Last week, Rick Reilly wrote for ESPN on Mike Tyson's one-man show in Las Vegas — Mike Tyson Undisputed Truth: Live on Stage. After reading Reilly’s piece, we thought you might enjoy Jim Murray’s 1997 column on the former heavyweight champ.
JULY 3, 1997, SPORTS
Copyright 1997/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY
The Mike Tyson He Knew Showed Humor, Not Bite
All right, Miss B., take a letter to Mr. T. That's right, Mr. T., the quondam heavyweight champion. Boxing's Dracula. Half-pug, half-vampire. The Tooth Fairy.
"I guess I go back with you as far as any other journalist. You remember, we rode to the Roy Firestone show in a stretch limo a few years ago. You were the up-and-coming heavyweight hope and you poked me in the ribs as we got in the car and grinned 'You know, if I were around a limo like this five years ago, I'd be stealing the hubcaps.' You seemed to have an appealing sense of humor behind that frightening exterior and those bulging muscles.
"I don't want to say I defended you to many of my friends, but I did tell them I saw another side to the brute they perceived in mid-ring.
"I knew your co-manager Jimmy Jacobs well. He had been world handball champion and a world-class fight buff who collected boxing films all the way from the days of Thomas Edison's early kinescopes.
"I knew your other co-manager, Cus D'Amato. A man of dignity and probity, he also was the most paranoid fight manager I ever knew. I drove him and Floyd Patterson to the Olympic Auditorium one night (Floyd fought a man named Jimmy Slade) and I thought Cus was going to have a heart attack when I made a wrong turn. He suspected me of being Sammy the Bull. ‘Who are you?! Where are you taking us!? I have told the police to be on the lookout for our kidnapping!’ he shrieked before I could calm him own.
"But in spite of these derangements, you were in good hands, Mike. Cus kept you on a pretty tight leash. Because he knew you needed it. Jacobs inculcated a love of boxing history in you and you were the only guy I ever met who knew more boxing lore that I did. (You stumped me on Mickey Walker-Pete Latzo, remember, Mike?)
"When Jacobs and Cus died, you put your career in the hands of guys who would let you do anything you wanted. They were afraid to say no to you. They were as scared of you as Peter McNeeley was. Afraid of offending by offering even good advice you didn't want to hear. ‘Sure, Mike!’ was their idea of guidance. You were a cash cow to them. Jimmy Jacobs never needed cash, and Cus D'Amato had almost no interest in it.
"You were on top of the world, Mike. Or thought you were. Don King used to chortle you were 'the baddest man on the planet Earth' and if you weren't, you were getting there.
"The rape of Desiree Washington was the signal to the world you were out of control. You thought you were a law unto yourself. Athletes get that way. All the adulation, the publicity, the hype. You get a false sense of your own importance. It's called 'How dare you turn me down?! Don't you know who I am?!'
"Yeah. You're about 87 cents' worth of zinc, iron, calcium and water like everyone else. A ranch mink is worth more than you skinned.
"Prison is supposed to be about rehabilitation. There are social scientists who think you could put a man-eating shark in prison for a year or two and, with 'help' (buzzword for therapy), he will come out a goldfish. Maybe so, but don't get in a pool with one, especially if your nose is bleeding.
"I don't know how you came out of prison mentally, Mike, but it looks as if you went right back to the same sycophants, leeches and manipulators with which most fighters surround themselves.
"The inevitable happened. The one dignity you had left was your athletic prowess. When Evander Holyfield robbed you of that, you couldn't deal with it. You became obsessed with revenge. It would make everything all right. I mean, how dare Holyfield? Didn't he know with whom he was dealing?
"When it became obvious by the second round you weren't going to make everything all right, that it was déjà vu all over again (as Yogi says), you burst your moorings. Your eye was bleeding, you couldn't hurt Holyfield. I think you would have killed him if you had a knife. You did the next worst thing, something that was the most disgusting thing I have ever seen, not only in a prize ring but anywhere else. Maybe Jeffrey Dahmer did it, but they didn't sell tickets. It wasn't on pay-per-view.
"I don't know whether you couldn't handle fame or fame couldn't handle you. You want to be allowed to fight again? Why, Mike? So you can get the rest of his ear? So you can punch out more cops, spit at more customers, encourage more lobby riots?
"I don't think so, Mike. We've kind of lost the capacity for indignation in this country. Forgiveness is the 'in' thing.
"But boxing shouldn't forgive you. You made it seem like a citadel of depravity. As a student of its history, let me ask you — do you think Joe Louis would ever behave like that? Rocky Marciano? Dempsey? Jack Johnson? Ali? Lord, even Sonny Liston? I don't think so.
"Letting you back in the ring would be like letting Hannibal Lecter in a prom. If you fight Holyfield again, what are they going to release it as — 'Jaws the Sequel'?
"If we want to see things get bitten, we'll go to a cockfight. So wipe the blood off your teeth. I wouldn't go to see you and Evander Holyfield again even if you wore a muzzle and he wore earmuffs.”
Reprinted with permission by the Los Angeles Times.
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