― Cus D'Amato
A quick google search on this title will reveal that it references former heavy weight boxing champion, Mike Tyson. Mike rose to prominence in the mid eighties under the guidance of famous boxing coach, Cus D'Amato. Mike's story is a fascinating tale as told in his autobiography, The Undisputed Truth (2013).
The boxing legend speaks candidly about his tragic upbringing in Brownsville, New York, a suburb of Brooklyn. He opens up about being the youngest of three children whose mother was a former prostitute and estranged father a deacon/pimp. He recalls once a year his 'father' would pick him and his siblings up in a Cadillac, drive them around the block without speaking much, give them some money, and drop them back off. They grew up in poverty, being evicted from their modest apartment to sleeping in freezing abandoned buildings in dreadfully dangerous parts of town. He openly discusses his mother's addiction to food and alcohol along with her dysfunctional relationships with men. She once threw scalding water on her boyfriend's face burning a young Mike in the process. Mike's sister, Denise, pretended to play nurse as she lanced Mike's blisters from the scald.
In his youth, Mike would seek out masculine influence by cutting class and associating with local gangs and thieves. Here, he learned how to fly pigeons from rooftop coops in Brownsville. He describes being invited to a party by an older boy who looked out for Mike after they had been skipping school and flying pigeons. While everyone went home to shower, change, and show up well dressed to the party, Mike went straight there covered in sweat and bird shit. Guests laughed at him for being smelly and disgusting until he himself was both laughing and crying in front of everyone. His older friend immediately took Mike to his home to get him clean and changed into nice clothes before returning to the party as if nothing had happened.
By age 10, Mike was getting arrested for 'jostling' purses and stealing on the streets which placed him in juvenile correction facilities. It seemed his fate was to grow up either in prison or end up dead on the streets. One night after showing the troubled juveniles a film simply called, "The Greatest", the children were visited by none other than its star, Muhammad Ali. Mike remembers being struck by awe at the reception of the Heavy Weight Champion of the World. Ali was an instant hero to the youth and spoke about changing their paths in life to become great like himself. Mike recalls wanting to be him from that moment, but it wasn't until a few years later at yet another correctional facility that Mike would be given the chance to hone his boxing skills.
Mike used to witness the "baddest" and meanest kids coming back from the gym with busted noses, lips, or black eyes led by one of the corrections officers. He thought they were being abused; however, these young men were actually happy as they were learning to box from a former professional boxer turned youth counselor, Bobby Stewart. Mike couldn't believe what he saw and worked out a deal with his supervisors to behave better in order to learn the skill of boxing. At the age of 12, Mike progressed quickly and before long he was brought to legendary boxing trainer, Cus D'Amato. He sparred with Bobby for a few rounds before Cus knew that he had witnessed the future Heavy Weight Champion of the World.
Mike soon "graduated" from the corrections facility and went to live with Cus and his wife, Camille. Cus also came from a hellish childhood in Brooklyn to rise to success with two world champions under his boxing tutelage. After Mike's mother had passed away from cancer, an ageing Cus decided to adopt Mike in his seventies. Mike had finally found the father figure he craved. Together, both found a reason to begin each day with purpose.
“The fact that he is here and doing what he’s doing, and doing as well as he’s doing and improving as he has, gives me the motivation and interest to stay alive. I believe a person dies when they no longer want to live.”
― Cus D'Amato
Mike excelled in the sweet science of boxing. He was obsessed with history and soon became an aficionado on old fighters by watching their fight films late into the night. In the ring he became an exciting knock-out artist. He breathed new life in the waning sport of boxing and once again brought it to prominence in the public eye. Mike became the youngest Heavy Weight Champion in history at the age of 20yrs old (a record unsurpassed even to this day). Sadly, his championship came shortly after Cus had passed away. Mike buried his mother, his adopted father, Cus, and many of his Brownsville friends, even going so far as to pay for their funerals. Mike moved from nick-name 'Kid Dynamite' to 'Iron Mike' to 'The Baddest Man on the Planet' as he dominated the boxing scene in spectacular fashion as he became the Undisputed Heavyweight Champion and the first to unify all three major belts. He was often smaller than most of his opponents at 5' 10" and weighing about 220lbs, but his unique build and fighting style allowed him to challenge much bigger opponents and deliver powerful knock out punches that enthralled audiences and catapulted his prize winnings to over $300 million dollars throughout his career.
His wealth and fame attracted all kinds of predators both male and female along with a narcissistic self-indulgent ego. Mike himself says that he was a "pig" and a "prick". Mike was a target for law suits and unscrupulous business men that exploited Mike's ignorance of legal matters. His singular focus was on enjoying the fruits of his labor and of course competing in the ring. Without parental supervision or guardian support, Mike spiraled out of control with an excessive lifestyle of alcohol, drugs, and sex. Despite his indulgences, Mike was remarkably able to continue demolishing opponents in the ring. Between fights, Mike would indulge in spending sprees buying cars, clothes, and houses. He would often get drunk and high on cocaine with his friends and spend time in strip clubs, a recipe for infidelity and disaster. It was rumored that he was sleeping with up to 14 women a day.
In his first marriage to Robin Givens, Mike was publicly humiliated in the media and experienced the wrath of a "Gold Digger" and her mother, Ruth. He was naive and a target of Robin and her mother, who stole millions from Mike's prize winnings under the auspices of looking out for his best interests. The same predatory behavior came from his management teams and after Cus had left the picture, Mike felt that he couldn't trust anyone. Don King, the notorious boxing promoter, helped himself to tens of millions of dollars from Mike's boxing purses. It's ironic that Mike used to do the same thing from victims in his youth. One example of theft is when King paid his daughter a salary of $52k per year to run the 'Mike Tyson Fan Club' which ignored his fans for the most part. In the book, Mike mentions that he was moved to tears when his accountants discovered that Cus had left him a retirement account with a couple hundred thousand dollars, knowing that Mike might one day need this money as most boxers end up destitute from lack of maturity and financial sense.
In addition to these predators, Mike faced an accusation from Desiree Washington, a beauty pageant contestant, that claimed that she was raped. The accusation came shortly after she and Mike had rendezvoused one night during the pageant in which they slept together and afterwards she wanted to go home. Mike had an endless supply of women throwing themselves at him and didn't need to take sex from anyone. It's rumored that she felt enraged at the lack of concern Mike had callously displayed after using her for consensual sex and then going to sleep. Ms Washington went public with her claim of rape (her second accusation after her father discovered that she was sleeping with her then boyfriend). She built a case that revolved around a major settlement and even said that she would drop the charges if Mike would apologize. Don King is alleged to have owed his tax attorney a debt in which he repaid by allowing his unqualified criminal lawyer to defend Mike for a million dollar fee. Mike refused to apologize to Ms Washington and denies the allegations of rape to this day. His dysfunctional high priced lawyers botched the whole case which resulted in Mike serving 3 years in prison while Ms Washington received publicity, book deals, and a civil suit that sought financial compensation. Mike was never the same after going to prison. He was stripped of his championship belts much like Muhammad Ali after refusing the draft.
In prison Mike learned to better control his temper and soon found brotherhood with the inmates. They helped him to keep his mind strong and not let the system ruin him. Many rapists recognized his innocence as they could see that he was not like them. Mike was able to establish a trade business with his connections to the outside along with receiving visitations from famous celebrities (such as Maya Angelou, Tupac, and John F. Kennedy Jr.) to an endless line of women fans. He used to sell correspondences from these women to his fellow inmates and had no idea what was said when they would visit. Mike was able to feed his sex addiction despite being locked up from his legion of lady fans as well as from his drug counselor, a large black woman, from inside the prison walls. In prison Mike converted to Islam, mostly because he was fascinated by its teachings and used to attend prayer and study as a way to pass time behind bars. He also read Nietzsche, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Dostoyevski, and Dumas. He cites The Count of Monte Cristo as his favorite book about a falsely accused prisoner who uses his time to plot a comeback.
At age 30 when Mike was finally released from prison, media crews lined the prison yard to catch the former champion as he marched to his limousine. A grand reception was planned by Don; however, Mike just wanted to stop at a mosque and offer prayers of gratitude. It seemed his financial parasites were eagerly awaiting his return including the media as all stood to gain from his presence. Mike earned nearly $200 million in deals with HBO and Showtime for his return to the ring. He returned to his lifestyle of easy drink, drugs, and women. He cheated on all his marriages and soon began to lose focus on boxing to drugs and the party lifestyle. He barely trained for fights choosing to indulge in orgies and drugs. He reclaimed the World Championship Title despite his lack of passion. He would often return to Brownsville to be among his old friends, but they warned him that he had a chance to get out of their hell. He would often give thousands of dollars away to poor people in his old neighborhood, something he hoped would help him make amends for past sins. As long as he was winning and making millions, people clung to him for a taste of the good life, including his pimp father, whose funeral he paid for.
Mike would eventually lose his wealth to leeches such as Don King and various law suits which forced him to fight to feed his family. He owed the IRS over $27 million in back taxes and faced severe depression. Despite being consistently broke, Mike would always be invited by his affluent friends (some of whom were billionaires, world leaders, and celebrities) to travel, vacation, and live the rock-star lifestyle. Mike realized that he was losing his battle with addiction and eventually checked into rehab. At one point he ballooned up to over 350lbs. He met with some incredible therapist/counselors who reached out to him and helped him to understand living life on life's terms, a phrase he admits to sounding silly until it's internalized. One therapist in particular, Ms Marilynn Murray, was able to reach Mike and introduced him to the twelve step program. He has battled relapse and returned to recovery several times and has grown as a person with each new challenge. He admits losing his 4yr old daughter, Exodus, in a tragic treadmill-cord strangulation has impacted his life and given him something to live for with his other children. The book concludes with his struggles with sobriety and maintaining a faithful relationship with his current wife, Kiki, with whom he seems to have matured into a capable, loving husband.
The story of Mike Tyson is one of the most exciting fighters to have ever boxed; however, despite his ferocity, he is oddly both very human and vulnerable. He is a man of contradictions, his story is both hilarious and simultaneously deep. He has lived an amazing journey from which few can understand, let alone relate, and given half his talent, celebrity, and fame most of us would crumble. But somehow he persists and graciously lives one day at a time. His fight now is with everyday small battles to remain in a good place with his new mission of being a good husband and father. His journey has taken him from seeking parental love, to self love, to his battles with ego and addiction, to humility and finding hope and redemption. I think people love to see a person turn their life around and root for the smaller fighter to beat the larger opponent. I think people see their own character struggles in Mike, which makes him heroic. Although he is retired from the ring, I will always be a Tyson fan rooting for him to find peace.
His book is dedicated to the outcasts or those who find themselves without hope, and leaves them with the idea that redemption and love is possible.