Published: December 25, 2004
TYSON: DYING CAN’T BE AS BAD AS LIVING
Dec 22 2004
EXCLUSIVE: Despair of a fallen idol
Daily Mirror UK
From Anthony Harwood at Gleason’s Gym, Brooklyn, New York
MEAN and menacing at just 14, the boy glowers from the old black-and-white photograph – a simmering volcano soon to erupt in the boxing ring.
He was destined to conquer the world with his talented fists as one of the most fearsome heavyweights in history.
This week, 38-year-old Mike Tyson was back at Gleason’s Gym, where he used to train as a youngster – but the conquering days are over. This time, there is no fight to prepare for and no prospect of one.
LEGEND: Iron Mike Tyson
Instead Iron Mike is here to teach kids how to box as part of a community service sentence he was given for his part in a brawl at a Brooklyn hotel. The gym owner persuaded the district attorney that Tyson should put something back into the community instead of going back to jail.
During his visit the former world champion speaks exclusively to the Daily Mirror about what it feels like to be back on his old stamping ground – and pondering his future.
And as he shuffles around the ring, letting nine-year-olds bob and weave, pounding away at the padded mitts he holds up for them, the contrast with the boy in the poster could not be greater.
Quietly, the once-great fighter observes: “You look at old pictures and then you look in the mirror and you don’t even know who that person is.”
Overweight and on prescription drugs to fight depression and keep him calm, Tyson is still carrying a leg injury from the pounding he took from Britain’s Danny Williams, who knocked him out in July.
Contrary to what his adviser Shelley Finkel claims, he is not planning a comeback fight in March. Maybe there will never be one. “I’m just training,” says Tyson, who hasn’t worked on his bad knee for more than two months. “I don’t know if I still want to box. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. I feel I don’t more than I want to. I’m just tired.”
He did not bother to watch Vitali Klitschko’s destruction of Danny Williams in Las Vegas 11 days ago.
“I don’t watch fights that much no more,” he whispers. “I don’t like it like I used to.”
But that doesn’t stop him having a view on the fight. “Danny doesn’t punch hard enough to hurt that guy,” he says.
Yes, but he punched hard enough to hurt you, didn’t he?
“I hurt my knee in that fight,” he explains – which is true, because he needed surgery afterwards and is still six weeks of rehab away from being fully fit again.
THE last time I’d met Tyson was more than a year ago, after Frank Bruno was taken to hospital to help him deal with his own demons.
Tyson says he cried for his old foe at the time and is glad when I tell him Frank is on the mend.
“That makes me happy,” he says. “The worst thing that can happen to you is for you to lose your mental powers, especially when you’ve got a wife and kids.”
And he should know. Muttering something about a boxer’s biggest fight coming after he leaves the ring, Tyson then comes over all philosophical.
“Dying can’t be as bad as living,” he muses. “There’s no way that dying can be as bad as living. But while you’re living you have to live.
“I don’t know what I’m doing. I just live, I guess, get some food. But I don’t cook. I go to restaurants every night.” Asked how he fills his days, he replies: “I don’t do anything. My life sucks.”
Cash-strapped after blowing a £200million fortune, he has sold all his mansions, got rid of the pet tigers and flogged the luxury cars to move into a £60,000 two-bedroom house in Phoenix, Arizona.
He even has to put his own rubbish out now. But he denies that he has left the back streets of Brooklyn, where he grew up, for good.
“I live wherever I can,” he says, before pondering whether it has all been worth it.
“I’ve reached a point in my life when I think: ‘Damn, what is all this s*** for?’ You forget about all the fighting and all the training.
“But I guess I’m fortunate enough, right? Never have to wait in line for anything, never have to worry about getting a nice girlfriend, a good-looking girlfriend. I don’t know, it has its advantages.”
Right now Tyson is more hungry for women than another title shot after splitting up with his girlfriend of two years.
“I’m trying to get some p***y, to get laid. I’m trying to get laid,” he says, laughing. He has turned up at Gleason’s with his ex-wife Monica and their seven-year-old son Amir. “There’s no reconciliation,” Monica is quick to point out. “We’re just good friends.”
Although little Amir is the first to pound away at Daddy’s yellow padded mitts, Tyson has no desire for his son to follow him into the ring.
“I wouldn’t recommend it to my son – I don’t think he’s got it in him,” he says. “The one thing all the champions ever in the world have in common is poverty. It’s all they have. You have to fight your way out of poverty.”
HE mumbles instructions to nine-year-old Sherif Younan, telling him to move his head in the ring if he doesn’t want to get hurt.
Sherif says later: “He told me: ‘If you don’t do your left hook after your right you’re gonna get caught. You have to do a combination.’ If I learned one thing from him it was never stay in one place – always move around.”
The youngster – already an amateur champion – adds: “I move all the time so I won’t get hit by a big guy like this. I’ve seen a lot of Tyson’s fights on TV. He doesn’t pitter-patter, he punches hard.”
Little Sueshona Norville, also nine, says: “It was fun. I don’t think I hurt him.”
So what is Tyson’s message to youngsters who want to follow in his footsteps?
“I tell them they need to dedicate themselves, make sacrifices and come every day,” he says. “To miss as less days as possible and stay off the absentee list.”
As he walks around the gym, he is all grins as he is mobbed by fans wanting his autograph or a picture with him.
“It takes me back to the days when I was training here,” he says. “It’s always exciting to have a crowded gym, there’s a lot of personalities here. But it’s weird, too. People I’ve known for 20 years are new to me. In 20 years things change drastically. People know my name, but I don’t know who the hell they are. I think I know them and I don’t know them.
“Being here now, a lot of people come up to you and talk to you, but you don’t know who the hell they are. It’s weird.”
Bruce Silverglade, who has owned Gleason’s for 26 years and is an old friend of the fighter, says: “Tyson is content in this type of environment. This is where he’s familiar, because he trained here as a youngster and an adult.
“The people that train here want to emulate what he did best and it’s an atmosphere that he likes best. He likes working with kids and people who can appreciate him as a great boxer.
“No one here’s going to say: ‘Oh, look – there’s Mike Tyson, the rapist who got into trouble again the other day.'”
Tyson was jailed for six years in 1992 after raping 18-year-old Desiree Washington, a Miss Black America contestant, in a hotel in Indianapolis. He served half his sentence.
Bruce says: “He’s got to be careful what he does. He recently got into trouble for jumping on to the hood of someone’s car. There could have been some nut or crack addict behind the wheel who might have shot him or something.”
As for his future in the ring, Bruce, 58, says: “Mike Tyson will never be a productive fighting force again. But he might get fights to make money because of his name.”
Certainly, his family and those who care for him do not want him to be pushed back into action by the money men.
“I think he’s just tired of everything and he wants to live a normal life now,” says his sister, Jackie Rowe.
And to know that the only blows he will take in the ring from now on are the powder-puff punches of a nine-year-old girl who doesn’t want to hurt her once-mighty hero.