“God lets everything happen for a reason. It’s all a learning process, and you have to go from one level to another.”Mike Tyson
Yesterday I went to Dubai to see Mike Tyson in his ‘Undisputed Truth’ one-man show at the Dubai World Trade centre. My expectations were pretty low to be honest, but the other half was very keen to go (no dragging him to this event) and I like to see different things, so why not?
In the lead up to the show, we have been watching the TV documentary series ‘Being Mike Tyson’ which already gave me an insight into parts of his life. Tyson is not the most eloquent of speakers, not sure if it’s a speech impediment, too many blows to the head, lack of education or a combination of all three but that combined with the speed in which is speaks was not helping my expectation level for the live event. He confessed to having a vocal coach to help him to speak better English and annunciate his words. The questions I really wanted answered was ‘Why did he have that infamous tattoo etched on his face?’ and “Why did he bite Evander Holyfield’s ear during their fight?”now answers to both these questions would surely come up in this, his no holds soul bared exposure.
The show, directed by oscar nominee Spike Lee (he of Malcolm X fame, among many others) features Tyson talking openly and honestly about his life against a backdrop of stills and videos from his troubled existence. This blow-by-blow account (see what I did there?) from his humble beginnings growing up in one of the roughest neighbourhoods in Brooklyn, New York to the riches and spoils of the famous and renowned undisputed Heavyweight boxing champion of the world, to a convicted felon, then down and out in the depths of bankruptcy to the man he is today, trying to live a better and more honest life, quite a journey is an understatement.
In an interview with Time Out Abu Dhabi asking what people can expect from his one-man show, Tyson answered “I don’t know what to expect. I don’t rate it. People say its funny – it’s not meant to be funny. People think it’s supposed to be a stand-up comedy show – it’s not meant to be that. It’s just me explaining my life as I remember it.”
Tyson came on to the strains of Kayne West/Jay Z’s ‘Niggas in Paris’ introducing himself initially sat on a low stool, as the applause died down, he offered up in advance that the show would contain profanity (I was instantly impressed that he used such a long word), lots of profanity and anyone of a sensitive nature should leave right then and there, this was mainly directed at the local VVIPs seated on front row of posh white leather couches. He then listed some of the expected profanities to reels of laughter. He started his story from the beginning, from his birth and extremely troubled childhood in the ghetto, against a large photo of his mother, a semi-functioning alcoholic, on the screen behind him, his only photo of her and he explained he had no photos of him as a young child or them together, really sincere and sad stuff. The man who he believed was his father was not the man named Tyson on his birth certificate. A childhood beset with difficulties in Brownsville ensued with Tyson bullied and led into violent back street fighting, robbing sprees, drugs and associates coming and going in and out of life as either incasarated or killed.
The young Tyson was a tough cookie which was it seemed to be the only way to survive, even trying cocaine by the age of twelve (he was arrested 38 times by the age of 13). Tyson’s first street fight was against an older kid, the local bully who snapped one of his beloved pigeons necks right in front of him, he explained how ‘he saw red’ and beat him to a pulp! He was eventually detained for all his misdemeanours in the Tryon School for Boys Juvenile Detention centre, where his life changed after meeting counsellor and former boxer Bobby Stewart and a visit from boxing legend Muhammad Ali.
Locking him up did him a favour as it turned out as Stewart introduced him to the boxing coach Cus D’Amato who took him under his wing, put a roof over his head after he was paroled and become his legal guardian when Tyson’s mother died when Tyson was just sixteen. Boxing gave him his first real purpose in life, something to work towards and he became an outstanding fighter, but never graduated from high school so instead D’Amato also helped teach him to read and write and for all intense an purposes saved his life from an even darker path. He later exhumed his mother’s body, when he had money and gave her a proper burial and the largest gravestone in the cemetery, giving his sister the same honour when she tragically died at the age of twenty-five.
He talked about being rich, ridiculously rich not Arab rich, he said to the front row but nigger rich (his words not mine!) One of my favourite bits was when he talked about his opponent Mitch Green, who he defeated in the ring. He acted out on stage their later post ring encounter, in he played both himself and Green donning an afro wig, really hilarious stuff. Tyson was in ‘Dapper Dans’ in Harlem at 4.30am picking up his custom-made $800 white leather jacket inscribed with “Don’t Believe The Hype” on it (‘What was I thinking?’ to the audience). Green found out, came in and started on him, spaced out on some drugs, they tussled and Tyson fractured his hand and injuries he inflicted on Green were not so funny and made the headlines the next day as big, bad Mike strikes again! Green broke the mirror off Tyson’s yellow Rolls Royce and Iron Mike ended up on an assault charge. His hand injury caused his prearranged fight with Frank Bruno to be delayed.
He was straightforward in his account, touching on his ill-fated marriage to Robin Givens, with the track ‘Golddigger’ playing in the background! Their volatile relationship cost him dearly both in hard cash and bad publicity. Givens and her mother who he referred to as ‘Ruthless Ruth’ fleeced him for a $5 million mansion, $10 million cashed into an account and a further $10 million on their divorce after the omittance of a pre-nup, an expensive eight month marriage. He joked that their divorce was finalised on Valentines Day, more like Valentines Day Massacre he said! A very funny anecdote to this part of the story was when Givens turned up to their house pre-divorce with a young unknown Brad Pitt in tow, who Tyson remarked positively pooped (he used a slightly different word) himself at the sight of the undefeated heavyweight champion waiting at the house and he relived the story with Pitt begging him not to hit his face, his moneymaker. He laughed how things have changed, Pitt is now the big star with the riches of a celebrity career and maybe he would like to adopt Tyson and that Givens is still trying to make money and a career from their short-lived liaison.
The peak of his boxing career was the knock out of the previously undefeated Michael Spinks after just ninety-one seconds in the first round and Spinks never fought professionally again. Tyson spoke of his love for fast food and how he used to push people out the way to get to the front of queues in Burger King and MacDonald’s, berating anyone that stood in his way and then would pay for all the queues food as way of an apology! He said he was full of himself, too rich and directionless after parting ways with long time trainer Kevin Rooney (been with Tyson since the D’Amato days) and overweight. It was at this time that the most feared boxer in professional boxing suffered his first defeat, in what has been described as one of the most shocking upsets in modern sporting history, he went into a fight physically and mentally unprepared and lost his heavyweight belts to James ‘Buster’ Douglas in their Tokyo encounter. He showed the video of knocking Douglas down in the eighth round and how the slow count given by the referee gave his opponent time to recover and he went on to defeat Tyson in the tenth round.
Tyson talked about his conviction in 1992 of raping 18-year-old Desiree Washington for which he was sentenced to six years in prison but was released after serving three years. During this spell of imprisonment (there have been more convictions since for other crimes) he converted to Islam, allegedly finding inner peace. Now I was in the toilet (TMI, sorry) when he talked about the rape and how Washington, who had already been accused of a false rape accusation, had come to his hotel room at 2am. Certainly his reputation didn’t help the verdict and he said that he felt he claimed moral victory years later when the San Francisco DA involved with the case came to one of the ‘Undisputed Truth’ shows with his friends and family, why would he do that he if he thought he was guilty?
His much publicised feud with boxing promoter Don King is obviously still raw. Tyson spoke of how King defrauded and cheated him of millions of dollars over a decade and that King’s team of lawyers and accountants were responsible for completely fleecing him. His trusting and gullible nature meant he signed over his life and later when his finances were investigated by his own accountants, the truth was outed after auditing showed the discrepancies. He was under King’s management when he fought the much publicised Holyfield bout where he bit both his opponents ears which made headline news throughout the world and had his boxing licence rescinded in 1997. In his defence he said in their first fight, Holyfield head butted him consistently without penalty from the referee so in their second fight, the head butting was a point of contention. The fight was stopped in the third round after he bit both Holyfield’s ears. He spoke of how him and Holyfield have moved on and are now friends and how he supported his BBQ sauce business, but he wished he had some that day as the ears tasted like ‘arse’!
Tyson has been reported saying of his former manager King, “He is a wretched, slimy, reptilian motherf**ker. This is supposed to be my ‘black brother’, right? He’s just a bad man, a real bad man. He would kill his own mother for a dollar. He’s ruthless, he’s deplorable, he’s greedy… and he doesn’t know how to love anybody.” He sued King for $100 million but settled out of court for $14 million.
He likes his tattoo, it’s as simple as that he said, he went to the parlour wanting to get hearts tattooed on his face but the artist talked him out of that, so opted for the Maori design that he is now famous for and adorns his merchandise.
I have to say that Tyson gave a great performance, he was funny, he danced, he even sang and he was honest, brutally honest, he fessed up to some of his mistakes (there have been a lot), poked fun at himself (there was a lot of ‘What was I thinking guys’) and showed his emotional side, sharing the details of the death of his daughter in 2009, one of his eight children (from several mothers), when she was just four years old. The screen was filled with a photo of an angelic little girl whose life was cut short in a tragic accident at her mother’s home, he caught his breath as he explained that by the time he travelled to Phoenix from another state, she was already brain-dead and how no parent should ever have to join the bereaved parent club, that the order of death was wrong, heart wrenching stuff indeed. He talked about his regrets, as a poor mainly absent father to his older children and how he has tried to rebuild those relationships as best he can, how he is blessed now to have his two younger children now with his third wife Kiki and some normality.