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Tyson Interview with Steve Bunce
Mike Tyson is facing his toughest opponent as he grapples with life outside of the ring
I stepped out into the glare of several stage lights, squinted to try to focus on the 1,100 people sitting at tables in front of me, and a few hundred off in the hazy distance of the vast arena.
It was a giant bovine exhibition hall on the outskirts of Peterborough and I was in charge of an intimate evening with Mike Tyson and his special guests. Nobody was there for Jane Couch, Tim Witherspoon or Wayne Alexander.
The plan was simple on paper: I would introduce Tyson and he would walk from the gloom at the very back of the hall, through the crowd and climb the steps and join me on the six-foot high stage for a chat about his life and times.
He started to walk, the music played and the devoted mobbed his every step and he nodded, bowed and smiled at every scream and gesture of the people who had paid to fill the vast sanctuary. I know that Maradona has a church devoted to his genius in Argentina; well, this was close.
ďThe people in England get me, they get me,Ē said Tyson after he had finally sat opposite me for the ďintimateĒ part of the night. ďIn America they just donít get me. I get stopped at airports, searched. They hate me. Here, people like me, they talk to me. Iím always overwhelmed.Ē
People did shout out: ďWe love you Mike.Ē He dropped his head, wiped sweat from his brow and grabbed the microphone closer to his lips: ďI love you too.Ē
In 2005 I toured with Tyson for the first time and it was not a pleasant experience. It was not his fault but he was travelling with a protective gang of close friends and I was forbidden to ask him any questions about boxing or his hectic life or to ask him for an opinion on any boxers.
I was restricted at the venues in Derby, London, Birmingham, Manchester and Doncaster to questions about pigeons and Wayne Rooney! I became an expert on Birmingham tumblers and Birminghamrollers.
In Birmingham somebody came up and spat at me as I was asking him about pigeons and in Manchester two people threw punches at me for not asking him about ďhis f****** boxing, you ****ney t***Ē.
Tyson returned the next year and I declined the offer to accompany him. He was often morose and still a little bit scary; back then his entourage swelled with lively people as we journeyed from venue to venue. I mean really lively people!
It is very, very different now. He had with him an old friend and a spiritual adviser. Tyson, it appears, is seeking more and more comfort in his Muslim faith. I started by asking him where he was in his life.
ďI dunno Ö I guess Iím doing OK. You know, my mother was a prostitute and my father was a pimp. Thatís my history,Ē he said. ďI was born in chaos and Iím still looking for peace. Iím searching for dignity. My life has been a long process of stripping me of my dignity.Ē
ďIíve treated people like s*** all my life. Iíve lived with the hype that Iím the Ďgreatest man on the planetí. That is just so wrong, Iím not a great man. I have been a pig again and again. I have refused to learn from my actions. Iím damaged. Iím Mike Tyson and itís not been easy being Mike Tyson. Iím a piece of ****. I know that and Ö just now I want to give. I want to change. I want my dignity back.
ďYou know Ö I never thought that I would make 25. Then I never thought that I would make 30. Now, Ö Iím like 44. Thatís a miracle. Iím not meant to be here. Iím meant to be dead somewhere or in prison for life. Thatís what was supposed to happen. I have to live now; Iím at that stage where Iíve just got to get on with life and try to do some good, try to be humble. Try to be a good man, a good father. Itís not easy, look at my life. Itís not easy.Ē
The crowd sat in silence through most of it. I saw people gasping at Tysonís raw honesty. ďI guess I was meant to kill somebody or get killed. I dunno Ö Iím trying to be a good man but itís so hard. So hard. I will not give up the fight to be a good man.Ē
The crowd loved that and everybody stood, even the men and women and children in the fifty quid cheap seats at the back behind the barrier. He stood and bowed at this point.
ďWhen I was boxing I was a bad man. I had to destroy every one of my opponents. That is how I was trained. I watched the films of the greatest fighters in history.
ďThat is what I did when I was young; I sat and watched Jack Dempsey destroying people and he was a fighter that wanted you dead. He wanted to kill you in the ring. I got my head in the same place. That is how I won,Ē continued Tyson, his shoulders often just dipping slightly in memory of distant punches thrown. ďEven Ali, man, he was vicious. He was mean. He was nasty to his opponents but because he was Ali not much was ever written about that side of his life.
ďHe was the king of trash talking. I got that from Ali. Man, he was bad! I would try at all times to get to a fighter before the fight. The greatest fighters in history had done that. I never invented that.
ďIntimidation was part of Aliís plan and it was part of Sugar Ray Robinsonís plan. I tried to take bits from all the legends and put it into what I did in the ring. In the end I just stopped caring in the ring.Ē
I asked about the loss of his 100% record and his world heavyweight titles to Buster Douglas in 1990 and his second fight with Evander Holyfield, which ended in Tyson biting off a chunk of Holyfieldís ear. There were some in the crowd who cheered the reference to Holyfield losing a bit of his ear. Thankfully, it was more a tiny murmur from just a few truly devoted followers.
ďI have no regrets. I have nothing to apologise about. I lost. I didnít care about boxing anymore. At the time of the Douglas fight there was nothing right in my life. Nothing. I just stopped believing and in the Douglas fight he believed. I hit him and he went over. He got up and nobody got up. He came back at me. It was great for him; heís a nice guy.
ďI was not ready for Holyfield in that fight. I donít regret what I did (huge, huge cheer). It was a brutal fight. My mind was not in the ring, but I had to fight, that is what I was getting paid for.
ďHe butted me, I hit back. I wanted to maim him, I wanted to win. I was fighting for my life. I was on my own at that time. Thatís not easy. Iíve got no regrets and I donít want sympathy. It was just the way it happened.Ē
Tyson talked for just under an hour. The standing ovation lasted 10 minutes. He then left the stage after a brief and sweaty embrace to pose for the forty quid pictures with, I was told later, nearly 600 fans.
Long after Tysonís contractual agreements had been reached I watched his fans file out into the warm night, clutching their picture frames; a memento from an intense night in Tysonís company.
He also told the fans that he would not box again, but there are endless offers on the table for proper fights and freak fights. Sadly, I would not rule out some type of weird comeback. It is, you see, the money.
When his daughter died earlier this year in an accident on a running machine he had to rely on donations from friends to pay the vast medical bills. I never went near the subjects of his daughterís death or his conviction for rape during our time in the spotlight.
The following day he was in Marks & Spencer buying sandwiches and posing with mums and kids before we all drove to Bolton for the second night of the tour. I had also seen him at 6.30 in the morning coming back from the gym.
He is vegan now and about 30 pounds below his fighting weight. Itís all part of his quest for calm, but he just repeatedly struck me as a lonely and quite sad man.
ďIím in a decent placed right now,Ē Tyson told me before we went on in Bolton. ďHonest, this is not a bad place. Iím trying for humility in my life. Iím trying, honest, Iím trying.Ē It was probably the only conversation we had when we were not sitting opposite each other in front of hundreds of expectant punters.
The next morning I was checking out before 7am when he emerged from the hotelís gym. He had a white towel over his shaved head, the sweat was running down his face and he was bouncing on his toes.
It looked like the Tyson of old, the fighter I had seen in gyms and rings in Las Vegas and Atlantic City and Louisville and Memphis. He stopped for a second, touched his chest, nodded my way and vanished into a lift.
He will be back (in the UK) later this year.
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