By Daxx Kahn
Is “Iron Mike” Boxing’s Most Tragic Figure?
One night when I was about 12 or 13 years old, my father comes running in the house, yelling for me to “Get dressed, I don”t want to be late! We have an hour to make it on time!” “Late for what, Pop?” I asked. “I got us tickets to the fights at the Garden,” he yelled back, while getting ready. “The Tyson kid I told you about is fighting, he will probably be up in one of the first bouts and I want you to see what I was talking about!
Pop had been telling me about this Tyson kid for about a month now. He caught him a couple of times up in Albany where he used to travel to work. According to Pop, this guy was walking through his opponents like they were 12 year old school girls. It had been a while since he was this excited about a new fighter, so Tyson must have been something to see.
So, as quick as I could, I threw on my coat and sneaks and we were off to the Garden. On the way, Pop kept telling me about how fast and strong this kid was. He mentioned him being all business when coming to the ring “None of the glitz or any of those sparkly trunks like these other idiots coming up,” is what he said.
Pop was a fan of the old school and in his opinion, it was about how you fought that mattered most, not how you looked doing it. Unless it was Hector Camacho, who, in Pop’s eyes was “flashy because he is Puerto Rican and proud of it!” This is something I never understood, but Pop was a proud Rican and in his eyes a fellow countryman who fought could do no wrong, no matter how much of an idiot he made of himself!
Well, come fight time, I look in the ring and see this compact, muscle bound kid who was about the age of my brother pacing back and forth with a towel over his shoulders. At first I could not tell if he was bored, scared or a bit of both, but once the bell rang my questions were answered. Tyson went straight to the center of the ring and started throwing short hard jabs that missed the first few times but you could tell that they had intentions on them.
His opponent, a Reggie something or another, seemed unimpressed. Then, all of a sudden, and with the speed of a middleweight, Tyson let loose a five punch combination that put his opponent on the deck. Reggie still looked unimpressed, in fact he looked unaware of anything. Just like that, it was over. Tyson had again walked through another opponent.
I just stood wide eyed and looked at Dad. We both knew that this kid who was just a few years older than I, had the future of the sport in his hands. So did everyone else in the audience that night. But no one in attendance, not even Tyson’s own people, could have ever guessed exactly what was to follow. The era of Mike Tyson was on the way and what a ride it was going to be.
The story of Mike Tyson has been told a thousand times in a thousand different ways. Each time it is told by someone new, they try to make it more exciting or look for a new twist that really does not exist. It has been told so often that when you hear about his life being re-told, it is almost as if your intelligence is being insulted. Even if you have never heard the Mike Tyson story, you have heard ones that are similar.
Hearing about his troubled days as a youth, growing up in the worst section of Brooklyn, New York is not a tale he owns the rights to. Many kids growing up in Brooklyn have had the same problems as Tyson did. Broken homes, time in trouble with the law and boxing being a way out is not an unheard of tale when it comes to inner city kids. As a matter of fact, in boxing this storyline is a fixture. It has become such a stereotype that it’s almost expected to be the story of a fighter’s past. Graziano, La Motta, Liston and Dempsey are all men who have come from such backgrounds, and all long before Mike Tyson ever entered the ring.
Boxing, in one form or another, has been the savior of many young men. Today, that story is almost played out. Especially when we have guys like Kassim Ouma, who was kidnapped by his government and thrust into the military before he reached double digits in age. We have guys like Edison Miranda, who was left alone on the streets in his poverty stricken country as a child and searched years for his mother, just to be rejected at her door when finally finding her. The tales of these men make those around them pale in comparison.
And Tyson is not the first ring icon to go broke after earning his fortune in the ring. Men before him, like Joe Louis, Ray Robinson, and Jack Johnson all became financially well off as prize fighters and all ended up penniless at the end. Carlos Monzon, Trevor Berbick and Tony Ayala are all successful fighters who ended up in trouble with the law and have ended up spending time in prison, either during or after their careers.
So, that too is not a chapter of the sport’s dark side that Tyson owns the rights to. We could not begin to count the men who have had bad relationships with their wives. The only thing Tyson holds over the others in that aspect is he that had a B actress and her mother cause his grief during his domestic misdealing.
When it comes to the money squandered by his entourage, who helped break him financially, that too is no tragedy. That happens to people with money everyday. You don’t need to be a sporting figure for that to be a twist in the road. His saga with Don King is one that dozens of other fighters have gone through. Make that almost every fighter who has ever signed with Don King, has gone through.
Tyson, who at one time was billed as “The Baddest Man on The Planet”, finished his career with two losses against men who, earlier in Tyson’s career, would have folded in less then a round and ended up nothing more than a name in the win column for Iron Mike. It was a sad sight to see him quit against the less than mediocre Kevin McBride, but haven’t we seen great fighters end their careers against men that are less than stellar?
Ali was shut out against Trevor Berbick, a man who had potential but used it only briefly, yet even at his best was no match for a prime Muhammad. Meldrick Taylor became a whipping boy for unknowns. Roberto Duran was abused by men who at one time were not even worthy sparring partners. More recently, Evander Holyfield, who at one point was one of the most resilient men to ever step into the ring, struggled against guys not even in his league during his prime.
So, this too is nothing uncommon to see a once great fighter fall so far down in the ring it becomes a sad sight to witness. The more you look at Tyson’s career in the ring and turmoil outside of it, the more he becomes the stereotypical “has been” who somehow destroyed what could have been. His story has been written by his predecessors. He has done nothing more than become a cheap remake.
Why is it then, that we are still so fascinated by “Kid Dynamite”? I think it may be the fact that he has been so publicized throughout it all. During these times, we in some way or another have come to relate to his problems. Of course, I don’t imply that we understand what it has been like to lose a fortune, or go from the top of the food chain to becoming a bottom feeder, something Tyson has done by going on his tour of exhibitions. Nor do I imply that we can relate to being incarcerated for a rape charge.
It is something else that brings us to understand him. Something simpler than all that. It is during his calm moments and the look in his eyes that we can see a man who wants to be understood. A man who at times tries his best to fit in with the rest of the crowd. You put yourself in his place for just one moment. In a way he reminds you of being in high school and the awkward years we all went through. Just wanting to fit in with the rest of the crowd without being teased for having big feet or being the only kid in class with glasses.
It is almost with a shy embarrassed demeanor he attempts to join the crowd hoping no one notices it’s him. During his outbursts of anger, we can relate to him and his wanting to be just left alone. Like when you go to a family function and the relatives you hate the most keep coming over to you and bringing up something that happened years ago. When all you do is want them to just shut up before you get the urge to choke them in front of the rest of family.
The part of Tyson we may all relate to the most is when he is provoked into being the performer. As though he is always expected to be ready on Q to do something to entertain the masses. The same feeling we all get when that one supervisor at work insist on giving us 10 different things to accomplish at once then wants it all finished all at the same time, while he just stands there doing nothing else but looking stupid as he rides your back to hurry up and get things done.
The difference is that we only want to throw the finished work at our boss and tell him what to do with himself. Tyson gives them their show and actually says F%#@ OFF! Something many of us have always wanted to.
So the Mike Tyson story is not one that is uncommon by any means. He is just another name on the long list of fighters who have ended up right back where they started. His name will not be the last one on that list. Certainly it’s not the first. There is a line from a song, whose title escapes me at the moment, that goes “It’s the same old story, the same old story the same old song and dance” When it comes to Mike, that line could not be any more true.
Some people may call Tyson a tragic figure. Some may say he is just misunderstood. The harshest of detractors might call him a waste of talent and waste of life. I guess it all depends on how you look at it, but I have heard him called all three. It always seems to be people of fame that suffer these mishaps that we are attracted to the most. I suppose it is the fact that they reach these levels of success and fail that makes us feel better about our own shortcomings.
For some reason or another, people like it when others who have achieved so much more than they have, fail in the end. A flaw in our personalities I suppose. If it wasn’t for this flaw, we would have no such things as tabloids.
Personally, I have to disagree with all the above when considering Tyson. Our attraction has nothing to do with his shortcomings. It has nothing to do with the fact that he has made mistakes in his life and he is now getting his just due. Our attraction to Mike Tyson is that we understand him. I think we may understand him all to well. That my friends, may be the biggest tragedy of them all.