By Mark Borchardt on 19th January 2015
Almighty Mike Tyson. He dominated the zeitgeist of boxing in his time just like Muhammad Ali did in his – like it or not. Tyson was a brutal warrior, a hard-up street fighter turned malevolent mathematician of violent creed, trained to anguishing extremes to ultimately dominate the ring. He took no prisoners, and on his way to the top, some opponents were so afraid to fight him, he faced an empty ring. A stunning testament to the awesome power he possessed.
This film, simply and profoundly entitled, “Tyson” by James Toback, starts with a choked-up Mike Tyson recounting his days with his trainer, his mentor, his friend and savior, Cus D’Amato. D’Amato made Tyson who he was and the ex-champ knows this to his dying breath. Cus was someone who finally believed in the young kid from nowhere and gave him the chance he so desperately needed with some life changing know-how while turning the aspiring warrior into a heat-seeking missile of doom.
Had it not been for D’Amato, Tyson more than likely would have ended up permanently in jail, or worse, a quick six feet under if he had continued to follow his errant ways. Before Iron Mike had set his admiring eyes on great fighters in boxing history, his role models were typical punk street trash, thieves, hustlers, and killers – and Tyson, at a very young age, joined their deadly game. But he was rescued from those streets and resulting detention centers and whisked up to the Catskills to escape the breeding grounds of certain ruin.
That’s where he was stripped bare of random thinking and wayward behavior as all of his fury, his fears, his myriad weaknesses and his brutal strengths steadily became galvanized into a professional killing machine of unabated destruction. A machine that would annihilate his opponents – and that was his number one goal: to make others feel the anguish that he felt, for his whole life up to that point had been a furious, blazing black hole of pain – and Mike Tyson had so much of that pain to give back, and pity those on the receiving end.
D’Amato understood this youngster’s torment, his rage, bred from a lifetime of abandonment and devious street living. D’Amato trained him hard, making him concentrate relentlessly while aggressively building up his confidence. At first Tyson didn’t buy into it, this old guy was telling him he could be champion of the world – how could that be? What nonsense was that?
In reflection, Tyson realized that D’Amato was creating an impenetrable mansion of bravado within him, brick by mighty brick, day by hard-won day. And all that intense, never-ending mental persuasion paid off as Mike Tyson did become the youngest heavy-weight champ of all time. And to sweeten the pot, he ultimately unified the heavyweight belts as well.
Along the way, D’Amato and Tyson continued to play it psychologically smart, getting acquainted with the venues that he was to fight in well ahead of time. Cus had Mike take in the feel, the vibe, the physical nature of the places where the gladiatorial bouts were to occur, for it’s harder to fear the familiar and it paid off in continuous victories.
And with those astounding triumphs, Tyson sucked in all that attendant glory as fast as it arrived and money flowed out of his hands as furiously as water out of a broken dam. His intake of women was stunning and his use of drugs horrifying at times. That carnal onslaught bred problems of all kinds and his life became a caustic hybrid of rapturous delight and bewildering despair. Believe me, beyond the film, read his memoir, “Mike Tyson – Undisputed Truth“ written with Larry Sloman – you’ll be blown away by the perpetual craziness.
That obsession with women was inimitable, he was like a kid on crack cocaine in an all-night candy store, and he dearly paid the price in many ways for that insatiable cavalcade of heedless conquests including but not limited to: public humiliations, assorted venereal diseases, imprisonment, divorce – the ugly gamut of a senseless game. A notoriously ill-fated marriage to Robin Givens was fully exploited by a shameless media and his tryst with a Miss Black America contestant, Desiree Washington, rewarded him with several years hard time.
When Cus suddenly passed away, Tyson’s North Star was eradicated. The esteemed trainer had provided his young protégé with focus, determination, and most importantly, a distinct sense of self. Now all of that was gone and Tyson felt as lost as one could feel. Promoter Don King took the reins and Tyson went into another direction.
But that relationship ended in a cacophony of malevolence and in a brutal public display, Don King received a physical stomping in Los Angeles from his client. Tyson ultimately recovered 20 to 30 million dollars from King but thought that was nothing compared to what Mike believed was taken from him. However, and wherever all that dough went, about 300 million of it was blown. Let the good times roll – and then some. But Tyson says that doesn’t bother him, that money means nothing to him. Truly, bless his heart, for that unbelievable squandering of such astronomical cash could keep others of a different philosophical bent up for an eternity of nights.
As the years marched on, Tyson got so full of himself that many times he barely trained for fights and carelessly partied instead. That eventually and devastatingly caught up with him when he was shockingly whupped by Buster Douglas, thereby humiliatingly losing his world heavyweight title to a stunned public.
And with Lennox Lewis, Tyson just couldn’t get over the hump. There were three fights with him and the once mighty Iron Mike just couldn’t beat him. At the age of thirty-nine, he had his last fight and forthrightly stated he was just doing it to pay the bills. And just as exciting as the battles were themselves, if not even more so at times, were those post-fight interviews with Tyson. He was not one to hide behind a veil of calculated coolness but rather extemporaneously spilled the beans of whatever he was thinking at that exact moment. And he can be overtly, and quite surprisingly, self-loathing, and this humanizes him to greater depths than most of us would care to publicly plunge – and he dives in head first without looking.
Those crazy media rap sessions filled my heart with abundant joy as I can well remember being caught up in the Mike Tyson phenomenon. (We’re also the same age.) His fights were cultural events and people would eagerly chip in for those pay-per-views, gathering excitedly around the electronic fireplace. There was an exhilaration in the air not afforded by anything else at that time, such crazy energy was conjured in those bouts. Anything could happen in that ring and many times it did, such as the mayhem that occurred when Tyson bit the ear of opponent Evander Holyfield.
And when Mike Tyson bowed out of the scene, so did I, and the sport has never been the same since. His presence was a golden era of boxing that has not been revisited yet. All-in-all, Tyson scorched the terrain of the profession and left an awesome, as well as calamitous legacy like few could ever remotely dream of doing. He is a searing testament to the raw brutality of man in all of his twisted, out of control, rage filled glory.
His post-boxing career has taken some surprising turns with some successful stints including the popular “Hangover” films and a well received one-man Broadway show. He’s the proud father of many wonderful children but tragically his beautiful young daughter, Exodus, died in a bizarre mishap. It’s an eternal pain that will forever haunt him, but it has also made Tyson take stock of his life and he lives in her honor. Mike has mellowed with age and he reflects deeply on a densely led life. He had it all and then he had nothing. He succinctly identifies himself as an “extremist.” Ain’t that the truth.
Amazingly, it’s revealed that Tyson has asthma, such an ironic contradiction for a man who needed all the air he could get to feed the infinite physical resources his body demanded to endure the savage beatings and mete them out. And the labored breathing at times is a vivid metaphor for his chaotic, yet somehow, rhythmic intake of life: Oxygen. Life. Oxygen. Life. Chaos. Reflection. Chaos. Reflection.
The film ends with that labored breathing, the airy wisps of that tumultuous life still moving headlong into the unpredictable and the unknown.