Mike Tyson’s life has been a well-documented roller coaster ride. A difficult childhood, then the meeting with legendary trainer Cus D’Amato that changed everything for him. World champion at the age of 20. Then three years in prison for a rape conviction that he has always contested. When he came out of jail, he had about 400 million dollars in the bank.
Within a few years, it was gone, and he declared bankruptcy, mainly due to his many addictions and reckless spending. He had hit rock-bottom, sifting his way through a mountain of debt, when, seemingly out of nowhere, he started an acting career and the comeback began.
Now 54, Mike Tyson has changed. While he returns to the ring after a 15-year hiatus on Saturday to fight Roy Jones Jr, he is also a solid actor, does one-man shows on stage and has a cartoon bearing his name on TV. As well as running his weekly Hotboxin’ podcast, he’s also the owner of the Tyson Ranch, a 40-acre estate 100kms north of Los Angeles that specialises in the growth of cannabis. In fact, having branched out into so many different projects it’s easy to ask: who is Mike Tyson in 2020?
Arriving at his house early on a cold but bright day, I was welcomed by his very friendly wife Kiki. By all accounts, she has played a crucial part in his reinvention and was instrumental in setting up this exclusive meeting with him for The Sportsman. Their large, luxurious house sits on the hills above Newport Beach in a quiet, gated community. He is as professional as during his boxing days, displaying an intensity and charisma equal to those of the biggest movie stars.
Mike invites me to his living room to chat. We sit on his sofa, in front of the TV. “Ask anything you want,” he insists.
Ok, you wrote one of the best sporting autobiographies of all time ‘Undisputed Truth’ – is there any more of the Mike Tyson story to tell?
“I don’t think so. Unless something miraculous happens. But you never know. The more we learn about ourselves, the more we learn about life. Life is pretty interesting. We’re born not knowing, we die not knowing where we came from. But our life prepares us for our death. We still don’t know sh*t about it, but when we get to a certain age, we’re not scared of dying no more, like it was when we were young.”
Was death on your mind a lot back then? You were doing a dangerous job...
I knew there was a possibility that I could die during training, during a fight. I knew that. But I wasn’t scared, because I thought if anybody was going to die, I would do the killing. That self-confidence was a survival mechanism. But now, from my experience, from what I believe, the more I know about not existing, the more willing I am to die.
You look forward to death?
Yeah. I don’t fear it. Living might be more complicated than dying to me. The belief of it. I don’t know if it’s true. Because living takes a lot of courage. Without the courage, you can’t handle living. Living is a journey; living is a struggle. People have everything and they still can’t do it, they struggle. We take ourselves too seriously. We think we’re somebody. Who the fu*k? We’re nothing! We come from sh*t; we think we’re special! Fame is sh*t.
And there was a time in your life when obviously all everybody did was tell you that you were special...
You find out you’re not. You’re capable of going to jail, you’re capable of dying, you’re capable of being mistreated. I don’t really expect bad things to happen to me, but when they do happen to me, I understand it and am able to handle it. I’ve handled bad stuff before, that’s been my life. So I don’t trip over bad things. I know shit happens. When bad things happen, I will be still striving to do something. I won’t be discouraged.
Do you feel there’s still a fight going on within yourself?
Maybe. I get some bouts of it now and then. But not like before, when I was fighting all day!
Tell me a bit about the Tyson Ranch. How did this all start?
I don’t know how it started, but it made good sense, and we’re here now [points around his house in Newport Beach].
Cannabis is still illegal in Britain of course…
That’s ridiculous! Human beings are ridiculous! Their thinking is ridiculous. Every animal knows their purpose, human beings live to be one hundred and don’t know! Why are we so stupid? And they gave us the power to run this place… why don’t we let animals run this place? Actually, they do run it.
Do you think there will be a time when cannabis becomes legal across all of America’s fifty states?
God willing! People grow it. It’s part of the universe.
Boxing can give a lot, but it also takes a lot. When you look back, what did boxing mean to Mike Tyson?
This is the big school! There’s a lot of teaching. It’s only by teaching that you start to learn. You can’t learn only by listening, you learn by teaching. Even though you know nothing. And the more you teach, the more you know you know nothing. You’re not wasting time when you’re teaching.
The 80s Tyson was very flamboyant. Do you still have a wardrobe full of huge fur coats and sneakers?
The fur coats, no. I don’t do that anymore, I love animals. The sneakers, yes. I like nice things. I’m a simple guy. I’ll wear some suits now and then, and my suits are pretty expensive.
Here at The Sportsman we are big fans of your Hotboxin’ podcast. You had Tyson Fury on as a guest recently…
I like him a lot. I take pride that he’s named after me. I really appreciate that. I was really grateful and humbled when I first learned he was named after me.
How about his fighting style?
It does well for him. I think it’s good.
Tyson Fury is once again heavyweight WBC champion. How do you view the calibre of the modern British fighters like Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua?
They’re in the best shape possible to be in and getting the most out of this sport as they can.
Is there a danger they are too nice and respectful for the fight game?
No, I don’t think so. Not as far as attitude and will to win. These guys are really desperate to win.
Wilder has asked for an immediate rematch. Do agree with that decision or do you think he should take a year out to regroup?
He has to go right back in, right away. Get yourself healthy, your head right, and get back in the ring.
You were at the Fury / Wilder 2 fight: do you still get a buzz from those big fights?
Yes, but I don’t want to be in a ring fighting no more!
You’re obviously a popular attendee; are you a “selfie with everybody” type of celebrity?
Not really. A little bit, but I’m not gonna play hard to get! [laughs] That’s why I started doing this stuff, because I love being involved in that world.
You were in the ring being honoured as boxing royalty alongside Evader Holyfield and Lennox Lewis before the fight. What did you guys talk about?
Nothing. They talked a bit, we hugged each other, and everyone went their separate ways. I don’t see nobody. I’m with my wife all the time! I’m with my family. That world is no longer part of my life. I’m more of a family man now. This is my life right here [he gestures with his arms pointing to his house’s living room]. I do work with it, for example with my podcast, but it’s nothing like before.
The Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua fight looks set to be the biggest pay per view of all time. Who wins that fight?
I don’t know, but I’d like to see that happen, though. That’d be a great money fight too!
Floyd Mayweather insists he’s not fighting boxers anymore because he has nothing to prove – do you feel boxers and UFC fighters should compete against each other, or does it damage the integrity of both sports?
I think that’s pretty awesome! He was the first to do that. I like that. It’s going to happen more, absolutely. I don’t know how well we would’ve done fighting them - it always depends on under which rules you’re fighting.
Is there anything you think is missing from the world of boxing today?
Boxing is such an enigma, as a sport. This is what really matters: in two hundred years from now, there will probably only be five fighters that people will remember. That’s what it’s all about. It’s not about having money, about becoming rich. That they won’t stop mentioning your name until the planet’s disintegrated: that’s what this is really about. People are stating their names in the art of pugilist, fisticuff, combat, fighting. I like the word “fighting”. That’s not a politically correct word in this field anymore. Fighting is not cool, now. It can conjure up negative stuff, but not if you use it in a spiritual perspective. Fighting is spiritual, but you just can’t see the spiritual in it because it’s mostly dominated by the physical aspect. We want to be Achilles in our own mind. The king of all the fighters.
But Achilles had one major weakness of course…
We all have weaknesses. He probably had other weaknesses, but we were only told of one. That’s actually on my bucket list: Before I die I want to go to Achilles’ grave in Greece.
Finally, your past troubles have been well documented. What advice would you give to people who have been down, on how to get back up?
You can change your mind anytime you want. You could be who you want anytime you want. You could say, right now, “I want to be in entertainment” – become that person! Work with that. Get the lifestyle. I used to have the lifestyle of a hustler, a player, a cool guy. Now I have the lifestyle of a working man. I go to work, I come back home grateful to have children. I’m not even supposed to live in a house like this. I’m very grateful.
This article first appeared in The Sportsman on 16/03/20