Published: July 11, 2004
Saturday, July 03, 2004
PHOENIX — Mike Tyson was sprawled on his back on the canvas, not the kind of place you want to be if you’re a fighter, much less the former baddest man on the planet.
A day after his 38th birthday, his back was in spasms, and his face was contorted in pain.
Tyson wanted his sparring session this day to be a good one. Two visiting writers were watching, and he was determined to be impressive.
Instead, he was a bit embarrassed about how it ended.
“Sorry you had to see something bad,” he said. “I really wanted to box good for you guys.”
Tyson has a lot to apologize for, but there was nothing to be sorry about this day at the Central Boxing Club near downtown Phoenix.
He had gone five hard rounds with two rugged sparring partners before the back spasms he had felt earlier in the day while running flared up. So he quit in the middle of the sixth round.
It was only the third day of sparring in his latest comeback — this one July 30 against a British heavyweight of dubious distinction named Danny Williams. Tyson’s timing wasn’t always there, but he showed there still might be enough left in his aging body to be a factor in today’s fractured heavyweight ranks.
At least his sparring partner thought so.
“No one has power like Mike Tyson,” said Timur Ibragimov, a Uzbekistan heavyweight who went the first three rounds with Tyson. “And I’ve never seen anybody with his speed.”
Tyson’s power and speed have seldom been questioned in the 18 years since he first won the heavyweight title.
It’s the other things, mainly his bizarre ways both in and out of the ring.
Tyson has served time for rape, bitten Evander Holyfield’s ear, tried to break another fighter’s arm and threatened to eat Lennox Lewis’ children. He’s wasted away $300 million, owes $38 million to various creditors, and is basically broke.
Despite what a British tabloid reported, though, he’s not homeless.
“I told them I felt like I was homeless, not that I was,” Tyson said.
Sitting in the gym’s dressing room, with sweat running down his face and chest, he tries to explain a life lived in constant turmoil, always on the edge of disaster.
“I’ve come to the conclusion I’ve had a bad psychological opinion of myself,” Tyson said. “I never realized how many people were pulling for me, wanted me to do well. It was too much pressure for me. I didn’t know how to handle it. I wanted people to think I’m a normal guy.
“I’m a maniac, but I’m a good guy,” he added. “I don’t know if the two intertwine, but that’s the real deal.”
A contradiction? Sure, but Tyson’s whole life has been a contradiction.
On this day, he talked about living a normal life, taking care of his five children and giving up most of the vices that always seemed to distract him.
He celebrated his birthday by taking a big bite out of a cake before it was even cut. He thought about going to a strip club to celebrate, but then began wondering how his children would feel and decided against it.
He’s living in a modest two-bedroom house in Phoenix where he tends to his pigeons at 4 a.m. every day, then goes running.
The Bentleys are gone, there’s no entourage to speak of, and Tyson insists he’s trying to live a clean life.
“I’m trying not to say bad things about anybody, or use bad language. It’s part of my habit of being a good person,” he said.
Asked how long that had been going on, Tyson replied:
“This is new, very new.”
Tyson’s latest comeback is driven by money — or, more specifically, a lack of it. A bankruptcy reorganization plan filed last month in New York calls for him to fight up to seven times over the next three years to pay off his debts.
That plan still has to be approved by a judge, who might have some second thoughts after looking at Tyson’s recent record.
He’s fought only twice in the last three years — getting knocked out by Lewis in eight rounds and knocking out Clifford Etienne in 49 seconds — and has seemed to want to spend his time playing instead of fighting.
He senses now, perhaps, that time is running out, and that this comeback must be for real or there will be no more.
“I don’t care how much money I blew,” Tyson said. “The reason why I’m in my situation is I get in one of my bratty moods and things happen. But if I fight for a year, I get $80 million. If I fight for a year, I’ll break every record of any athlete making money in one year.”
Fighting for even a year is a big if for Tyson. Fighting for three more years is almost inconceivable to those who have seen him on the road to self destruction.
Incredibly, Tyson hasn’t really beaten a top fighter for 15 years, but with his fearsome punching power it’s entirely likely he could become a champion again.
There’s talk about fighting WBO champion Lamon Brewster or light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver, or perhaps a third fight with Holyfield.
“I’m like Babe Ruth,” Tyson said. “I’m not going to fight until I drop, but I’m going to fight until I almost drop.”
Tyson’s trainer Freddie Roach swears this is a new Mike Tyson
“Bankruptcy is good for Mike,” Roach said. “He’s humble and living the simple life. The way he’s going I don’t think there’s a champion he can’t beat.”
By Tim Dahlberg