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Mike Tyson: 'You learn humbleness when you get older in life'

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Mike Tyson: 'You learn humbleness when you get older in life'


‘The baddest man on the planet’. That is what he was known as for his antics in and outside the boxing ring. The former heavyweight champion of the world, the legendary and rather controversial Mike Tyson, is retelling his life in a raw one-man show. He spoke to euronews’ Isabel Kumar at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco.

Isabelle Kumar: “Mike Tyson, many thanks for joining me on the Global Conversation. You are here to perform your one-man show “The Undisputed Truth.” It charts the ups and downs of your life, and when you watch it you get the impression you want to set the record straight. Is that a fair assessment?”

Mike Tyson: “I don’t know if I am setting the record straight. I am talking to people about things they pretty much know about, just telling them the underlying story about it, and I don’t think I am trying to set the record straight.”

Isabelle Kumar: “Are you interested in public opinion about yourself when you do this or have you got to a point where …”

  • Mike Tyson was born on June 30, 1966, in a poor neighbourhood of Brooklyn, New York
  • He had a troubled childhood and was sent to reform school where he learned to box
  • Tyson was a promising fighter and Cus D'Amato became his trainer and mentor
  • By 1986 Mike Tyson was the youngest heavyweight champion of the world, losing the title in 1990
  • Tyson was sent to prison in 1992 on rape charges and served three years
  • He has since embarked on a life in show business and authored an autobiography

Mike Tyson: “No, I just like entertaining people.”

Isabelle Kumar: “What makes you good on the stage? Is it your experience as a boxer, which means it translates itself well on the stage?”

Mike Tyson: “I think my experience of being a fighter, and having experience of being in front of a large crowd of people performing, that gives me enough confidence to pull it off on stage.

Isabelle Kumar: “Does it give you energy?”

Mike Tyson: “Yes, tonnes of energy. It doesn’t matter really. I would perform the same in front of 20,000 people or two people.”

Isabelle Kumar: “How do you measure your success? Because in the olden days it was how many people you knocked out. You were phenomenally successful. Now is success important to you and how would you measure it?”

Mike Tyson: “I don’t know. As a human being success is important to anybody, as it is important to you in your field, that you have a good interview. You become acclaimed in your particular field, as I did in mine. People in every field, everyone wants to be noticed about their accomplishments and their hard work, so yeah, I enjoy that as well.”

Isabelle Kumar: “We’ve asked our online audience to send in questions, and we’ve been flooded with questions. And we received a question from someone who goes by the name of Adriel Moodley. He asks – and I think it’s a question a lot of people are asking – ‘Why did you turn to stand up comedy?’. I know it’s not all comedy, you talk about some of the hard parts of your life, but how did you get there?”

Mike Tyson: “I watched an actor in America and his name is Chaz Palminteri and he’s a great actor and he did a movie called A Bronx Tale. And this particular night I watched him do the whole movie on stage and he did it by himself and the movie was extremely successful, really a block buster movie. But I believe he did better on stage by himself than he did in the movie. He totally captivated everyone there, 9,000 or 8,000 people. He just captivated us and you could hear nothing but his voice. I just thought that was an amazing feeling and I wanted to be able to do that.”

Isabelle Kumar: “I’ve read your autobiography and I’ve watched your show, you had to leave some parts out. Could there ever be an Undisputed Truth part two?”

Mike Tyson: “Oh yeah, we do have another show, but it’s just that Undisputed Truth has sucked the air out of everything, with so many demands for the show, which I’m very grateful for. I can’t say this, but sometimes I wish it would just simmer down a little so we could have the opportunity to show our next show, which is really amazing as well.”

Isabelle Kumar: “Tell me a little bit about it.”

Mike Tyson: “It’s like Undisputed Truth, but it’s called Addicted to Chaos, pretty much the insane years. And it talks about a lot of things that I was unable to say in the first one.”

Isabelle Kumar: “Can you tell me a little bit?

Mike Tyson: “Well you know in one particular incident I was interviewed by a news reporter, a very frail, young, white gentleman, very frail. When he came to interview me there were people teasing him, you know some of the fighters, some of the kids outside the gym, calling him names, your this, your that. And so when I was interviewing with him, it was a great interview, I made sure I stopped the guys from humiliating him. It was a Muslim holiday, Ramadan, so I have my Muslim garb, I have my Koran, so I say leave this man alone, he’s a human being, he deserves to be treated with respect. And so I go through with the interview, and about two weeks later, Ramadan was over, my friend says ‘Mike, I’m in the gym, and the FBI would like to speak with you’. So I go and I talk to them and they have a three-block radius blocked off. So I come up there and I say ‘Yes, sir’ and then they show me a picture of the interviewer, and they say ‘do you know this gentleman right here’ and I say ‘yes this is the gentleman that interviewed me two weeks ago’ and I said ‘listen if I did anything, if I was a little too rough, if I hurt his feelings, I’m sorry’. So the officer said ‘no Mike, no Mr Tyson, he liked you, he didn’t like the 15 people that he shot and the nine that he killed’. And he was a serial killer.

Isabelle Kumar: “Oh my God.”

Mike Tyson: “He was like a sniper. And the reason why they came to me was because they had a picture of me and him on his website, shaking hands, and they came and asked me ‘did he talk to me about anything’ and I said ‘hey listen, I don’t know anything about that’, I was just overwhelmed.”

Isabelle Kumar: “I look forward to seeing Addicted to Chaos. But I know the Undisputed Truth and you talk about the extreme highs and the extreme lows. For our audience, could you pinpoint a couple of scenes that are particularly poignant for you?”

Mike Tyson: “I don’t know, we talk about my marriage and stuff like that, my fights, losing my fights, winning my fights, making a tonne of money, spending a tonne of money, losing a tonne of money, a lot of lawsuits, some of my street fights, my brawls. Like I say, it was a real roller coaster ride of emotion.”

Isabelle Kumar: “If we can look back at some of the more difficult times in your life, you had phenomenal success, you’ve also very openly battled drug addiction. Do you feel you’ve managed to unleash yourself from that, that those days are over?”

Mike Tyson: “I feel that way now. That’s what I feel now. And the thing about drug addiction; every day that I don’t use is a day that I’m getting stronger, because one day that feeling will occur again. That’s just inevitable. But during the times that I’m not using, I’m preparing myself for when that time comes. And that time is going to come; either I’m going to get knocked out, or my hands are going to be raised, one of two things are going to happen. And I don’t feel like losing life no more.”

Isabelle Kumar: “You said something so interesting in your autobiography. You spoke of your time in prison, and I quote you here. You said ‘it turned out to be a blessing’. What lessons do you carry from that time with you now?”

Mike Tyson: “Well I’m just a different person from then. A different person.”

Isabelle Kumar: “You’re doing a lot of things. You’re also a boxing promoter now, which I think is something you didn’t expect you would do.”

Mike Tyson: “Yeah that’s something pretty strange too. I never imagined that I would do that. I always despised boxing promoters. Just to think that I’m a boxing promoter is really like creepy too. But the fact is …”

Isabelle Kumar: “Well, you got hung out to dry.”

Mike Tyson: “I’m doing it for a good reason, to look after kids, and like they look after me. To the best of my ability, to make sure they don’t make the wrong decisions that I made.”

Isabelle Kumar: “So what’s the key advice you give to them?”

Mike Tyson: “It’s basically that you really don’t need a manager, even though some people do. Because managers are just, in my personal opinion, glorified babysitters, and they may take 10 percent of your money, maybe more than that. But the fact is, the only thing a fighter needs nowadays is a lawyer, and a trainer, and other than that there’s no purpose for a manager.”

Isabelle Kumar: “Well, we all know about your love for Cus D’Amato, your boxing manager and trainer. How much of him is in you when you’re doing this?”

Mike Tyson: “I don’t know. I’m just not him. Maybe if I continue to do this for another 20 years or so, I may be somewhere in there, close to his level of protection of his fighters. But as of now, no, it’s not there yet. I’m just not as seasoned and experienced as Mr. D’Amato was.”

Isabelle Kumar: “You speak of him in the present tense. He’s very much with you at all times?”

Mike Tyson: “Pretty much, yeah. Pretty much.”

Isabelle Kumar: “Would you have him as one of the most special people in your life?”

Mike Tyson: “Absolutely. No one could inspire me as much as he did, you know, if I was discouraged. Because sometimes, I’m sure in your field too, you say well really things may have got difficult, something may happen in your life, I don’t want to do this no more. We all go through that. I don’t want to do this no more. And he would inspire me to say ‘hey, this is the way to go’. He would inspire me to want to do it. Many times I quit boxing, before I even became a professional boxer. I quit, I didn’t want to do it, but he gave me the inspiration, the reason why I should be doing this.”

Isabelle Kumar: “Which brings me to a question from a young guy, Jean Louis Fanel Doulos. And he asks: ‘How does one become a great boxer?’”

Mike Tyson: “Listen, I don’t know how someone becomes a great fighter. And I would be lying if I said I did. Everybody has a different path which they take. My path was just sacrifice and dedication, and discipline, something I was never really keen on. I never had that. I was pretty much self-centred, selfish and lazy. And from being involved with Cus D’Amato, I picked up those characteristics. And those characteristics were sacrifice and giving up what you thought were important, for a cause that you feel is more important. And the discipline was doing what you hate to do, but do it like you love it.”

Isabelle Kumar: “And there’s so much money associated with sport. Now, you’re on the front line of that, you earned so much. Do you think that’s necessarily a good thing? Do you think the figures should go down or is it right?”

Mike Tyson: “No, no I don’t think the figures should go down. Because I remember one day me and Cus were talking about a fight, we were talking pretty derogatorily about it, and I was a young kid, teenager, 14 to 16, and I said ‘he doesn’t deserve that money’. And Cus said ‘hey, he deserves every penny he gets once he steps in that ring’. When you sign up (to fight) there’s an unwritten clause in there, but we all know it, that you could die during training or a fight. With the risk, the rewards are worth taking.”

Isabelle Kumar: “What about the corrupting influence of so much money though? How could one then actually curb that, bring that under some sort of control?”

Mike Tyson: “That happened long before you and me were here, and it’s going to continue happening long after you and me are gone. It just comes down to, I don’t know, what people really are. And money is like paper blood to people. So there’s always going to be corruption.”

Isabelle Kumar: “I’d like to bring in some of these other voices again, of our online audience, and going back to sport. This is someone called Mattu who asks ‘who gave you your most memorable punch of all time?”

Mike Tyson: “Everybody I fought. You know, anybody that hit me, you never forget it.”

Isabelle Kumar: “Is one of the reasons you went into promotion because you missed that world?”

Mike Tyson: “No, I don’t miss that world. But I know it’s possible that I can help people. Because boxing and sports is just a small increment of your life, and after that is over you have so much more life to live.”

Isabelle Kumar: “How did you learn that lesson? Was there a turning point where you just kind of had some sort of epiphany or realisation or did it come slowly, bit by bit.”

Mike Tyson: “I don’t know. I think it came slowly, bit by bit. It took a long time to grow up. It took a long time to grow up and deal with the responsibilities of life, because you know when you’re boxing, playing rugby and football and all that, whatever you’re doing, you’re living the life of Reilly, living like a kid, you don’t have many responsibilities.”

Isabelle Kumar: “What do you miss the most about that life then, the old days?”

Mike Tyson: “There’s not much I miss about it. Because when you really think about it at the height of my career I’m making 30-40 million a fight, doing what I want, anybody I want to see or meet, I see him on television, see them and like them, I make a phone call, meet anybody, do what I want to do. But I didn’t have any peace. You know, I didn’t have peace. Now I’m not even at the height of my career, I don’t make a tenth of the money that I made then, and I have cartoons, I have shows, I could never have accomplished this when I was fighting. I would never have gotten along with the producer, I would’ve been arrogant. You learn humbleness when you get older in life. You learn that if you don’t become in humble in this world, the world will thrust humbleness upon you.”

Isabelle Kumar: “So would you say that now in your new life – if we can put it into your past life and your new life – you’re as passionate about what you’re doing now?

Mike Tyson: “I won’t do anything unless I’m passionate about it, even if I don’t get any money. That’s why I was talking about peace and happiness; if you’re not doing it with passion and love, and you’re just doing it for money, then the emotional outcome is going to be disastrous. And that’s from my experience, that’s just really what I know. So I know it has to be just for pure passion and the love for what I’m doing.”

Isabelle Kumar: “And then we’ll end with a question from El Moussadak Chadad who says ‘at last, are you at peace with yourself?’.”

Mike Tyson: “I don’t know. My life is not over yet. That moment, yeah, you only realise that when you’re in your dying bed. You know, no one knows, as time passes by, no one knows what’s creeping around the corner for you, we only have the moment to live.”

Isabelle Kumar: “Mike Tyson, many thanks.” (They shake hands). “That was some handshake!”

Mike Tyson: “You have a good one as well.”

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