Boxing News

Interview: Mike Tyson

By Phil Doherty
Photos: Rey Sanchez

Mike Tyson has come full circle.

Once universally feared and reviled, “The Baddest Man on the Planet,” who infamously threatened to eat another fighter’s children, finds himself back in the public consciousness with his one-man stage show, autobiography and HBO Special “Undisputed Truth.” However, it is in his newfound role as boxing promoter for Deerfield Beach FL-based Iron Mike Promotions that Tyson truly seems at home. Tyson spent Tuesday afternoon at the brand new gym within the former Acquinity Sports headquarters catching up with his young, talented stable of fighters.

Tyson witnessed some tough training from the likes of newly-signed Erickson Lubin, the eighteen- year old whose recent signing to Iron Mike Promotions ruffled feathers with Team USA Boxing. However, it became immediately apparent Tyson was here to impart invaluable knowledge, teaching Lubin the intricacies of the bobbing style that allowed Tyson to become the youngest heavyweight champion of all time.

Indeed, even savvy pros like light welterweight brothers Anthony and Lamont Peterson listened to Tyson’s words of encouragement as they went through their intense training for a January show in their hometown of Washington DC. (Coincidentally, Lamont took on former two-time world champion Joan “Little Tyson” Guzman in three rounds of intense, pay-per-view worthy sparring.)

Tyson’s presence seemed to elevate all the assembled fighters’ efforts, each of whom knew the sacrifices their Hall of Fame promoter made of himself in and out of the ring.

Fightnews caught up with Tyson following the excellent squared circle scrimmages.

Champ, your disdain for your former promoter Don King is pretty well known and seemingly well founded. Now that you wear a promoter’s cap yourself, how do you plan to do things differently for your fighters?

Don King’s a whole different entity you know. My objective is just to make sure the fighters, um, get the best fights, the right fights and the fights that will make them look better. You know, it’s not like who wins, who wins. If it’s a competitive fight, a fight that allows him to look his best, you know we’re not looking for easy fights; we want to get the best out of our fighters.

And you can’t get the best out of him if he’s fighting a guy that’s really a stinker, that’s moving around a lot and he’s not gonna bring out the best in a fighter. My objective is just having very competitive fights. Don King’s just too involved with everything and my only objective is to keep the fights exciting. When you think about fights now, you really look at it; if everybody’s fighting their own guys then it’s pervasive what’s going to happen. You’re gonna have all these promoters only fighting their own fighters, not fighting other promoter’s fighters there’s no excitement there.

Until fighters start upping the ante, finding out who’s the best fighter on the planet, boxing’s really always gonna have a black eye and that’s why MMA is always gonna be superior to boxing because we’re not bringing the best out of our fighters, we’re not bringing the best out of our whole conglomerate as far as the boxing world’s concerned.

You have an upcoming show January 3rd, with super featherweight Argenis Mendez defending his World title against Rances Barthelemy on ESPN’s first Friday Night Fights of the New Year. During last year’s final Friday Night Fights, fans saw a reconciliation of sorts between you and former trainer and ESPN boxing analyst Teddy Atlas. Has there been any further contact between the two of you since then?

Well, Teddy’s not interested in reconciliation, I did that for me. That wasn’t necessarily to make anybody else, um, feel as if we’re friends. I just didn’t want that burden over my head. I made my amends; this is only to improve myself as a human being and as a productive person in society.

Right after that he wanted me to come to one of his charities, you know, what kind of stuff is that? You know, looking for an opportunity to benefit in some kind of way, and I really wasn’t for that, but that was just to clear my head.

You know, I was wrong in that incident, I was wrong. He could have handled it different but there was more going on back then, but I was wrong and I made my amends. That’s what I did, to work on my program and keep my side of the street clean.

Your autobiography Undisputed Truth is out now, how did it feel for you to dredge up those memories?

Not good, not good. It opened some really yucky feelings. That was the reason why I was avoiding doing the book for three years. And the reason I was using drugs to avoid those feelings. By compromising with the book it just brought those nasty feelings again and I was just very grateful that I was able to get through the feelings and make the book, allow the book to become a success.

During today’s training you were coaching the coaches and the fighters directly. How involved do you plan to be?

Right now it’s been very difficult because I’ve been all around the world and it’s very difficult to be hands on, I want to be hands on. Listen, I’m the promoter but I really want to be a trainer, you know. I guess, to really be honest with you to get this promotion really rolling I had to wear a promoter’s hat. But I want to train, because the trainer’s not going to get the recognition as the promoter but this is where I want to be.

I want to be hands on with the fighters, I’m all over, I’m in Paris, I’m in Algiers, I want to know if this guy’s in shape, I want to watch them, I want to be hands on. I wanna be in the gym every day for sixty days, you know what I mean, and see what’s gonna happen so I can have confidence just like the fighter has confidence. I want to see the work that he put in. I’m still on pins and needles when they’re fighting because I just want to be there, watch the trainers go through their process, watch the fighters get tested to their full potential before they get into the ring.

I don’t just want to be the guy who pays the bills. You know, but I’m not watching what’s really happening, like if they’re having a birthday party here I am but I haven’t actually been around for three months. Maybe that is promotions, but that’s not being a good fight man. I’m a fight man before I’m a promoter. I want to watch the company grow and be a part of making it grow, not just an established corporation. I could have just signed on with an established corporation and let them use my name, but I don’t want to do that.

What would you say to those kids back in Brownsville now, those fifteen-year old boys running the streets now who may be headed down the same road you were before you found boxing?

You know, um, this is what it really comes down to… Mike Tyson, I don’t care who you are. It even works when you’re doing it from a negative perspective, they have to find themselves a mentor. Someone they look up to but from a positive perspective. You know, you see people in the streets, from the negative, a drug dealer, a hit man, whatever it may be and they look up to him; they want to make him happy and in order to make him happy they have to descend to that level.

They have to find a guy that’s positive, that’s gonna bring out the best of them in life and look up to him and make that man happy. And if their job is to make him happy and to make him happy is for you to achieve what he achieved and that’s what Cus’s job was and that’s why I needed to find a mentor who wanted the best for me.

It’s love. And love is just the command to rise to your highest potential and that’s what we need. We need people from a positive perspective to look at us and want us to rise to the highest of our potential.

Addiction is obviously a recurring theme in your book and your one-man show, as is relapse. You’ve addressed that honestly with the media, with the world. How is your fight going with that?

You know, um, I haven’t had any urges in four months. So, I’ve been sober for what, three years before, but I had urges. So I was really white-knuckling it. I wasn’t going to meetings, I didn’t feel comfortable in my skin. And this is three years sober. But I’m not sober, because sober is sober thinking, not sober acting. Thinking, you have to think sober. This is the first time in my life I’ve felt comfortable in my own skin since I’ve been in the program since ‘ninety seven, ‘ninety eight. But when you feel urges, I can’t fight my urges. When I feel urges I’m gonna react to them. I’m not gonna say I’m gonna fight them, I’m gonna go to a meeting. I’m not gonna go to a meeting. I’m not gonna call somebody up when I have urges. People don’t do that when they have urges.

They react to their urges.

What’s your take on the current undisputed pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr. whose style is diametrically opposed to what yours was when you were the champ, yet he’s commanding most of the big money in the sport.

You know I’ve made comments to that. First comment is when I was king I reigned in my way and it was all about being an aggressive action-packed fighter. Now he’s reigning, he’s the champion pound-for-pound and people want to see him, so people try to fight the way he fights thinking they’re gonna make his money and be as successful he is, like Broner.

The reason why Floyd makes so much money now is we live in such a dynamic situation where you’re never going to see two black fighters make the money like me and Holmes or me and Spinks, it’s not gonna work. No, we don’t have that many fans in the African-American community that’s gonna draw that power. No black fighters that is. So he makes his money normally fighting guys from other areas and different races, where they come in hordes to support their guy, even though he’s gonna lose they want to show their national support. And that’s why people come, basically to see him lose. You understand that right? And that’s how he’s become so successful. But he’s a great fighter, I don’t want to take that away. But these are the essentials of why he’s so successful working in that way.

You know, my era’s all about being sensational, dynamic. His is about being, I guess, sophisticated. Watching him box, maybe for a boxing fan is amusing to watch his successful style. Very unique, dexterous movements and all that stuff but it’s two different eras so I don’t judge from that perspective. I reigned in my era, he reigns in his era.

We’re both successful.

What do you like about the sport now that you’re a direct participant again and what would you like to see change?

Well I don’t like much about it these days and I think when it becomes more entertaining like MMA pretty much, when we have more to give and not take as much. Because boxing takes much more than it actually gives. We need more intermission activities between fights, more entertainment coming on, maybe raffles, anything til the next fight is taking place. You know we need to make show business out of boxing . And you know boxing is the only business where everything is not totally on the table. There’s always stuff under the table going on that we don’t know about. Any other business, everything’s on the table in the contract except boxing. It’s the only one in the world, only business in the world and I’m one of the advocates who believe government should get involved in boxing. Everyone could get their fair share and it would be black and white.

Boxing is never black and white, it’s psychedelic colors. We don’t know what color we’re gonna get, until we get government control of boxing, it’s gonna be a needle in a haystack mentality.

It’s gonna be lip service.

Fighters should be unionized, with medical benefits. Listen, most fighters come from cesspools. Besides Muhammad Ali and the Klitschko brothers, most fighters come from single parent homes. Most come from homes where their father was a fighter, who doesn’t have any money anymore so he’s teaching his son the trade.

Hopefully he can make it, this is all we know. We’re slum dwellers. No sport is like that. Every sport is pretty much scholastic. We’re the only one that has slum dwellers, if we’re really that good, that get the opportunity to become kings and queens.

But it’s less than one percent.

* * *

Tyson’s odds have always been slim, yet he continues to beat them…round after round.

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