By Mitch Abramson
If this is how it’s going to be for Mike Tyson as a promoter, then the more shows he’s involved in and gets to hype and talk about himself, then the better.
In a bizarre conference call with reporters to promote his first trip into the promotional side of the business on Friday, Tyson went all Tyson on the news media on Monday, going off message and speaking as if he was a boxer talking about being a promoter instead of being an actual promoter (if that makes any sense). Tyson spoke about the time he thought about committing suicide.
For a few brief hilarious seconds, he forgot he was a promoter, saying he didn’t really want to be a promoter but that his true passion lay in being a trainer. He couldn’t help himself, speaking of his desire to punch Don King and of his financial problems. Yes, Tyson was in a talkative mood on Monday when he crowed about his first promotional endeavor, Iron Mike Productions and the first show on ESPN at the Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, N.Y., on Friday, just a short car ride away from where he learned to box in Catskill, NY under famed trainer Cus D’Amato.
The former “Baddest man on the planet” likely isn’t going to be reviewing contracts as a partner in the promotional company and traveling to amateur tournaments signing up boxers. Just a few minutes into the call, Tyson admitted he’d rather train fighters than promote them.
“Basically I’m going to make my way into the training tip because I really like training fighters and that’s what I want to do as well,” Tyson said, when asked to introduce Friday’s show on the conference call. “It will come. I’ll find the fighters that I can develop in the amateurs and stuff. I’m interested in finding young kids and developing them right off the streets.”
But he won’t be able to emulate his mentor D’Amato because he doesn’t think that today’s fighters could handle it.
“I can’t be like Cus because Cus couldn’t train these guys because these guys would lose their mind,” Tyson said of D’Amato training in today’s age. “From what I see the discipline in the sport now is only possessed by only 4% of the fighters. Most of the fighters now they can’t even make their own weight for the fight. One of my trainers, Stacy McKinley, he said don’t expect someone like you, but I do,” Tyson went on. “I expect someone that wants to put their life- that will dedicate their life to. Even if they can’t fight, as long as he wants to hurt someone and he’s dedicated to do it, I want him.”
Soon Tyson was digging into his familiar personal back story, from Brooklyn street thug life to youngest heavyweight champion ever to drug addict to Broadway performer and now promoter. The one topic he chose not to voluntarily discuss was his rape conviction in 1992 to a beauty queen that led to a three-year prison stint in Indiana.
“Hey, well, check this out- I was planning on killing myself,” he said, in response to the first question about drugs and the depression that followed in his darkest moments around 2008-9. He talked about his substance abuse issues (“I was just [overdosing] every night. I was just going full blown. I was just, Wow! I can’t believe I was waking up”). He discussed the event that led in part to his turnaround- the death of his infant daughter in 2009.
“My daughter died and I just wanted to live a different life,” Tyson said. “I’m still struggling. Living life is very difficult for me. My whole life I just wanted to be a savage fighter. And now I have to change my life.”
And he talked about staying busy. The 47-year-old is starring in a weekly docu-series on Fox Sports 1, called “Being: Mike Tyson,” with the first show on Sept. 22. His memoir, “Undisputed Truth,” comes out on Nov. 12. HBO's going to show one of his one-man plays on its airwaves later this year. Mike Tyson Productions plans on doing a Las Vegas show in September or October and another card at Foxwoods Casino perhaps in November, according to a Tyson spokesperson.
It’s not clear what role Tyson will have in the promotional company other than to make appearances. Tyson is partnering with the Florida-based Acquinity Sports- they renamed the company Mike Tyson Productions after deciding to join forces. It’s a rising company that has no superstars but does possess junior lightweight world titleholder Argenis Mendez (21-2, 11 KOs), who will face Arash Usmanee (20-1, 10 KOs) in the main event.
The company also promotes Claudio Marrero (14-0, 11 KOs) taking on Jesus Andres Cuellar (22-1, 18 KOs) for a vacant interim featherweight title in the co-feature in the season finale of “Friday Night Fights.” Tyson said he was looking forward to perhaps working with fellow promoter 50 Cent and making a fight between Mendez and fellow titlist Yuriorkis Gamboa in the near future.
Tyson’s financial problems have been well documented. He reportedly declared bankruptcy in 2003 despite making millions of dollars in his career. This past March, Tyson’s wife, Kiki told HBO’s “Real Sports” that he owes “millions” to the IRS, and he touched on his financial woes in the conference call on Monday.
“Even if I did make money [in my career], I ain’t never going to have money,” Tyson said. “I owe too many bills. I had too many disappointments with taxes and just too many managers and all that stuff.”
Then, in a wild rant against King, his former promoter, Tyson said he likely wouldn’t be working with King in the promotional business and seemed to blame King for his post-career lows.
“If I was to learn something [from Don King] I could learn how to manipulate my fighters and take advantage of them and tell them lies and tell them I love them and the white man hates them and we’re brothers and everyone’s against us,” Tyson said.
“And at the end of the day I can have all their money in my pocket and they’d be walking on the street and be feeling sad for themselves and do attempted suicide and use cocaine and overdose just like I did. But like I said before, I forgave him, and whatever I did to him I hope he forgives me. I don’t have any hard feelings toward him and if he wants to work with us I would love to. If sometimes I see Don and I might want to hit him it’s because I loved Don before and he took advantage of me and that’s how come I feel that way. But that’s just how life is.”
Tyson said that as a promoter one of the things that will distinguish him is that he won’t rip his fighters off.
“I just know one thing,” Tyson said. “You’re never going to hear my fighters that Mike Tyson ever stole something from them. And hopefully they will never end up like me and say at the end of the day- ‘Where’s my money and friends and oh man I’m a goner.’ They won’t have to do that stuff.”
Tyson said there was a limit on how much wisdom he could impart to the fighters he promotes, however.
“Hey listen, I’m in no position to stop someone from hurting themselves,” Tyson said. “Only thing I can tell them is what I experienced, how you can go crazy over that stuff. Other than that I can’t do anything. I’m not a magician. I’m not a hit man. I can’t make someone do anything. Only thing I can do is suggest. I’m not going to get on the phone and say I’m going to stop these guys from spending their money and getting high. I don’t know if I can do that. That stuff is bigger than me.”
Tyson said that his final fight of his career, a sixth round stoppage at the hands of Kevin McBride in 2005 was a blur because his heart wasn’t in it.
“I was just fighting for money,” he said of that bout. “I had to pay some bills. I didn’t really care about the fight. I was pretty much in my full disease then. And I was gambling with life back then. I wasn’t taking it serious. I didn’t care if I won or loss. It was the best moment of my life when that fight was over with because I knew I was going to retire and once I retired that was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Tyson went on. “I was just happy it was over.”
Tyson was asked about performance enhancing drugs, which have infected most professional sports, including boxing.
“Of course I want my fighters clean,” Tyson said of his stance on anti-doping measures in the sport. “But I want the man’s opponent clean as well. I want everyone clean. This is insane.”
The whole interview was insane, in a very good way.
Mitch Abramson covers boxing for the New York Daily News and BoxingScene.com.