Mike Tyson: The Lord Of The Ring Returns

Mike TysonPhoto Credit: Frederic Auerbach

BY GETTING BACK IN THE RING AFTER A 15-YEAR HIATUS AT AGE 54, MIKE TYSON IS FULFILLING A 30-YEAR PROMISE… TO HIMSELF

BY LAURA SCHREFFLER
PHOTOGRAPHY
FREDERIC AUERBACH 
GROOMING DALLIN JAMES
SHOT ON LOCATION AT TYSON RANCH

Mike TysonPhoto Credit: Frederic Auerbach

ON NOV. 22, 1986, THEN-20-YEAR-OLD MIKE TYSON WON HIS FIRST-EVER TITLE, AND WITH IT, BECAME A LEGEND. 

“I’m the youngest heavyweight boxing champion in history,” he declared moments after defeating Trevor Berbick, “and I’m going to be the oldest.”

Nearly 34 years to the day later, “Iron” Mike, “The Baddest Man on the Planet” might  make his youthful boast a reality. Come Nov. 28, Tyson, now 54, will return to the ring for the first time in 15 years for an eight-round exhibition match against Roy Jones Jr. in Carson, Calif. If he wins, Tyson will unseat reigning eldest champion and fellow Boxing Hall of Fame inductee George Foreman, who took the crown in 1994 at age 45.

But age has humbled Tyson. Heading into the ring isn’t so much about winning anymore, but proving his resilience. He’s been knocked down, but he gets up — again and again and again. “I’m just grateful to be able to get back in the ring at my age… Becoming the oldest heavyweight champion of all times isn’t my goal. But I’m learning to never say never, because had you asked me a year ago if I could see myself in the ring again, I would [have told] you, ‘Never in a million years.’ I’m just enjoying the ride and challenging myself spiritually, mentally and physically, and setting a good example for [my] kids that anything is possible if you put your mind to it,” he confides, adding, “Anything is possible.”

And yes, that would include a win. Tyson, one of the most feared and revered giants in boxing history, has much more than a fighting chance at success — some might even say he’s in the best shape of his life. If the scale is any kind of indication, he’s well on his way to greatness once again. “I’m 219 pounds right now; I don’t know the last time I was 219 pounds. I was six years old, probably,” he jokes, adding with a giggle, “It was orgasmic [when I saw that number].” 

In actuality, he’s ever-so-slightly slimmer than his 1986 winning weigh-in of 221 pounds — but it hasn’t been easy. Tyson has been in beast mode even before announcing his comeback in July, training with a vengeance. Every morning, after praying, he hits the gym for two hours of cardio — an hour on a stationary bike followed by an hour on the treadmill — followed by some serious time in the ring (and some serious time with his wife’s massage therapy gun to combat his sciatica because hey, he might be down to a fighting weight but he’s still in his 50s).

His nutrition has changed, too. He farewelled his mostly vegan diet to train right, eating foods like salmon, goat and bison (what he refers to as “s**t that just tastes awful but burns calories”). The result: he’s 98 pounds down, a lean, mean and shredded machine.

But then, he kind of has to be. There are going to be a lot of eyes on Mike Tyson come Nov. 28 — 2.5 billion of them, to be exact. No pressure.

Mike TysonPhoto Credit: Frederic Auerbach

The Thanksgiving weekend event — which can be viewed on Pay-Per-View and Triller — is certainly gearing up to be the most-watched of the season (as well as one of the most philanthropic: proceeds from the fight will go toward several grassroots charities encompassing children’s initiatives, social injustice and poverty with a special focus on his hometown of Brownsville via his Mike Tyson Cares Foundation, which benefits at-risk children). In addition to Tyson’s headlining match, the fight card includes bouts between former NBA player Nate Robinson and YouTube star Jake Paul; Badou Jake and Blake McKernan; Vidal Riley and Randy Coulter; Jamaine Ortiz and Jesse Garcia; Irvin Gonzalez and Edward Vasquez, and Giuseppe Cusumano and Nick Jones, as well as, at press time, a slew of yet-to-be-announced major musical acts.

Plus, when he announced the November date, which had been rescheduled from Sept.12 with the intention of being able to draw a live crowd, the news caused his site to crash.

This alone is validation. He is still relevant, still a contender, still capable of capturing glory. Though his personal life in the past has been anything but positive — the years following his shocking loss to James “Buster” Douglas in 1990 (largely considered to be one of the greatest upsets in sports history) — were marked by prison time and drug use, among other negativities — he has completely turned himself around, filling his days with philanthropy and family. Now, it’s easier to remember he was the undisputed world heavyweight champ from 1987 to 1990; that he was the first heavyweight boxer to simultaneously hold the WBA, WBC and IBF titles, and that today he holds the third longest unified championship reign in heavyweight history at eight consecutive defenses.

The sheer amount of support he’s receiving proves another point, too: If Tyson can make a comeback, anyone can. It’s proof in the pudding that his latest business venture, Mike Tyson’s Legends Only League — which is presenting his fight — is a gamble that has already paid off. This next-generation sports venture, a collaboration with media and tech investment holding company Eros Innovations, is a platform for retired athletes, with the intention of bringing the best of the best back to the ring, onto the court and back on the field.

Although he and business partner Sophie Watts came up with the idea for the league, it was 13x Pro-Bowler Jerry Rice, who served as its inspiration. “Someone was talking about Jerry, calling him an old man. People said he couldn’t play anymore because he’s not in his prime. But his numbers [when he retired weren’t much different than they were during his heyday]. There’s an overflow of folks that say Jerry Rice should be playing right now, but just because he’s a few seconds off, he can’t. Jerry Rice, Joe Montana, a lot of these older guys, they still feel it, but society makes them feel that they don’t have it anymore.”

Needless to say, Tyson finds this type of ageism to be deeply personal, and as such, “he” becomes “me” very quickly. “Give me a chance to get better, faster, stronger, but don’t cut me, don’t break my spirit because you’re jealous that I’m beautiful and that I can still do this,” he fumes, explaining, “Athletes are entertainers. We feel energy and vibes. We’re perceptive. And people break our spirits unconsciously.”

Tyson wants to combat that and give retired players the chance to perform again, to relive their greatness — himself, obviously, included. “What else am I going to do?” he wonders. “Sit around and make a bunch of money being a businessman with weed and stuff? I need some blood and pain in my life. My wife didn’t want me to do it but I said, ‘Babe, I need to test myself. I’m sitting around on my ass all day, I’m fat, I’m not doing [anything], so let’s do something. I’m living too easy over here.” 

Getting back in the ring, pushing himself to the limits; and now, helping others — this makes him feel alive. “This is me testing myself,” he admits. “I’ve never felt like this, the way that I’m feeling now in my life. I’m focused on my health, on doing good. I needed something else, and I’m [still] searching for it, to be honest with you. But I’m on my way, I feel great, I feel connected. I’ve done this 100 times; I know I can do this.”

ROUND 2

Mike TysonPhoto Credit: Frederic Auerbach

Today, Mike Tyson lives a quiet a life in Las Vegas, though has been riding out the Covid-19 pandemic at his second home in Newport Beach, Calif. with his wife of 11 years, Lakiha (“Kiki”) and their two children, daughter Milan, 11, and son Morocco, 9 (he has five other children as well: Gena, 31, Mikey, 30, Rayna, 24, Amir, 23, Miguel, 18; daughter Exodus passed away tragically at age four in 2009). 

“I’m no big shot — I’m the simplest guy in the world and I just want to do little things that help little people in a big way,” he declares. “What Mike Tyson is about, what I’m about, is my pigeons, my family, being grateful, trying to make people’s lives better and my f***ing [designer] clothes that I never, ever wear — that I buy and put in the goddamn closet [and just sit there].”

We wonder if his recent weight loss has had anything to do with his wardrobe neglect, and yes, there’s that, but another reason, too. “My clothes are in my closet because I never had them before. Once I have them, I don’t want them anymore. They’re beautiful and they still have the tags on. I’ve got weird issues,” he admits, before explaining, “When I was a little kid, I never had any good clothing. I had holes in my clothes, I smelled bad because we didn’t have any [running] water at the house, people would throw piss on me, beat me up, break my glasses. I never went to school because I was being abused all the time.”

Abandoned by his father at an early age, the young Tyson was bullied during his childhood, growing up on the then-mean streets of Brownsville, Brooklyn, N.Y. (a far cry from what is now the preferred gentrified hub of Manhattanites). He committed his first crime at age 10 simply because someone took notice of him, protected him. “I met this one guy who saw that people were making fun of me, making a fool of me, abusing me, and he said, ‘Come with me,’” Tyson recalls. “One whole morning, we were robbing people’s houses, and at the end of the day, he gave me 20 bucks. It wasn’t much money, but he did spend about 200 dollars on clothes for me.

“The people who were laughing at me the week before then thought I was the most beautiful person in the world. My whole consciousness is saying ‘My appearance will make people like me.’ They were calling me piggy, throwing piss on me, and then they thought I was the coolest guy in the world.” He adds sagely, “I know what people can do. I’ve seen everything that can be done to a human being — I’ve seen it! It’s vicious out there.”

And while his self-image improved, his life did not. With his newfound self-confidence, he took to beating up those who mocked him, and continued to commit petty crimes. He would be arrested 38 times by age 13.

But Tyson doesn’t look at his youth as a negative, not completely. What he learned early on is anyone can overcome their challenges, if only they have the mindset and willpower to do so. “Some people don’t believe they can stop being who they are because of where they’re from. [There are those who want to] perpetuate negativity, but there’s beauty in coming from the ghetto, and they can represent that. Just look at me and where I came from.”
Mike TysonPhoto Credit: Frederic Auerbach
In fact, his own path to a better future started at a juvenile detention center in Johnstown, N.Y., when his boxing ability was discovered by counselor Bobby Stewart, who introduced him to Cus D’Amato, the man who would become his boxing manager, trainer, mentor and legal guardian at age 16, when Tyson’s mother, Lorna Mae, passed away. He dropped out of high school as a junior, and two years later, made his professional boxing debut at age 18. 

The rest is history, a history that has been well-documented. Every win has been given as much airtime as every loss, every misstep keeping pace with every infallibility. Until he was busted — by his daughter.

“Every night I used to go out from 7  in the evening until 7  in the morning. My wife was having a heart attack. And then my daughter said, ‘Daddy’s been going out a lot, I haven’t seen him much’ and it made everything stop. She runs this house; what she says goes.”

Milan has been laying down the law, and Mike has been listening. “My daughter puts me in check,” he admits. “She gets mad at me, and I let her talk. What am I going to do, yell back at her? No. She’s my daughter. I’ve got to keep her spirit strong, and sometimes, to keep her spirit strong, she needs to challenge authority.”

She’s also following in her father’s footsteps in another way as well, having found a similar passion for sport. And while Tyson won’t own up to being a traditional “tennis dad,” nor will his daughter admit she’s a chip off the old block. “She doesn’t want to believe she’s like me,” he confesses. “She thinks I’m a megalomaniac, that I have a God complex. Her majors are sociology and psychology. I’m paying for this fancy education, and she’s just been analyzing me, talking about my relationship with her mother, telling her, ‘I think you should leave him.’”

Not that this bothers Tyson. In fact, he seems proud — even if his offspring’s intelligence is being used to his detriment. He’s happy to have been able to give his kids an elevated upbringing, one vastly different from his own. “I’m very proud that my kids didn’t have to go through what I went through in life, that they didn’t have a mother and father like I did. My mother and father were great, but they didn’t have the greatest life skills,” he maintains.

And just as he refuses to judge his own parents, he will not allow himself to get upset if his children judge him. “[Milan] hears this and that, she hears a lot of things that I didn’t think she knew about me,” he notes. “She hears her father is a monster, she hears her father is the greatest fighter, she hears her father is a criminal. She’s very conscious of my preeminence and my presence in this world.” He pauses. “Excuse me for saying ‘preeminence.’ That’s my ego and s**t.”

When it comes to getting back in the ring, well, there’s a little bit of love and ego there, too. “I like to lead by example. What am I going to do, be a big, old, fat n***r over here talking s**t and then going to tell them to stop being lazy? I want them to look at me and see how beautiful I am, and hopefully, they want to be beautiful, too. [I’m also teaching them] tenacity, confidence, to never, ever give up. In life, in games, in everything. We make mistakes.”

His own missteps have propelled him to become a better father, husband and human — a turnaround inspired because of the people he loves best. “I’m a slave to my wife and kids. Even though my ego is involved, everything I do really is for them,” he explains, before pausing briefly, then adding, “Sometimes, my ego is so powerful that it lies to me. It tells me, ‘You’re doing this for yourself,’ but I’m putting it in my head that I’m doing this for the love of my family.”

Mike TysonPhoto Credit: Frederic Auerbach

ROUND 3

For all the work that he’s done on his body, Tyson has done an equal amount on his mind and soul. He has a past he’s not proud of, but one that he owns, from the good to the bad to the ugly. But the past is the past, and Tyson is focused on the road to redemption at present and for the future, as he has been for the last many years.

For the last eight years, he has worked diligently and kept his demons at bay, but has no qualms about speaking about them. “I don’t think about hurting myself anymore, buying a bunch of cars, partying with a bunch of girls and doing a bunch of cocaine. That just doesn’t do it for me anymore,” he confides on this late October day. “Sure, sometimes I feel sorry for myself — ‘Oh, I feel bad, the world doesn’t love me, I feel like I want to do drugs — [but I don’t]. The drugs, the liquor, the disgusting women… none of that stuff killed me. So I thought, ‘If I can’t kill myself, OK, let’s try to live.’”

Tyson has lived a life much fuller than most. Since coming out the other side of a tough few years, he’s had some moments that redefined his career and showed the world what he’s capable of outside of the boxing ring. He starred in films like The Hangover (2009) and The Hangover II (2011); debuted his one-man show, Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth in Las Vegas, which he then brought to Broadway in 2012 as part of a collaboration with filmmaker Spike Lee; and embarked on an ensuing three-month tour in 2013, which then aired on HBO. That same year he formed the boxing promotions company Iron Mike Productions. He both launched his YouTube channel with Shots Studios and published his second book, Iron Ambition, in 2017. In 2018, he became an entrepreneur, opening up Tyson Ranch, where he works to create cannabis-based health products, and started the popular podcast HotBoxin’, where he speaks to some of the world’s greatest sports legends and actors.

The latest chapter in his life is actually a comprehensive one: a Mike Tyson biopic, potentially starring Jamie Foxx, will be hitting the big screens (or Netflix, thank you Covid-19) in the not-so-distant future. While it’s been largely assumed that Foxx had landed the role, Tyson says that’s not a done deal. “No one is playing me yet. We’re all discussing that now. There are a few actors involved. The thing about Jamie is that he’s probably older than me! [In fact, at 52, he’s actually two years younger.] He can act his ass off. I used to [know] him back in the day when I was a champ and he was an unknown comedian. He used to [work at my good friend’s cell phone store. He would run errands for everyone, and now he’s a big shot.] He knows me very well. He’s seen me vulnerable, he’s seen me high and he’s seen me very low and that’s why I’m curious about him doing it, because he’s too familiar,” he explains.

And although the two are close, he says Foxx doesn’t get what it means to be Mike Tyson… yet. But he will. “I think once he does his investigating stuff right, I think he’s going to get it,” he says, before laughing, “This is the only time I’m letting someone I know that used to work for me into me. Isn’t that some bulls**t?”

He also loves Star Wars actor John Boyega for the role, who was previously cast in Spike Lee’s short-lived 2011 series Da Brick, which was loosely based on Tyson’s life. “Maybe we can do a two series thing, where [John] can play me younger and Jamie can play me older. I don’t know how it’s going to play out; [my team and I have] been on the phone for a long time [discussing] it. It’s crazy, but beautiful.”

While the biopic is delving into his past, right now, Tyson needs to stay focused. He’s got a big day coming up, after all. “Right now, I’m just preparing for the future,” he says. “I’m getting stronger and stronger. It’s almost like being an addict. I’m the junkie, I’m the felon. But I stopped being those things [and] the energy of the drugs has been transferred to doing push-ups and weights and row work.”

Addiction he says, “never ends. If you’re a former drug addict, it hits you up all the time, it’s always coming back for you. Philip Seymour Hoffman, he had 20 years of not doing drugs, then [the desire] comes back, he does it one night, and he died. It never stops coming. Its job is to kill you or make you miserable.”

But Tyson is mentally tough, and he’s loved. His addiction didn’t kill him, after all; it made him stronger. “He’s not around now, but I’m waiting for him, and I’m not going to give in to him, because it’s just me,” says Tyson. “It’s not the devil. I’m not going to give in to me. I’m not going to let me beat me. That’s the lowest form of f**ing effort when you let you beat you. And I’m not me without me, I can’t let me beat me. Adversity makes the weak weaker and the strong stronger.”

And right now, at this moment in time, Mike Tyson is looking in the mirror and he is strong, maybe stronger than he’s ever been. “Ready to win is an understatement,” he says. “I’m ready to conquer the glory that I deserve.”

Mike TysonPhoto Credit: Frederic Auerbach

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