During the dim days of his post Buster Douglas career, I would maintain in the face of often fervent opposition that Mike Tyson was over-rated. That he succeeded in a weak era and through the many attempts to recycle the myth he tip toed around any of the risk-laden contenders of the 1990’s. Fighters like Ray Mercer, George Foreman, Shannon Briggs, David Tua were all punchers and held a shot** – Tyson wasn’t allowed near them. Evander Holyfield and latterly, Lennox Lewis further undermined the theory in emphatic triumphs over the ageing former champion.
However, in the time since his belated retirement I’ve grown to respect Tyson far more for his style, accomplishments and articulate response to the questions posed to him about his career, out of ring incidents and the tragedies which have befallen him. Yesterday’s interview with Dermot Murnaghan only further deepened my growing affection for the former Baddest Man on the Planet as he once again proved, there is no electricity like Tyson electricity.
The degree of self-awareness Mike Tyson now exhibits in interviews like this is testimony to the “magnifying glass” existence he has had over the past 25 years. An adult life spent adjusting to unfathomable riches, attention and adulation which afforded every utterance, gesture or action headline status around globe. Tyson had no protection or preparation for the media phenomenon his in-ring methods created. He existed before the media advisors of today, he existed before fighters understood they could manage their own destiny with people in their employ in the manner Oscar DeLaHoya and Ricky Hatton have.
For all his colossal renown, Tyson still cut the figure of an employee, working for someone else. Like the lesser lights which preceded and populated his own era he still carries the “Don King screwed me” club membership card. True he doesn’t chair the meetings like Tim Witherspoon or write the newsletters like Larry Holmes but he, and his army of sycophants, still maintain the 20th century’s greatest promoter was the reason or at least partially to blame for his downfall. It was certainly a central plank to the recently released Tyson documentary.
Now, with self-confessed maturity, Mike Tyson realises the misdemeanours in his personal life and the failures in the ring were largely of his own manufacture. And whilst there is no escaping the reality that scores of people were opportunists when courting Mike’s attention he did hold the control over the decisions he made and the direction his personal and professional life took during that period. Speaking from ringside at a recent Don King promotion, where Tyson proved an erudite and thought provoking colour commentator, Tyson conceded; “All things pass, and I just felt it was time to mend fences with Don”. Inevitably, Don King hinted at future partnership and Mike Tyson was genial enough to indulge the obvious comeback question.
Anything is possible. I don’t see it happening, but anything is possible. This [King] guy is capable of making a lot of things happen. I don’t see it happening, but you never know with this guy.
His latest series of personal appearances in England and Wales will once again see Tyson rely on friendships carved out over twenty years to promote the speaking events as he seems less willing to expose his new found calm to those with whom he doesn’t share long, unsoiled affinity. An ex-miner from my home town of Doncaster will oversee some of the 4 date tour and Tyson will demonstrate his generosity of spirit and affection for the earthier roots of the sport by opening a new gym in Scunthorpe, working briefly with the young attendees and also visiting Johnny Owen’s grave in Merthyr Tydfil.
All of which is a life-time removed from the whirlwind of his decade as the most recognisable face on the planet. A period in which he knocked out heavyweights and broke pay-per-view records. As I reported yesterday, such was the impact on post-Ali boxing that he became implanted on the psyche of the entire Western world. His name synonymous with power and aggression of an ilk not seen in heavyweight boxing before (forgive me Jack, Rock and Sonny). It is that Mike Tyson which still intrigues masses, it is that indelible footprint he placed on modern history which implores interviewers like Dermot Murnaghan to delve around subjects which are, as Mike underlined “15, 20 years old, I was just a kid then 21, 19 years old. I’m 43 now.”
For Dermot Murnaghan, this was an opportunity he wasn’t going to let pass. An opportunity to do what so many have done this past quarter century. Prod and poke Mike Tyson to grab a headline, use the defenceless bear to make a name for themselves. Would it have been a dereliction of duty to avoid those issues? Would it have been less newsworthy? I suppose the mild furore the interview caused – when placed under the heading “Mike Tyson loses it on live TV” – suggests it would. Tyson rose in my estimations once more by being candid, dexterous and insightful in handling the questions. Being asked his views, as a Muslim, on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is territory on which Tyson conceded he had personal opinions but wasn’t qualified or willing to venture on television.
While I could, I suppose, accept the opportunism of Murnaghan’s direction it struck me as clumsy to ask a man about comment he made in his youth about hurting opponent – an obvious attempt to belittle and embarrass the motivations and intellect of his interviewee – and then in the same interview ask his opinion on one of the most complex, sensitive and painful political and religious issues of our time. What’s it to be Dermot? Is Mike Tyson a brainless thug or an international diplomat?
Would he have asked Barry McGuigan about his views on the IRA and Hell’s Kitchen?
On a side note, Dermot Murnaghan once fronted a show called, The Big Story, a news-political documentary style programme which attempted to investigate behind the scenes of a current news topic. They once devoted a whole programme to my family as a case in point of the impact of the pit-closures in 1992/3. It was never aired and I wasn’t in it. I was away at University. I often wonder whether there is a tape of that material somewhere. As an African American, what do you think Mike?
**Ok, Briggs less so.