Mike Tyson is one of the most conflicted entertainers in recent memory. From escaping the streets of Brooklyn to becoming the youngest heavyweight champion to doing three years for a crime he says he didn’t commit to returning to the ring to going bankrupt to acting. Very few have been able to resurrect their careers like he has. Iron Mike has left an undeniable mark on American culture. He’s a product of our failed justice system. He’s a product of our ugly racial history. He’s a product of America. Although he never had the career Muhammad Ali had inside or outside of the ring, Tyson will forever be the most recognizable boxer since. And he did it all with his personality. A personality that could be classified as sociopathic at one point. However, in recent years Mike has turned himself into a lovable guy. From his appearance in Hangover to his new one-man show, Undisputed Truth, Tyson is connecting with another generation in a different way. He’s no longer that scary black man that spouted all types of foul shit on camera. He’s more reserved now, more enjoyable in interviews, and is happy to be where he’s at after all that he's been through.
A little context for the interview you’re about to read. I was invited down by his people to check out his one-man show at Caesar’s Palace in Atlantic City, N.J. I had already seen it on HBO and enjoyed the hell out of it. I laughed, I cried, and I wasn’t sure what to expect seeing it again. Mike held the audience in the palm of his hand and it was beautiful. He commanded the stage, made a couple white people feel uncomfortable, and even threw in some adlibs. One part that stood out was when he stopped everything and pointed out Robin Givens’ mom scheming on him from the back seat of a car; her eyes piercing through Tyson’s soul (and pockets) as he and her daughter posed for a picture. The show was even better live and I got a chance to meet him backstage, so that made my year. I thought my experience was done there. But little did I know my affection for Iron Mike would strengthen on my cab ride back to my apartment in Jersey City.
The cab driver and I were making small talk and I told him I was a writer. So naturally, he asks if I could help him with his “story.” I laughed it off, like: "whatever, sure." He then proceeded to tell me that he had beat Stage 4 of Hodgkin’s lymphoma and has been competing in the Golden Gloves and when I mentioned Tyson’s name his eyes lit up and he said, “he and Muhammad Ali are the reasons why I love to box.” Only a personality like Tyson can allow two guys from opposite sides of the globe with different backgrounds to connect. His name’s Eradzh Sattorov and he immigrated by himself from Tajikistan when he was 20 years old in search of a better life. Then a year later he felt a pain in his back that turned out to be cancer. Alone without family or friends, Eradzh dealt with chemotherapy for a year often riding the train back from his sessions alone. The Daily News wrote about him and he’s currently working on his life story so he can give people fighting cancer power, hope, and a little inspiration. Going pro isn't important to him. Boxing teaches him how to keep fighting and never give up no matter how many times he hits the ground.
I fell in love with Mike Tyson again that day and Eradzh showed me that my problems are small. Sometimes you need to be made aware of the battles other people have fought to bring your life into perspective. Check out our interview with Mike below as we talk Undisputed, his new journey into the world of boxing promotions, and Floyd vs. Manny.
God, I was poor. My mother was an addict. My father was a pimp. I would feel sorry for myself. I just figured who else is better to portray Mike Tyson? That’s how I get by. Because if I talked about my past issues I wouldn’t last five minutes. I’d start crying.
How does it feel putting your life out there in front of a live audience?
Man, I don’t look at it like that. I just look at it like I’m onstage to entertain, which I love to do. I’m very grateful to the fans for accepting me with open arms. This is just a part of my life that I never knew would have a chance to exist. I’m very grateful for the situation.
Has it helped you deal with your past issues?
No way. I don’t look at it from that perspective. I look at it from an entertainment perspective. If I did it from that dynamic I’d be onstage crying. I couldn’t do that. I have to be very objective because if I’m not objective I start feeling sorry for myself. God, I was poor. My mother was an addict. My father was a pimp. I would feel sorry for myself. I just figured who else is better to portray Mike Tyson? That’s how I get by. Because if I went it did it talking about my past issues I wouldn’t last five minutes. I’d start crying. Start feeling sorry for myself. No way I could do that.
I mean your life has always been in the public eye anyway. So it’s like you’re kind of used to that already.
Absolutely. But doing the book was so much different because I had to be real. I had to tell the guys I did this and that. And it didn’t come out complimentary but this is just what it was. This is just who I am and this is just how I evolved to who I am now.
The book and the show are pretty honest. I kind of knew your story already because I followed it my whole life, but it was refreshing to see you rolling with the punches like you always do.
You have to always acknowledge your flaws because in real life, even though my flaws are embarrassing, my flaws are the only purpose that I’ve achieved things. The only reason I’ve accomplished anything good in life is because of my flaws, in spite of my flaws, not because I didn’t have any. I’m pretty proud of my flaws. My flaws made me ascend to very high places.
You and Spike Lee have a great relationship together. Do you guys have any other plans besides Undisputed?
I have no idea. Spike looks like he just shot another movie. I forget what he’s doing. I’m going to start producing my own shows, my stages shows, TV, and movies. Iron Mike is just going to do his own thing from now on.
I remember Spike was trying to develop a show with HBO called The Bricks that was loosely based on your life.
Yeah, yeah. But something happened. I didn’t like it. But Tobey Maguire and his partner are contemplating doing one of my life stories. We’ll see what happens. Me and my wife are very interested in working with the people who want to invest in us, and probably do it ourselves.
You’re going to start touring the world now with this show, right?
Yes. It’s took on a life of its own. I’d never think people wanted to see it—especially after the thing on HBO—but as soon as it appeared on HBO, people wanted to see more. Every other week, other countries are signing up. The Netherlands is signing on. Russia is signing on. And they don’t understand English. India and all these countries. I’m looking forward to it.
The only reason I’ve accomplished anything good in life is because of my flaws, in spite of my flaws, not because I didn’t have any. I’m pretty proud of my flaws. My flaws made me ascend to very high places.
During the show you were talking about chilling with Eddie and Charlie Murphy and Rick James. What’s the fondest memory of Rick James you had, besides the Silver Spoon story you referenced during the HBO broadcast?
Oh, man! Rick is just an amazing guy. You’d never think a guy that has those types of issues with drugs would have such an impossibly beautiful heart. How did these guys who were so reckless and crazy possess such beautiful hearts? He’s just a beautiful man. A beautiful man. Nobody would ever get to touch, or get to find out because of all of that yucky stuff that’s just suppressing it. What a beautiful heart he had. Very loving, very conscious of people’s feelings. Listen, Rick don’t play around. Rick is a serious guy. I really loved Rick. I can’t even say the story, man [Laughs.]
What’s one thing that Cus (D’Amato) told you that you’ll never forget?
Never give up. Don’t care if you lose your legs, arms, as long as you’re breathing, your heart’s pumping, never give up.
Yep, good time. I’m having a good time. We’re trying to eventually work a deal out with Fox Sports. It’s going to be a beautiful thing. We’re going to keep our boxers active and constantly fighting so they can continue to improve in life and develop fighters. And that’s what I’m looking forward to doing.
Watching 50 succeed really made me want to be involved and participate in promoting fights. I look up to him in that perspective. I know it sounds weird. But in that perspective I look up to him.
You have a lot of knowledge dealing with the likes of Don King.
So now you’re following in the footsteps of Golden Boy. What’s it feel like to finally see the boxers taking the promoting side into their own hands now?
I think that’s pretty awesome. I watched 50 Cent—I never thought about promoting until somebody brought the deal to me—but what really got me was when I saw 50 Cent promote a boxing show. And it was a good show too. That kind of inspired me. That really made me say “This is what I really want to do.” Watching 50 succeed really made me want to be involved and participate in promoting fights. I look up to him in that perspective. I know it sounds weird. But in that perspective I look up to him.
So who do you think is the next big star?
There’s a bunch of guys out there that are great fighters, but the fact is they don’t have the notoriety. Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao are the two biggest fighters in the world. Even though Manny Pacquiao’s been beaten before, you don’t even know the guy who beat him unless you’re a diehard fight guy. They’re just massive personalities and they have massive appeal. Those are the two biggest guys in boxing. If you go to the average person and ask them, “What boxers do you know?” They know Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather. That’s all.
Do you still want to see that fight?
Absolutely, it would be an amazing fight.
After those guys fight—hopefully—or they retire, what do you think boxing needs to do to stay relevant?
When those guys retire boxing is going to open up a new floodgate. It’s just that these guys are so supreme that they can’t open; the floodgate won’t work unless these guys are gone. And then people can take notice to all these other sensational boxers. That’s crazy to say that, right? Timothy Bradley, who is a sensational boxer and he beat Pacquiao, but he doesn't necessarily have the personality to be "the guy."
Exactly. He’s a fun boxer to watch. It’s like wrestling a little bit. You have to have that personality to really stand out.
Absolutely. Like these guys right now. They’re all great boxers. But listen, fucking Hulk Hogan is a monster. His notoriety. Ain’t that true? Everybody says Hulk Hogan’s still that man. His personality is just so big. He’s just fuckin’ bam! It’s just too big. When he (Hogan) gets into a fight with his wife it’s all over the news. The Rock is a big massive star but he ain’t Hulk Hogan. Ain’t that crazy?
And Ali even said he took a lot of his strategy from wrestling.
Yeah, Gorgeous George.
Did you do the same thing? How did you market yourself?
Like a karate movie. In karate movies a lot of those guys are arrogant “How dare you challenge me.” Like that [Laughs.] “Do you know who I am? I’m the best fighter around.”
You still feel that way? That you’re unstoppable?
Listen, I’m very conscious of my mortality. But when I’m on a good roll man, I feel invincible.
Right now you’re back on top, Mike.
It just looks that way. Cus used to always say, “Some people just look like gods. There’s only one God. But sometimes when they look good they look like god.” It’s just an illusion.
Another kid, he’s a decent boxer but I like his personality, Peter “Kid Chocolate,” Quillin.
Oh, man, listen! Quillin, he’s a middleweight, right? Listen, I met him on a few occasions. He has to stay active. I don’t know if he’s active enough but if I had him he’d be fighting twice a month. You got to keep him active. They get better when they’re active. The more fights they have, the more comfortable they get fighting, the better they are. These guys just don’t fight enough. I fought 15 times in one year.
He has a similar story to you. He said that you were his favorite boxer growing up.
Wow. I never knew that.
He grew up in Grand Rapids, Mich. and in Brooklyn and he was always one of those guys that said dealers used to call him to beat people up, and that’s how he knew he could fight. He hits hard and he has a good personality too.
Holy moly, If I had a fighter like that he’d be fighting constantly. Twice a month. Three times if I could.
Listen, I’m very conscious of my mortality. But when I’m on a good roll, man, I feel invincible.
Who’s on your roster?
Erickson Lubin who’s an outstanding amateur fighter. I got Dennis Caldazar. I've got quite a few up and coming fighters.
There’s a lot of talk about Floyd—who he fought, who he didn’t fight—where would you rank Floyd amongst the greats?
He’s ranked pretty high. He’s the best fighter of his era. I know he called himself “The Greatest Fighter of All-Time,” but in all actuality if he wants to call himself that, remember that Julio Cesar Chavez won 89 fights before he lost. So Chavez could be considered the greatest. You know what I mean? If Floyd keeps saying it's because he’s undefeated, if he challenges that, then he can be considered the greatest fighter of all-time.
If he gets 85-87 fights without losing, hey, that’s the man then. But that's very difficult. I don’t care how many titles you won. I don’t care how undefeated you are. Go 89-0. 87-0. Just do that. Do that. Floyd is a great fighter, a hell of a fighter. Chavez went 87-0. Very few people would have the audacity to say they’re greater than him if he had 87 fights without a defeat. That’s just being honest. That’s just keeping it real. And not letting your ego get out of fuckin’ whack.
So what’s next for you man? Once the tour’s over, and all that stuff, what are your plans for the future?
I’m just going to continue what I’m doing, man. Not breaking this momentum and continue to produce my own stuff. Just keep working, staying busy. Activity.
Yeah, man. Staying out of trouble.
Hey it all comes with the party. All of that stuff works together. Staying out of trouble, being busy, all that stuff comes together when success is involved.
Are we going to see more acting from you?
Hey, absolutely man. It’s going to be a full-time job.