And yall aint give him nothing to begin
with/ Dilapidated buildings, the drug epidemics/
story/ Pain, love, and glory/ Of Mike Tyson/ Never see another like him/
(Mike Tyson), The Ni**er Tape, 2008.
my first round is for the times that I sit in this cell/ The second round is
for the media and the lies they tell/ The third round is for the pain that I
felt inside/ Best recognize I hope not to die/
Road to Glory (Ring
entrance for Mike Tyson v. Frank Bruno Fight March 16th, 1996).
Michael Iron Mike Tyson
has lived a life most couldnt stand a day of; yet, the former heavyweight
champ keeps fighting on. What follows is a dedication to the greatest fighter
of the last two decades.
before that, this writer would like to extend his condolences to the Tyson
family, as they mourn the death of 4-year-old Exodus Tyson. May they find refuge
in these trying times.
Surrendered to the care of
a single-mother at age 2, Mikes road to glory would take nearly two decades
before its paths became clear. The move to Brooklyns infamous neighborhood, Brownsville,
at age 10 only further blurred the map Mike was to follow, in his journey to
make history by becoming the youngest fighter to win the World Boxing Council,
World Boxing Association, and International Boxing Federation heavyweight
titles. Mike did all this by age 20.
While most fighters bob
and weave their ways through matches, Mike knocked-out his opponents
fearlessly, rendering whoever he came across dead-on-arrival. With his
record-making debut at the Junior Olympic contest, knocking out his opponent in
8 seconds, it was clear Tyson wasnt the average kid around the block. He would
build on this new-found confidence throughout his legendary career, winning 50
out of 58 games, 44 of which were by knockouts.
But before the glory came,
he would have to confront the death of his mother at age 16, leaving the future
heavyweight champion emotionally distraught. Tyson later recalled how much this
loss partook in the knockouts he became famous for: The bodies of his opponents
symbolized a receptacle, into which he deposited his pain, sorrow, and anguish.
As one who grew up
entrenched in gang deathstyle, Mike was naturally mean with his hands. But boxing hardly consists of strength alone.
The discipline, alertness, and psychological skills he needed to survive in the
world of professional boxing would take years to develop, under the tutorship
of renowned boxing manager and trainer Constantine Cus DAmato.
Mike credits Cus with
equipping him with the technical skills that proved successful later on. Cus
became the father he never knew. Nonetheless, the death of Mikes mom triggered
a fit of erratic impulses, which put at risk the lives of many around him. Cus
was aware of this, but failed to act appropriately. No other is more willing to
acknowledge that Cus was an honorable man, than Mike himself. On several TV
appearances, when asked, he never fails to mention the large emotional gap Cus
filled in his life, more so with the untimely passing of his mother. Mike was
alone in this world. And the only friend he knew was Cus. This friend, unfortunately,
had ulterior motives that, though meant well, played a part in the unremarkable
events that have since blemished Mikes reputation.
Cus failed to address
adequately the wounds Tysons troubled childhood still left opened. Seeing the
potential for a future heavyweight champion in him, Cus could hardly control
his expectations. Tyson was drilled, drilled, and drilled. This drilling
process, helpful as it was later on, only stimulated the pent-up rage embedded
in the young boxers soul.
Cus permitted Tysons
character flaws. When he most needed discipline, drills were instead suggested.
But the professional is hardly personal. And none other knew this better than
Cus, himself, who had mentored many young men into becoming well-groomed
adults. The problem: Tyson was different. As an old man, whose long and wavy
life was slowly coming to an end, Tyson was his last hope for successan ATM
machine into which he could deposit his last change of advice and athletic
investment, and reap an handsome payback.
Cus was Tysons first
encounter with a world filled with opportunists, many of whom would sell their
birthright for a mess of pottage. His death in 1985 only further complicated
life for Tyson, leaving him helpless, alone, and vulnerable.
Its a strange existence
when 90% of those with whom you cross paths are endlessly seeking ways to
exploit your fame, fortune and future. Though Tysons world wasnt always filled
with Don King clones, the degree of selfishness with which his confidants
shamelessly stole to fill up their coffers, made sure he was bankrupt by 36.
But even with the
luxurious lusts of losers like Don King, and the emotional scars his traumatic
childhood afforded him, none of Mike Tysons opponents could deal bigger blows
than that the sports, news, and all around oppressive, media meticulously
landed on his iron-like, though fragile, body. The media, having failed with
Ali a couple decades before, had learned their lesson: The key was to start
early. That way, full control over the athletes psyche would be attained.
By age 20, Mike was
already being described, by commentators, as a beast, monster, and animal.
Those primatial nouns were cautiously used to define and determine the
parameters under which viewers and boxing fans were to judge the budding
fighter. Unenlightened observers might defend the commentators, explaining that
no harm was meant, and, in fact, it was a testament to the hitherto unforeseen
intensity Mike brought to the ring. But such arguments miss the mark. They also
excuse, and lend credence to, a media which sees wealthy Black male athletes, who
defy the odds (mainstream society), as objects worthy of scorn, hate, and
In Mikes case, the threat
level was amplified: He was a fighter knocking-out everything that got in his
way, dismantling the will and strength of his opposition, and clearing out the
bodies of opponents who failed to recognize his superiority in the ring. The
media was alert. It knew the threat Mike posed. The animal descriptor would
lay the foundation for a plot ready to yield fruition later on. As Mike
contended a few years ago, they build us [Black male athletes] up just to
break us down. It was all part of a scheme to paint him as the new evil Black
monster. Ali was struck with Parkinsons Syndromewasnt a threat anymore. There
was a new N***r in towna new specimen to operate on, and oppress, in the
laboratory of mass media.
When Mike Tyson walked
into the ring, the media went with him. When taking a bathroom break, the media
was nearby. When out for launch, the media stayed as close as possible. Far
from modern-day paparazzis who innocentlymost of them self-employedinfringe on
the privacy of celebrities, the medias hyper surveillance of Tyson was
The intent was to prove
they were right all along. They were right that he was a beast, a monster,
an animal. But this time, the beast was untamable. Far from the adorable
beast who knocked out adversaries, this beast went on rampages, raped women, and
devoured anyone looked at as threatening.
Mike fought back, but
lacked the sophistication to do it productively. His counter-attack,
unfortunately, began validating those assertions the media had madethe foundation it laid. Mike became an
actor, an entertainer, in the ring. He took up the persona of Ironimpenetrable. He became impetuous
and impregnable. Sadly, iron was melting and Mike couldnt show it. It would
take years before he concluded that Nobody is invincible. Nobody is the
greatest fighter in the world.
Tysons brutal honesty is
nowhere else more appreciated than in the Hip-Hop community. As such, it was a
no brainer to form an alliance with the late West Coast warrior, Tupac, who Tyson
described as brutally honest, and a loving guy. Tyson found the same
thread of lies previously woven about him being recast in the medias portrayal
of Tupac as time-bomb, racist, dysfunctional, single-parent. Their friendship
was, of course, cut short on Sept. 13, 1996, six days after Tupac was gunned
down in Las Vegas, following a Mike Tyson v. Bruce Seldon fight, but the bond the
two cultural icons shared was, in many ways, inevitable.
Beyond being indicted on rape
charges they vehemently denied, both emerged from troublesome backgrounds which
very few could overcome. They did. Both were also fatherless at young ages, but
found father surrogates whom they credit as lifesavers. It was after getting to
know Tupac better that Tyson found in him a rare jewel. Tyson saw that Tupac was
able to articulate the pain he felt, in ways not only productive but constructivelyrically
and musically. Hitherto, both had relied on physicality to prove their worth. But
Tupacs rhetorical prowess on the mic was having far-reaching impacts than
hand-dealt jabs did. Tupac would go on to record many songs specifically for
Tysons fights (Ambitionz Az A Fighta, Ready to Rumble, Road 2 Glory).
Many rappers also found
similarities between their struggles and Tysons. His name soon garnered
notoriety on Rap records, with artists ranging from DJ Jazzy Jeff & The
Fresh Prince and Too Short, Canibus and Ginuwine, LL Cool J and Biggie, paying
homage to his greatness.
Throughout his glorious
career, Iron Mike effortlessly fulfilled the six qualities Nas mentionedSpeed,
Strength, Skill, Power, Accuracy, Victoriousas requisite for a legendary
legacy. At a recent screening of his new documentary, Tyson, Nas
explained how much he meant, and means, to the Hip-Hop generation: Just
go back on what Mike has meant to us throughout all the years. Mike has been
the first baller of our generation, the first champion of our generation that
stood for the common man.
And even after living a
life most couldnt stand a day of, Iron Mike, our heavyweight champ, keeps
fighting on. Keep fighting champ! We love you!
Tolu Olorunda is a cultural critic and a Columnist for BlackCommentator.com. He can be reached at Tolu.Olorunda@gmail.com..