For many years, I observed Mike Tyson from afar, not really as a fan but I was definitely aware of his legendary status in the world of boxing. I had also known about the many controversies and transgressions in the man’s life, but still, I never paid him much attention.
Something changed in recent years with regard to my own perception of him, and I can now call myself a fan. This is because of the unbelievable life that he has lived, heavy in the spotlight the past 35 years, but everything that came before that shaped who he was in his prime, and maybe even more so now. Mike Tyson has greatly evolved as a man and a human being, and it is one of the most encouraging and inspiring metamorphoses that I have ever seen from anyone.
A Rough Childhood Led to Global Stardom
His story has been told a million times. The juvenile kid who was always in trouble as a youth ended up being adopted by a white family and then mentored by Cus D’Amato, one of the foremost figures in boxing in the middle of the 20th century.
D’Amato infused young Mike with unshakable self-confidence and belief that he could become a “god in the ring,” which he became in the years following his mentor’s death in 1985. Almost exactly a year later, Tyson became the youngest heavyweight champion in history.
That led to a whirlwind next three-plus years during which time he became one of the most popular men in the world, a fierce and feared boxing juggernaut with a seemingly impenetrable reputation in the ring and a controversial tabloid fixture due to his heavily scrutinized personal life.
A Steep Fall From Grace
The first key turning point in his life took place on the other side of the world in Tokyo, Japan. More than 30 years ago on February 11, 1990, Iron Mike Tyson essentially became “flat ironed Mike Tyson” after a shocking pummeling by a nobody named Buster Douglas.
At the time, Tyson had been impervious in the ring, sporting a 37–0 record and a well-earned reputation for rapid-fire knockouts. This event brought him back down to earth a bit, but he recovered and returned to his megastar status in the sport.
Then, in 1991, he was accused of raping a beauty pageant contestant which led to his stunning criminal conviction and imprisonment in 1992, just three months prior to his 26th birthday.
To The Top of the World and Down Again
It would be three long years in prison for the former “baddest man on the planet,” and when he was released in March 1995, he was said to be a changed man. His first official boxing match took place about five months later when he annihilated Peter McNeeley in August 1995.
Of course, this fired up his biggest fans and supporters because it seemed to signal the return to greatness for one of the most polarizing and iconic prizefighters in history. From there, Tyson handled a series of mid-level fighters with expected ease throughout the following year of 1996.
On the infamous night that hip hop legend Tupac Shakur was fatally wounded in a drive-by shooting, Tyson dispatched his fourth consecutive victim, Bruce Seldon in very short order.
Shakur himself was in attendance at the MGM Grand on the famed Las Vegas Strip along with the brooding and imposing Suge Knight. Even when Tyson had zero involvement, trouble arose as ‘Pac was gunned down just hours after the conclusion of the star-studded bout.
Tyson was now back on top of the world, or so it seemed. During a seven-month period of time spanning November 1996 to June 1997, the 30-year old’s career got derailed again. First, Tyson finally met superstar boxer, Evander Holyfield, in the ring on November 9, 1996, and got destroyed.
Then, their June 28, 1997 rematch ended in disqualification for Tyson after he bit Holyfield’s ears in a rage-fueled matchup that also earned Mike a suspension of his boxing license. The night that he beat Bruce Seldon had only been less than ten months in the past at this point, yet he went from being on top of the boxing world to an embarrassment for the sport in that tiny bit of time.
From Retirement to Rebirth
From there, there was nothing of any consequence to discuss about his career as far as I’m concerned. He languished in sideshow desperation and shocking mediocrity for the next several years, until he finally put himself out of his own misery and retired in 2005.
Fast forward 16 years to right now. The present. Mike Tyson is almost 55 years of age, a devoted husband and father, and something of an elder statesman for the vastly different world of boxing. He is not exactly an ambassador of the sport, but he holds a cultural significance in and out of the ring that continues to garner him much-deserved respect.
His unexpected return to the ring in November 2020 against Roy Jones Jr. might’ve been a one-off novelty, but he was in amazing shape and still retained a measure of his awesome star-power. Me personally, I have become absolutely fascinated with Mike.
He is still very much a compelling figure, but there is something more sage and polished about him now. He hosts a very popular and critically acclaimed podcast called, Hotboxing with Mike Tyson, and listening to him speak about practically anything is almost addictive. He is brutally honest about some of the worst moments of his life and that alone gives him an enormous amount of credibility.
He never shies away from discussing his descent into drug and alcohol abuse, his extreme womanizing, and infidelity. He is also frank about his mindless spending and insecurities, his desire at times to crave acceptance from people, and his overall asshole moments.
A Kinder, Wiser ‘Iron Mike’
He is a much more reserved, reflective, and humble man who is at peace with who he was, but also mindful that his demons could rear their ugly heads at any given time. He comes off almost like a mysterious wizard, especially now that he often sports a prominent white beard and sideburns which somehow makes him look the part.
Tyson, much to his own surprise is now seen by many as a guru or even a life coach. He scoffs at that often on his podcast, but to me, it is not that far-fetched. Anyone who has lived such a high profile existence, while battling many ups and downs and self-imposed demons has a lot to offer the world.
The magic in his evolution is his great willingness to be so self-aware. He is the ultimate success story, but also the ultimate cautionary tale. The fact that he traversed the path that he has and is not only still standing, but also thriving is a true testament to his ultimate value. I will use that to fuel and inspire my own journey.
Mike Tyson deserves our praise. And attention.