler right now.
PR.com: That’s how Cus D’Amato raised you to think as a fighter?
Mike Tyson: Yeah.
PR.com: If you could get one last moment with Cus D’Amato, what would you like to tell him, or what would you ask him?
Mike Tyson: I would just ask him, I would say, “When I was good, did I move my head good enough?” ‘Cause all the time I knew that I got him mad because I wasn’t moving my head enough.
PR.com: Is there anything that you fear?
Mike Tyson: I fear, fear itself. I’m a believer that if something is going to happen, it’s gonna happen. Hard times come upon everyone. I’m just happy the only person I have to worry about is God. Other than that I don’t fear anything. And I respect everyone. From an omnipotent point of view I just [fear] God. I’m afraid of everybody, but I’m not intimidated by anyone.
PR.com: You’re going to bear your soul each night during your one-man show. How do you think your story will be received?
Mike Tyson: They’re going to have to tell me afterwards. You always hear feedback. But I’m just looking forward to performing. I like this stuff.
PR.com: But when people exit the MGM theatre after seeing your show, what will they come away knowing about you that they didn’t know when they walked in?
Mike Tyson: I can’t say that. Sometimes when I give a demonstration or an opinion of how I would like this to be received, people go from a different perspective. Sometimes I like something to be seen from a serious perspective or an intellectual perspective, but everybody looks at my life from a comic perspective.
PR.com: Why do you think?
Mike Tyson: I don’t think I’m funny. I think I’m pretty dark and jaded, so that’s why it’s a surprise to me when people say that.
PR.com: Do you think people see Mike Tyson as a caricature instead of a human being?
Mike Tyson: I don’t know what people see me as. The only thing I want to be seen as is an entertainer. If that’s a character than, yes, that’s who I am.
PR.com: Speaking of entertaining, let’s talk about The Hangover movies. Will you be in the third installment?
Mike Tyson: I spoke with some of the executives and big shots at Legendary Pictures, and they say yes. They call me, I come.
PR.com: Have you ever played a fictional character in television or film, or have you only ever played Mike Tyson?
Mike Tyson: I could do it, I could play a character. In the movie The Cookout 2, it didn’t release yet, but I play a [fast food] helper.
PR.com: Ever actually worked at a burger fast food restaurant?
Mike Tyson: Never had a job in my life.
PR.com: Except fighting and now entertaining.
Mike Tyson: That’s just what I did. They called it an “occupation,” but that’s what I did.
PR.com: If Todd Phillips (writer & director of “The Hangover”) came to you and said, “I have a role for you in my next film, not playing Mike Tyson, but a fictional role,” what do you think you could you bring to the table as an actor?
Mike Tyson: As an actor, he would get what Mike Tyson gave in the ring. He would get everything I have, and that’s a lot. I’m that kind of extreme guy where I give it all or nothing. I want to die on stage and just give it all. That’s the kind of guy I am. I’m a Judy Garland type of guy that wants to die on stage, and just go for it (laughs)!
PR.com (Laughs). Are you a Judy Garland fan?
Mike Tyson: Oh, explicitly! She’s a beast! I was just watching [a film] last night where she was working with a bunch of mentally handicapped children with Burt Lancaster, and she’s playing the piano. This is how much of a fan I am of hers, when I watch it I am looking at her and this is a moment when she is drinking a lot, and I’m watching her bloated and looking at her eyes and thinking, “This is her drinking period, now.” She has the bloated eyes and face. But there is no doubt about it, she is just a beast. I saw a picture of her when they were talking about her life and they show her as a little girl. They put her up against another little girl and they were both singing at the same time, and she just ripped this other girl to shreds. The other girl was singing one of these zippidy-doo-da white songs, and [Judy] sang three different styles in one song. She started singing a basic white song and then boom! She got on some pop, and boom! She started singing some R&B and she started scatting on this chick. She just ripped this little white girl to shreds! She’s a monster! She did three styles in one song and started rippin’ her.
PR.com: (Laughs). Who would have thought, Mike Tyson loves Judy Garland. Are you into singing competitions like American Idol and The Voice?
Mike Tyson: Yeah, we watch that stuff sometimes too, but we’re just so busy. And we watch The Real Housewives.
(Just as we get on a roll discussing reality television, Mike excuses himself when he witnesses a hawk attacking the birds on his property. We digress.)
PR.com: Let’s talk about the tribal tattoo that encircles your left eye and cheek. Why did you get that tattoo? What does it stand for?
Mike Tyson: You know the native Maori and the ancient warrior tribes? I just thought it was really badass!
PR.com: Why put it on your face?
Mike Tyson: Well, I want it to be seen. Why get a tattoo if not to be seen? I didn’t want to put it on my chest and cover it up all the time.
PR.com: Now the tribal design on your face is synonymous with you, and you’re branding it.
Mike Tyson: The Hangover branded it first, and now I’m just picking up after it [with] a clothing line, athletic line, everything. God has been great and I’m grateful, really I am.
PR.com: Do you have a spiritual philosophy?
Mike Tyson: The spiritual philosophy is this: treat people how you want to be treated. I know that you don’t always get the same reciprocation. But always treat people the way you want to be treated. I believe in that.
PR.com: Who can you say with complete certainty, truly loves you?
Mike Tyson: Quite a few people, but I have to go with family, my wife and my kids. That’s my nucleus.
PR.com: Are you the greatest Heavyweight Boxing Champion of all time?
Mike Tyson: That’s not up to me to decide that. It’s up to people and prosperity. When you say, “Who’s the greatest champion?” I don’t want the greatest champion to be the guy that knocked out more guys than anybody and won more fights than anybody. The greatest fighter of all time should be the guy who entertained the people the best, and you’d have to ask the fans that.
PR.com: Is there anyone who you feel you owe a personal apology to for some of your past behavior, or do you feel that at this point it’s not necessary for you to do so?
Mike Tyson: I’m always willing to apologize and make amends to people, because that’s my objective in life. When I went through my program I tried to make the most amends as possible, but some amends, if I tried to make it, would be too painful to the person or to myself. So it was not possible for me to make them.
PR.com: What will the next ten years bring you?
Mike Tyson: I just hope life. If it brings life, then that’s all I need.
PR.com: Meaning, you no longer look to material things.
Mike Tyson: No, that’s not what we’re working on. We’re working on art now. We’re working on shows and our production company. We owe too much money to the government to ever be rich again, but you don’t need money to be happy.
“Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth” will run from April 13 - 18 at the Hollywood Theatre at MGM Grand Hotel & Casino. Go to MikeTysonUndisputedTruth.com for tickets and information.
Follow Mike Tyson on Twitter @MikeTyson.