Today, I am deviating from politics to one of my favorite past times - sports (blame the former tomboy, avid football and sometimes boxing fan in me) - to weigh in (pun intended) on the new Mike Tyson documentary being hailed as “fascinating” and “another knockdown for the champ,” in premier reviews. What I’m drawn to are the value-added lessons of morality, virtue and redemption that can bubble from even some of the most-loathed (and seemingly always “misunderstood”) among us.
For all intents and purposes (and political junkies) there also happens to be a subtle intersection between the world of boxing and politics, just ask boxing fan and advocate Sen. John McCain. McCain, for years, has pushed for reforms in boxing that led to the Professional Boxing Safety Act of 1996, Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act of 2000 and the Professional Boxing Fundamentals Act of 2004. And most recently (just two weeks ago), the Arizona senator co-sponsored legislation pressing for a presidential pardon of the first black Heavyweight Champion, Jack Johnson. During the 2008 presidential campaign (which by many accounts was a knock-down drag out), one reporter noted that if elected, McCain would be “the best friend boxing ever had in the White House.” One other random factoid is that Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele’s sister was once married to Tyson and as you may recall, Tyson campaigned with Steele during his failed Senate bid. So there, the politics part is covered.
Now on to the movie, which is appropriately titled “Tyson.” No, I haven’t seen the preview, but I have seen the trailer. And one can’t help but be drawn to what’s undoubtedly a compelling story, if you pay any attention to the onslaught of media interviews and analysis promoting the picture this week. Bottom line: Tyson says he has a lot of regrets. You don’t say? I am wondering if that includes the domestic assault of his first wife Robin Givens? While I’ve always been skeptical of the rape charge that led to his eventual conviction, I do believe Givens’ account of domestic abuse at hands of Tyson. Surprisingly, Tyson seems to address that “troubling” time in his life in the documentary, but I’m not sure how far he goes in discussing the violence. While he bragged that “women have a magnetic force toward me,” he also called his marriage to Givens “disastrous” and admits:
“I was too immature to be married.”
And probably a little too angry. But wait, here comes some self-reflection. He admits:
“I’m a jerk sometimes.”
Boasts about what he’s most proud of.
“Very proud father of six kids.”
Tyson even chokes up and cries at the mention of his former trainer and mentor.
“He told me what to do.”
But with the sweet comes some bitter. Of controversial boxing promoter, Don King, Tyson characterizes him as a:
“Rich, slimy, reptilian, Mother-(expletive).”
Ouch. On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe Tuesday,” “Tyson” director James Toback explained that Tyson’s problems and self-destructive behavior that resulted in multiple arrests, jail time, drug use, et al - boil down to this:
“Mike had no innate capacity for discipline.”
Ya think? Of the most memorable and infamous ear-biting incident that took place when Tyson took a chunk of flesh from fellow boxer and “Dancing With The Stars” alum, Evander Holyfield, Toback described it this way:
“One of the most dramatic moments I’ve ever seen in a movie is Mike’s voiceover in going over the Holyfield episode. You’re actually in his head. He has no remorse about it.”
Toback (and Tyson) claim that Holyfield was actually egging Tyson on by head butting. As if to suggest that Hoyfield was taunting him toward cannibalism.
“It’s not that he regretted the ear biting, but regretted that he lost his discipline.”
The man’s ear will never be the same, yet Tyson, would apparently do it all again, except maybe in a more disciplined way next time. So much for self-reflection. Yet, here’s a lesson in discipline if you’ve ever heard one: Holyfield, who I’ve known for many years, didn’t retaliate against Tyson in the ring, has never spoke ill of him or the incident and actually “forgave him” instantly.
In response to the movie and Tyson’s lack of remorse, Holyfield told me today that Tyson has an “intriguing” personality so it’s no wonder people would be compelled to see it. He also says he believes his former ear-biting foe actually has suppressed feelings about the whole ordeal that won’t allow him to be more honest about his remorse.
“I think he’s more sorry about that than anything. His pride won’t let him acknowledge he’s sorry for that. Deep down inside this is why his world tumbled down.”
Holyfield says he will likely go to see the movie, compelled as anyone else. And has questions he hopes the it will answer:
“Is it displaying a better person, or bringing him down even more so? Will it uplift? Or just be about more people trying to make money off of him [Tyson]?”
Riveting, fascinating and and reflective as it may be, one doubts the man or the movie will change or restore what’s been lost in the sport of boxing. McCain has failed at several attempts to re-establish a boxing commission. The advent of “Ultimate Fighting” has surged with new fans and boxing events nowadays seem more staged and choreographed than of days-old. Not to mention, all the “good guys” are getting older. 36-year-old Oscar de La Hoya called it quits, announcing his retirement last week. Many of the new guys, like AT&T pitchman and pretty-boy Floyd Mayweather, just don’t ring as true as those classic fighters I grew up on — Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Tommy Hearns and of course, Holyfield (okay so I’m aging myself.) And while at 50-years-old George Foreman proved to us all that age is just a number, it is doubtful that Tyson will ever step into a ring again (or whether anyone would really want to pay money to see him.)
47-year-old Holyfield, who has yet to retire, tells me that he recently entertained what he thought was a “rematch” offer from the Tyson camp. It turned out to be a fluke. And Tyson recently told FOX News, he’s not interested. In a clip played on “Morning Joe” in an after-bout interview from the documentary, it’s clear why. A weary Tyson has tired of the the grueling gamut.
“I just don’t have this in my heart anymore.. I’m just fighting to take care of my bills basically… I don’t have that ferocity anymore. I’m not an animal anymore.”
Even if not as forgiving as his onetime foe, one life lesson from his self-destruction has led Tyson to this revelation:
“If I have any anger, if it’s directed at anyone, it’s directed at myself.”
Maybe we’ll see a boxing comeback of a different kind. One that restores the virtue of character, responsibility and real sportsmanship.
Set for release on Friday, April 24th, you can check out the trailer for “Tyson,” here.
-Tara Wall is a deputy editor at the Washington Times and editor of TheConservatives.com.