Behind the Gloves: Mike Tyson

Tyson became infatuated with the sport, watching old boxing videos religiously, learning the tricks of the trade from legends of a bygone era

Introduction

The story of Mike Tyson’s life is one of the most incredible, fascinating and disturbing stories in the entire world of sport. It is a story rampant with monumental highs and devastating lows. One which involves incessant drug abuse, visits to prison, theft and deceit, childhood adoption and of course, one of the greatest boxing careers of all time.

Early Life

Michael Gerard Tyson was born in Brooklyn, New York, in June 1966. As a child, he endured a particularly difficult start to life, both in his upbringing and surroundings. He never knew his biological father, Purcell Tyson - and his stepfather, Jimmy Kirkpatrick, abandoned the family when he was just two years of age. Tyson was sexually abused by a stranger when he was seven, and his mother, who was an alcoholic, died when he was just 16.

After his stepfather left, Tyson’s mother moved the family to 178 Amboy Street in Brownsville, on the eastern side of Brooklyn. Brownsville was renowned for being the murder capital of New York, whilst also boasting the highest rate of incarceration and violent crime of anywhere in New York. It was here that Tyson’s life would descend into a murky world of crime and rebellion.

“Everything was so hostile, cops always stopping you, ambulances always coming to pick up somebody, guns always going off, people are getting stabbed.”

The legend of ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson had begun to take shape. With the help of his new team, he had learnt to channel the anger and frustration from his childhood, and turn it into controlled yet frightening aggression in the ring.

Tyson on the speed ball during an open workout at Fitzgerald Casino
Tyson on the speed ball during an open workout at Fitzgerald Casino

As a timid and pudgy kid with a lisp and glasses, in one of the roughest areas in the country, it was either fight back or fade away. When he was 10, Tyson joined a local gang called the Jolly Stompers, who, despite the name, weren’t quite as friendly as they sounded. By 11, he had already been introduced to acid and cocaine. He’d also been arrested more than 30 times before he was even a teenager.

“I came from such a morbid home life that I couldn't live without feeling the hot stones and seeing the blazing fires. Hell was my life, it was my world, it was where I grew up."

Given the start to life that Tyson had and the things he saw growing up, it is perhaps unsurprising that he meandered towards a life of crime. However, things took an incredible turn when he was sent to a juvenile centre in upstate New York.

Tyson’s Fighting Journey

In 1981, a 12-year-old Tyson was sent to Tyron school for boys in upstate New York. Either by luck or good fortune, a certain Bobby Stewart was offering boxing lessons to inmates of the juvenile centre - the same Bobby Stewart who fought at light-heavyweight on the undercard of ‘The Rumble in the Jungle’ in 1974.

Clearly believing he had an incredible talent on his hands, Stewart reached out to legendary boxing manager Cus D’Amato, who had led people like Jose Torres and Floyd Patterson to world titles. D’Amato immediately took Tyson under his wing, eventually adopting him, and moving him into his family home after his mother died. Teddy Atlas and Kevin Rooney were brought in to oversee training, and a young Tyson became infatuated with the sport, watching old boxing videos religiously, learning the tricks of the trade from legends of a bygone era.

Professional Career

Youngest heavyweight world champion in history
Youngest heavyweight world champion in history

By late 1981, still just 15 years of age, Tyson had already become World Junior Olympic champion, knocking out Joe Cortez inside eight seconds. A record, by the way, which still stands today.

Tyson was a merciless aggressor. Although he could duck and weave very well, and he moved his feet fantastically, his style, in all honesty, was to beat the living hell out of whoever was stupid enough to get in the ring with him. From the second the bell rang, he would fly recklessly forward, like a wild animal released from its cage. He had a super stiff jab, with devastating yet hauntingly accurate left and right hooks. He loved to get up close, snapping brutal uppercuts to the head and body - and when he smelt blood, he was simply relentless.

In the early 1980s, the self-proclaimed ‘Baddest Man on the Planet’ embarked on a mastodonic rampage, tearing through the heavyweight division and obliterating all manner of opponents. Between his first fight on March 6, 1985 and September 6, 1986, Tyson fought and won 27 times, with a KO or TKO victory on 25 occasions.

On November 22 1986, less than two years after turning professional, he became the youngest heavyweight champion in boxing history. The 20-year-old pugilist put on a chilling display of aggression and precision, snatching the WBC title from reigning champion Trevor Berbick.

Less than a year later, he became the first heavyweight to simultaneously hold the WBC, WBA and IBF championship belts. In his prime, Tyson would reign as the undisputed champion for two years, six months and 10 days, conquering future legends of the sport such as Larry Holmes, Tyrone Spinks and Frank Bruno along the way.

Tyson beat Bruno twice in his career
Tyson beat Bruno twice in his career

However, the near untouchable platform to which he had risen would soon crumble beneath his feet.

Fall from Grace

By the late 1980s, Mike Tyson had undoubtedly written his name into boxing folklore. Many believed him to be the hardest-hitting heavyweight of all time, and on the surface, he seemed to be relishing the life of luxury which his sporting talents had provided.

Don King and Mike Tyson
Don King and Mike Tyson

Behind the scenes, however, things were not as happy and stable as they seemed. The passing of Cus D’Amato in 1985 hit the fighter particularly hard. Shortly afterward, renowned boxing manager Don King ingratiated himself into Tyson’s favour, eventually becoming his manager.

Rumours of increased cocaine and alcohol abuse were rampant, and it turned out, very much true. His new promoter and manager would fuel the darker side of Tyson’s personality, encouraging partying, drugs, alcohol and women. In 1990, a year after his messy divorce from Robin Givens, Tyson would suffer his first defeat in the ring, a relatively one-sided clash with James ‘Buster’ Douglas, which genuinely shocked the world.

A Damaged Legacy

Tyson would never recover from the loss to Douglas, and it was but the start of a meteoric downfall. Following allegations from Desiree Washington in July of 1991, Tyson was charged with rape, and subsequently sentenced to six years in prison. After being released, and maintaining his innocence, Tyson mounted a comeback, but it was short lived. A rivalry with Evander Holyfield resulted in back-to-back losses, the second via disqualification for biting his opponents ear off.

It was ultimately a rather sad and anti-climactic end for one of the greatest heavyweight fighters of all time, and his legacy will be forever tarnished. 

He will, however, go down in the annals of boxing history as one of the most explosive, entertaining and hard-hitting heavyweights the world has ever seen.

By Craig Watson, @watsoncraig7

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