Mike Tyson, Glory, and the Tyranny of an Oppressive Media

“And ya’ll ain’t give him nothing to begin

with/ Dilapidated buildings, the drug epidemics/

Historical

story/ Pain, love, and glory/ Of Mike Tyson/ Never see another like him/”

—Nas,

“Legendary

(Mike Tyson)The Ni**er Tape, 2008.

“Now,

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/”

—Tupac,

“Road to Glory” (Ring

entrance for Mike Tyson v. Frank Bruno Fight March 16th, 1996).

“Love

is Respect.”

—Mike

Tyson

 

Michael “Iron Mike” Tyson

has lived a life most couldn’t 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.

But

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, Mike’s road to glory would take nearly two decades

before its paths became clear. The move to Brooklyn’s 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 wasn’t 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” D’Amato.

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 Mike’s 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 Mike’s reputation.   

Cus failed to address

adequately the wounds Tyson’s 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 boxer’s soul.

Cus permitted Tyson’s

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 success—an ATM

machine into which he could deposit his last change of advice and athletic

investment, and reap an handsome payback.   

Cus was Tyson’s 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.

It’s a strange existence

when 90% of those with whom you cross paths are endlessly seeking ways to

exploit your fame, fortune and future. Though Tyson’s world wasn’t 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 Tyson’s 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 athlete’s 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

antagonism. 

In Mike’s 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 Parkinson’s Syndrome—wasn’t a threat anymore. There

was a new N***r in town—a 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 innocently—most of them self-employed—infringe on

the privacy of celebrities, the media’s hyper surveillance of Tyson was

deliberately nefarious.

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 made—the foundation it laid. Mike became “an

actor, an entertainer,” in the ring. He took up the persona of Iron—impenetrable. He became “impetuous”

and “impregnable.” Sadly, iron was melting and Mike couldn’t show it. It would

take years before he concluded that “Nobody is invincible. Nobody is the

greatest fighter in the world.”   

Tyson’s 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 media’s 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 constructive—lyrically

and musically. Hitherto, both had relied on physicality to prove their worth. But

Tupac’s 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

Tyson’s fights (“Ambitionz Az A Fighta,” “Ready to Rumble,” “Road 2 Glory”).

Many rappers also found

similarities between their struggles and Tyson’s. 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 mentioned—Speed,

Strength, Skill, Power, Accuracy, Victorious—as 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 couldn’t 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..

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