Mike Tyson's second act

Boxing legend Mike Tyson at the MGM Grand hotel in Las Vegas, Nev., March 23, 2012. (LYLE...

Boxing legend Mike Tyson at the MGM Grand hotel in Las Vegas, Nev., March 23, 2012. (LYLE ASPINALL/QMI Agency)

STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:58 PM ET

LAS VEGAS - When director Todd Phillips approached Mike Tyson about appearing in a comedy he was putting together a few years back, the Hollywood big shot promised the former world heavyweight champion he wouldn’t regret signing on to the project.

“He said this was going to be the biggest thing,” says Tyson, sitting in a suite at the MGM Grand Hotel.

Tyson wasn’t so sure. At the time of filming, in 2009, he was still dealing with drug issues, was about 100 pounds overweight and not feeling healthy at all. But he went through the process and the rest, as they say, is history. The Hangover was a huge hit and opened up a new career — a new life, even — for Tyson.

“The movie comes out,” Tyson says. “I’m coming out of a restaurant, and an SUV (pulls over). These kids get out, white kids, and go crazy on me. The guy I’m with says, ‘Mike, we’ve got something here. I don’t know what it is, but we’ve got something here.’ And it was a rap ever since.”

Mike Tyson. Former world heavyweight champion, ex-con and all-around bad ass, now Mr. Showbiz. And not a heavy. Well, not really. Another one of the great American second acts.

That act continues April 13-18 at the Hollywood Theatre at the MGM Grand when he presents his one-man show, Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth — Live on Stage.

“That’s what they say, there’s no business like show business,” Tyson, 45, says with a smile. “I think it’s fantastic and I’m just very grateful that I get an opportunity to do this.”

The Undisputed Truth will feature Iron Mike telling his life story, warts and all, “peeling back layers of tragedy and public turmoil while unfolding his tale of triumph and survival” in a theatrical setting. At least, that’s what the official release promises.

For Tyson, life has always been a show, from the time he was running the streets of Brooklyn, rolling people for petty cash and trying to be the toughest kid in the neighbourhood — he had been arrested 38 times by age 13 — to becoming a professional boxer under the late Cus D’Amato. Most of his life, he says, has been an act, so a one-man show isn’t a big stretch.

“At one time of my life, I took myself too serious, I wanted to be a bad ass because I was such ... well, when I was a young kid I used to think I was a coward and stuff and I always wanted to give the impression that I was the meanest and roughest and baddest son of a gun in the world,” he says. “And that’s just a person showing his insecurity. He has to show that he’s a tough guy.

“I was a (scared) little boy, and I wanted people to know that I existed.

“It’s funny, the whole world knew I existed (after I started boxing), but in my mind I still think nobody knew I existed. I think ... I (wanted) to hurt myself because of things I’ve done to people ... what I’ve done to other human beings.

“Maybe I became this humanitarian all of a sudden. I don’t know. It feels weird.”

That insecurity, he says, continued throughout his boxing career, even when he was casting heavyweights aside like yesterday’s trash. Tyson set the boxing world on fire after turning pro March 6, 1985. His first 19 fights were all wins via knockout, 12 in the first round. No boxer in history began his career with such ferocity and power. Tyson was the hottest name on the heavyweight scene since Muhammad Ali. Eventually, he would become the undisputed heavyweight title of the world and was the youngest boxer to win the WBC, WBA and IBF heavyweight crowns.

But as he became famous, and made a king’s ransom, his life began to unravel — in spectacular fashion.

The apex was a rape conviction in 1992, which resulted in a six-year prison sentence. He served three years and the self-destructive behaviour continued afterward. On June 28, 1997, trying to win back his WBA title, Tyson was disqualified for biting off a piece of Evander Holyfield’s right ear. Once the most feared man on the planet, Tyson was a shadow of his former self. Tyson fought for the world title once more, suffering an eighth-round KO at the hands of former Canadian Olympian Lennox Lewis on June 8, 2002. He had three more fights, losing his last two against opponents he would have breezed through in earlier times.

In 2003, after various run-ins with the law, Iron Mike declared bankruptcy, despite having made $300 million in ring earnings.

Only during the past couple of years, after he met his present wife, Lakiha Spicer, has his life come together

He’s happily married with seven kids (his four-year-old daughter Exodus died in a household accident in 2009) and is determined to keep it together, to stay away from drugs and booze and women and remain a good husband and father, even if his track record suggests otherwise.

“I wanted to do it, but I didn’t know how to,” he says of the newfound domesticity he finally has embraced. “I think I’m on the path to doing it. I’m not saying I’ve got it. But I know what I don’t want to do.

“You know what I know how to do real well? I know how to destroy a marriage. I know how to make people dislike me. I know how to do that stuff. But I don’t know how to endure a relationship until the end of time, until we die together. I don’t know how to handle my kids, and discipline my kids the proper way, sometimes. But those are the things I want to know how to do.”

He seems sincere and it’s hard to believe the reserved, middle-aged dude relaxing on the couch, talking to a sports writer — a fraternity he once described as a group of “dysfunctional derelicts” — is the same guy who years ago advised a group of his writer pals: “I wish that you guys had children so I could kick them in the fucking head or stomp on their testicles so you could feel my pain.”

Now Tyson seems anything but a man who’d want to kick anybody in the head — although, past the smiles and grace, there’s still a hint of internal turmoil. Tyson admits that’s true.

He’s excited about his show and his new life, but he confesses he’s also afraid of success, that he doesn’t deserve it. It’s like Ebenezer Scrooge after the visits from the three spirits. It’s like he feels deep inside he doesn’t deserve to be so happy.

“That’s just how I think,” he says. “I’m scared about success but I want it. I don’t understand the relationship I have with it.

“But I’m very grateful. You never know how long stuff like this lasts, so while it lasts, I’m just enjoying it. I’m not looking to get rich or anything.

“I’m always apprehensive about the shows and stuff. Apprehensive, but really excited for the challenge. I want to do well. I just enjoy entertaining people, probably started from boxing.”

Despite his past rage, Tyson says he enjoyed the entertainment part of being the heavyweight champ, including his sometimes outlandish press conferences.

“The glory business,” he calls it.

“As I advanced in fighting and my idiosyncrasies and my knowledge of the art of fighting advanced, I started thinking, ‘I’m no longer Joe Louis, I’m no longer Jack Dempsey, I’m Alexander now. I’m Achilles now. I’m going to reign with gods,’ ” Tyson says, scoffing at his former self.

“And that’s just where you go, when you take this all the way to the depths of this thing. You think about the founders of the art of fighting, and the art of glory, and all these guys who gave us glory. And we think about these guys — Atlas, Samson, Goliath, whoever. And those guys, all you think about is their glory. You think about Homer and The Iliad ... You start reading about that stuff.

“And that’s like the journey me and Cus went on, full of great treasures and willing to decimate anyone that stands in our way. Yeah, that’s just how it was. A big journey, an adventure.

“I used to think I was born to do this stuff. I think I was born to entertain people. I think I went about it the wrong way at the beginning. I didn’t understand the idiosyncrasies of the (business). I was too self-centred and selfish to understand it. But even despite selfishness and self-centredness, it has got me a lot of fame and glory. But I just took it too far, where it got abusive ... and, of course, I paid for all that stuff.

“But I think I’m at a different stage of my life where I can make it ... not only myself, but everybody can prosper from my mistakes and my triumphs and everything.”

Looking back, Tyson says he is full of regret and gratitude. He is grateful to be healthy and alive.

“I’m very happy I don’t have AIDS, the way I was living my life,” he says.

“If I was to die today, I would be overpaid in life. Big time. I can’t believe that no one killed me. I would kill me. If I met me, and I did to me what I did to other people, I would kill me.”

He’s asked where he would like to be in a five years.

“Hopefully alive, with my family,” he says. “We have ups and downs, but we endure, we deal with them together, eating rice and beans together, the whole family’s going to eat it.

“Whatever we do, we’re going to do it together.”

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca

twitter @beezersun


Photos