Boxing’s Baddest Man: Inside Mike Tyson’s Incredible Life
Mike Tyson led a crazy life, both in and out of the ring. His story is as remarkable as it is improbable. Tyson became the most feared man on the planet, emerging from one of America’s most notorious housing projects. But the stardom, fame, and fortune got to his head, and Tyson’s life went off the rails. And on that crazy train, Tyson did and experienced many things people can only dream of (or have nightmares about). Here are 20 incredible tales from Tyson’s wild life.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Tyson
Back when Mike Tyson was in jail (we’ll get to that later), the boxer dialed up his car guy and told him he wanted tigers. Tyson was intrigued by the idea of having supercars and big cats, and for some reason, his car guy was connected to big cat traders. Needless to say, the car guy came through, getting Tyson three white Bengal tigers, all while the pugilist sat behind bars.
The tigers cost an astounding $70,000 to purchase and $4,000 per month to maintain. Tyson, who went bankrupt (we’ll also get to that later), was forced to ditch the cats in 2003. Their current whereabouts remain unknown, which is probably a good thing, lest someone recreates a scene from the “Hangover” movie, trying to capture America’s most famous tigers.
“A beautiful bird is the only kind we cage” -Chinese proverb. Luckily for this pigeon, Tyson was a big fan of the city bird and was more inclined towards freeing them than capturing them, regardless of how beautiful he thought they were. And if he did capture them, it was only to nurture and nourish them.
As a poor child growing up without a father, pigeons became Tyson’s source of happiness and freedom. “I have loved pigeons since I was nine…I was fat and ugly. Kids teased me all the time,” he told the Daily Record. “The only joy I had was pigeons.”
Bird Man (Continued)
It was also the pigeon that helped one of the greatest boxing careers ever take flight. Tyson recounted to the New York Times about a time “when a bully that was antagonizing me killed one of my birds in front of me, I snapped and began fighting him. If it weren’t for this guy hurting my beloved animal, I may not have ever had the desire to fight.
By him hurting an innocent being that I loved and cherished, it was the catalyst to the fighter within.” At one point in his life, Tyson owned upwards of 350 pigeons, keeping them in a coup in Jersey City, New Jersey.
Man Versus Nature
As you read in the previous slide, Tyson was not a fan of bullies, human or not. Back in the 1980s, Tyson took his then-wife Robin Givens on a private date to the New York zoo. However, his magical night was interrupted when he came across a silverback gorilla bullying all of the other inferior gorillas. “When we got to the gorilla cage there was one big silverback gorilla there just bullying all the other gorillas,” Tyson told The Sun, a British tabloid.
“They were so powerful but their eyes were like an innocent infant. I offered the attendant $10,000 to open the cage and let [me] smash that silverback’s snotbox! He declined.” Considering male silverbacks can weigh up to 450 pounds and stand up to 6 feet tall, Tyson most definitely got off easy. On the other hand, this would have made for some pretty entertaining footage…
A Holy Bite
On November 9, 1996, Evander Holyfield shocked the boxing world by upsetting Mike Tyson for the WBA title. One year later, the two would square off against each other in one of the sport’s most highly-anticipated rematches for the WBA Heavyweight Championship. Holyfield versus Tyson II, also known as the “Bite Fight,” took place on June 28, 1997, in front of a raucous crowd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
In the third round of the super fight, Tyson got Holyfield in a clinch and did the unthinkable: he chomped on Holyfield’s ear, taking a 1-inch piece of cartilage right off before spitting it out on the canvas. The fight was temporarily halted as Holyfield was tended to. Somehow the referee decided not to call the fight and sent Holyfield back into the ring.
A Holy Bite (Continued)
Well, it didn’t take long for history to repeat itself, and shortly after the fight resumed, Tyson reverted to his savage tactics, biting Holyfield for a second time. That would be the last bite of the night. The fight was immediately called, with Holyfield being crowned champion once again.
Tyson was fined $3 million and was banned from the sport for 18 months. When he returned to the ring, he was never the same fighter. He would never again compete for a WBA title. His record wavered despite seeing a drop in the quality of his opponents, and he was knocked out by Lennox Lewis in their bought for the WBC title.
The Baddest Boy in Brooklyn
Tyson’s childhood could be the subject of its own book- it’s long, tragic, and full of heartbreak. It’s also all of those tragedies, faced and felt from such a young age, that shaped Mike Tyson into the world’s most feared and ferocious pugilist. At two years old, Tyson’s dad abandoned his family, leaving Mike, his siblings, and his mother broke and desperate. The dire situation only worsened with each year.
Tyson grew up in a condemned building in one of Brooklyn’s most impoverished ghettos, and the housing projects he called home were no better than the mean streets he was raised on. His mom, who passed away when he was just 16, was physically, verbally, and mentally abusive. Physical beatings were the norm. Tyson wrote in his book that he “was eleven or twelve and was fighting guys in their thirties…I got beat up a lot.” Tyson also revealed to Jeremy Schapp in an ESPN interview that he was molested as a child. “It made me have to be tough for the world I lived in.”
The Tortured Teenager Years of Tyson
As the previous slide stated, Tyson’s childhood was hardly a childhood. It was more of a deplorable mess that shaped or destroyed a young kid, depending on how you look at it. Besides constant fighting, Tyson was involved in petty theft, burglary, and drug use at a young age.
When he was just 11, Tyson snorted coke for the first time, and by the time he was 13, he’d been arrested an astonishing 38 times. He was an unhinged psychopath, and the Bridges Juvenile Center, which Tyson referred to in his book “Iron Ambition: My Life with Cus D’Amato” as a “rat-infested hellhole,” was his second home.
The Tortured Teenager Years of Tyson (Continued)
But the Bridges Juveline Center was no match for Tyson and his spontaneous, violent outbursts, and the untameable teen was shipped up to The Tryon School for Boys, a detention center in upstate New York. In another excerpt from “Iron Ambition,” Tyson revealed how he “immediately began acting out, attacking kids, attacking guards, attacking everyone,” when he arrived at the Tryon school.
“I began to get a rep. Mike Tyson – the psycho crazy guy, the sick f— who would walk up and punch you in the face or throw hot water on you.” As you can see, Tyson and school got along like cops and robbers. Thankfully, Tyson found a profession that was more about left and right hooks than hitting the books, the only thing he wasn’t fond of hitting.
Snow Superfan and Artificial Appendages
Tyson was introduced, without his consent, to alcohol as a baby, and the drug use slowly followed, shadowing him for the rest of his life. In his book the “Undisputed Truth,” Tyson revealed how he “was a full-blown cokehead,” and fought many of his mega-fights, against opponents such as Lou Savarese, Danny Williams, and Andrew Golota, high on the drug.
At the infamous Lennox Lewis versus Mike Tyson press conference, Tyson admitted to being high on cocaine, which could partially explain his notorious outburst against the media. But could the coke explain why Tyson bit Lewis in the leg during the press conference scrum, costing him a cool $335,000, or does Tyson simply enjoy the taste of human flesh?
Snow Superfan and Artificial Appendages (Continued)
And how did Tyson get away with all of this drug use despite the rigorous testing in boxing? He used a fake penis filled with someone else’s clean urine. “I had to use my whizzer, which was a fake penis where you put in someone’s clean urine to pass your drug test,” Tyson told E! News.
“If you’re a guy and you pull it out in front of them [the drug tester], they’re like, ‘Whoa, whoa [makes motion shielding eyes and looking away], and then you do it [empty the clean urine into the testing cup].” And that people, is why you shouldn’t do drugs.
From Hell in a Cell to Paradise Behind Bars
In 1992, Mike Tyson was convicted of raping Miss Black America pageant contestant Desiree Washington in an Indianapolis hotel room. He was handed a 10-year prison sentence but was released after just serving three years. The entire saga was supposed to be a devastating blow for Tyson and his career, but it turned out to be a relatively easy three years.
In prison, Tyson had seemingly special circumstances that other prisoners could only dream of. While other prisoners were doing pushups or sleeping, Tyson was getting busy with one of his guards. Whether or not they used handcuffs cannot be confirmed, however.
From Hell in a Cell to Paradise Behind Bars (Continued)
The love affair eventually came to an end, but not before Tyson impregnated his guard. “Oh yeah,” he said in his memoir, “in prison, stuff happens. But she had no baby.” Tyson continued to divulge details about his romantic behind-bars escapades, proudly boasting, “Yeah, I had a female counselor and we’d do it for a long time. I had some good days in there.
I was having so much sex that I was too tired to even go to the gym and work out. I’d just stay in my cell all day.” Tyson was also fed lobster while in prison, making his sentence that much more of a joke.
From Mike to Malik
But jail wasn’t strictly a party for Iron Mike. Isolated for 23 hours per day in solitary confinement, Mike decided to embark on a literary and spiritual journey. When he wasn’t impregnating prison guards, Tyson was reading classic tomes by literary geniuses such as Marx, Shakespeare, and Tolstoy.
He would not, however, read Hemingway, who Tyson characterized as “too much of a downer.” There was another book Tyson took a liking to, the Quran. In prison, Tyson converted to Islam, adopting the name Malik Abdul Aziz. He’s performed the Haj and told Fox 411, “I’m very grateful to be a Muslim. Allah doesn’t need me, I need Allah.”
Ending up in solitary confinement, by the way, was completely by design. Tyson preferred the isolation because it afforded him time to read, reflect, and study Islam in peace.
In 2003, Tyson, who was at the tail end of his illustrious career, went into a New York tattoo parlor looking for a facelift. Tyson came out of the parlor a changed man sporting a massive tribal tattoo inked on his face. The reason behind the tattoo is a lot more superficial than many would have guessed.
Tyson proclaimed that he “thought it was so hot. I just thought it was a cool tattoo.” The rest is history. Tyson, who has yet to remove the tribal art, seems proud of what his tattoo has accomplished. “A lot of stuff happened out of this tattoo, a lot of good stuff. Other young athletes come to me and said, ‘It’s because of you they call it the Mike Tyson.’ People have to register their tattoos. You have to have the likeness of your tattoo.”
Mao Zedong Meet Mao Ze-arm
“Down in the hole. They thought they were punishing me in that little room: no toilet, no bed. I got myself put down there so I could read Chairman Mao and not have to deal with all the prison bullshit,” Tyson told The Guardian. “‘No investigation, no right to speak.’ That’s the thing that stuck.” Isolated and alone, Tyson was becoming a sponge, soaking up communist ideology from some of its greatest practitioners.
It was Tyson’s prison readings that stuck with him long before he got a tattoo of Mao Zedong, the first leader of communist China. When Tyson visited China, he “felt really insignificant next to the remains of Chairman Mao.” The tattoo, however strange and eccentric, is perfectly Tyson.
Che on the Chest
Not much direct information or quotes can be found regarding Tyson’s large stomach piece depicting the Argentinian revolutionary Che Guevara. Based on the prior slide, though, we can infer Tyson’s admiration for Che came during his prison stint where he read his works and learned about the iconic and controversial figure.
And what better way to represent yourself, a trailblazer, than by tattooing a revolutionary figure on your stomach? The real question is what dictator/revolutionary leader will Tyson tattoo next? Maybe Kim Jong-un? How about Stalin? Sadly there are plenty of options. And with Tyson’s propensity for political tattoos, it’s only a matter of time until he inks another figure.
The Hilarious Hangover
My most metrics, the “Hangover”, a 2009 R-rated comedy film, was a smashing success. It cost $35 million to make and grossed nearly $470 million. One of the film’s most notable features was a cameo appearance by Mike Tyson. Tyson’s involvement in Hollywood is two-fold: he’s interested in acting and he needed some cash flow. We’ll address Tyson’s financial meltdown in a later slide, but rest assured the man blew a fortune.
So when he was offered $100,000 for a small cameo in the movie, he pounced. Tyson accepted another cameo role in the sequel and was paid $200,000. In an interview with Yahoo! Sports, Tyson claimed he “was a mess. I was overweight… a pig, high on cocaine.” He continued, “They had to know I was messed up…I had the cocaine talk. On the plus side, how about Tyson’s dedication to his role?
Madonna, Mike, and Mussolini
Mike Tyson’s cameo on Madonna’s 2015 song “Iconic” was short and sweet. Tyson popped into Madonna’s studio and ad-libbed his part of the forgettable song in one take. Tyson, who wasn’t as much of a wordsmith as his idol Muhammad Ali, drew inspiration for his part from fascist dictator Benito Mussolini:
“You watch Mussolini on television — even though we don’t understand what he’s saying — he is so mesmerizing. I look at myself in that way.” Tyson continued, “He had that street swag; he was doing this stuff with his hands and moving his head before it was even hip-hop.”
Madonna, Mike, and Mussolini (Continued)
Good to know Tyson has so much admiration for a murderous dictator. On another, less bleak note, Tyson proudly proclaimed how “most guys come in there [a recording studio] drink a bunch of liquor or smoke 100 blunts. I just went in and boom, one take. Everyone thought it was cool.” There you have it.
If you need someone to crank out a fluid verse in one take with the swag of a fascist, look no further than Mike “Iron Curtain” Tyson. He’s your guy to get the job done. He’s good at knockout hooks, both in the ring and in the studio.
Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems
It’s the all-too-common tale of an athlete earning more money than they can possibly fathom and blowing it all. Many athletes, Tyson included, grow up broke without anything, and when they receive a windfall of cash, often at a young age, they mismanage their money thanks to irresponsible decisions and unrelenting spending.
Mike Tyson earned more than $300 million during his heyday, but he wasn’t able to eschew temptation, prostitutes, lavish mansions and cars, shiny jewelry, and everything else under the sun that caught his eager eyes. In 2003, Tyson hit one of his many rock bottoms and declared for bankruptcy. He had a colossal $23 million in debt. Thanks to a slew of new ventures, Tyson has been able to slowly chip away at his mountain of debt.
Far-out Facts from Punch-Out
In October of 1987, the world was introduced to what would become the greatest boxing video game ever. “Mike Tyson’s Punchout” was initially a huge risk for Nintendo, as they made Tyson the game’s featured athlete before he became a world champion, before he won any mega fights. At the time, Tyson was undefeated and unstoppable, but also unproven. Nintendo gambled on him, figuring he’d win a title sooner rather than later, and they surmised correctly. Tyson became the youngest heavyweight champion in boxing history at just 20 years old. Nintendo secured the rights to Tyson’s likeness for three years and just $50,000.
Tyson was the game’s final boss, and an impossible one at that. During the first 90 seconds of the title bout against Tyson, any and all of Tyson’s attack could send the player tumbling to the canvas. So, readers, if you are ever in the mood to raise your blood pressure and experience a new form of frustration, bust out your NES and work your way up to a Tyson megafight. You won’t be disappointed, but you will be frustrated.
The Undisputed Champion of Cannabis
Iron Mike has a green thumb and may need to adopt a new nickname, something more fitting like “Mellow Mike.” That’s because Tyson and a few business partners opened up a 40-acre ranch in California City, California. Dubbed Tyson Ranch, the ranch is located about 60 miles southwest of Death Valley and will feature an amphitheater, a factory for making edibles, a dispensary, and some luxurious camping grounds.
The one-of-a-kind ranch will provide guests with a unique, all-inclusive cannabis-themed experience unlike any other in the country. It’s quite the change for the former champ who used to be more invested in the white than the green. Guess it was high time for a change.
Mike and the Music
And speaking of Tyson’s Ranch, the soon-to-be cannabis connoisseur decided to host a music festival on his property. The Kind Music Festival is was what every pothead in America dreams of- music, food, plenty of supply to smoke, and hardly any regulations. Featured artists at the first festival included Miguel, Ferg, and Starcrawler. Yeah, maybe those aren’t the biggest names in the industry, but who really cares maaaaaan? It’s all about the experience duuuuuude.
Tyson does, however, plan to incorporate bigger names in the coming years, like Drake and Migos. The self-described one-day micro-festival will be the biggest draw in the deserts of Southern California. That is, of course, until bigger, more established festivals begin, such as Coachella and Stage Coach. Look for this event to be a total knockout that will get everyone’s spirits higher than ever.
The Pen is Mightier than the Punch
Not known for his penmanship, Mike Tyson’s book “Undisputed Truth” actually became a New York Times bestseller and is favorably reviewed on most book review aggregates. The book’s actual author, Larry Sloman, helped take readers through Tyson’s almost unbelievable, decidedly inconceivable, and violently turbulent life from Brooklyn’s worst projects to being the highest-paid athlete in the world in 1990 to ending up broke and on the streets yet again.
The “Undisputed Truth” is actually Tyson’s second published book after “Iron Ambition: My Life with Cus D’Amato.” Hopefully Tyson isn’t writing these tell-all tales out of financial necessity, because if he is, and he needs to write a third book, he may struggle to come up with new content. Then again, Tyson continues to be the subject of fascination for throngs of people scattered across the globe.
The Seven Seeds of Mike
Iron Mike has produced his fair share of kids, seven to be exact. But none of those kids appear to be following in their father’s footsteps. None of them have the passion of punch. Tyson has been married three times. His first wife was Robin Givens, an actress and model. That tumultuous marriage lasted just one year, with Tyson paying her a $10 million divorce settlement.
Tyson’s next wife was Monica Turner, a doctor who did her pediatric residency at Georgetown University Medical Center. Tyson’s third marriage, and the one that has yet to end, was to Lakiha Spicer, a convicted felon. In 2009, Tyson’s 4-year-old daughter Exodus tragically died after accidentally hanging herself on a cord attached to Tyson’s treadmill.