IRON MIKE IS OUT OF CONTROL
Mike Tyson's lifelong criminal tendencies have overtaken him.
His life has become the classic cautionary tale of the talented young man who zoomed to the pinnacle of the brutal sport of boxing at the unprecedented age of 20, achieving wealth beyond his ability to comprehend--or to handle.
The incredible physical strength and natural savagery that carried Tyson to the top of boxing's mountain proved impossible for him to subdue.
Now Tyson faces a cruel irony.
He has a fight set against Evander Holyfield in Las Vegas on November 8, during which he can regain his heavyweight crown and earn more than $200 million. Only in the outlaw sport of boxing, dominated by the gambling casinos and the underworld, would a man in Tyson's predicament be allowed to continue competing.
More important, he has a trial date set for January in Indianapolis, during which he must face criminal charges of rape that could result in a sentence estimated at 66 years in prison.
Tyson was the youngest heavyweight champion in history. No one was ever as aggressive, as wild or as cruel inside the ring. His boxing style was both thrilling and frightening to behold. It was quickly assumed he could go on to be the greatest heavyweight champion of them all. The problem was that, on many occasions, his style outside the ring was every bit as wild and cruel.
The seeds sown during those harsh days growing up on New York City's streets had merely been lying dormant, waiting for the opportunity to emerge and, once again, to take control of Tyson's personality and, finally, his very life.
Tyson grew up in Brooklyn's Brownsville, one of the country's most ferocious slums, without a father and in a walkup flat without heat in the winter and no cool spot in the steaming summer.
Tyson learned to be a pickpocket, a mugger, a slugger and a thief before anyone taught him to read or write. He once admitted that he had been arrested 40 times before he was 12, mostly for robbery and mugging. It wasn't until Tyson was confined to the Tryon Reform School, a facility for juvenile delinquents, that he thought of becoming a boxer.
When he was in his teens, Tyson was taken in by Cus D'Amato, boxing's eccentric, hall-of-fame loner and dedicated outsider who had ruled as a benevolent despot over the lives of boxing champions Floyd Patterson and Jose Torres.
Old Cus D'Amato trusted no one. He slept with a rifle close by. When he left his room, he set traps that would tell him if anyone had invaded his private place to snoop about while he was gone.
But D'Amato knew boxing. He also understood human nature. There was a motto he posted on the wall of his gymnasium:
"No matter what anyone says, no matter what the excuse or explanation, whatever he does in the end is what he intended to do all the time." That motto becomes more significant as you watch Tyson's life unfold.
In the beginning, Tyson's life was tightly controlled by D'Amato and Jim Jacobs, a former national handball champion who helped D'Amato train fighters.
Jacobs had developed the country's finest library of boxing films. For hours, Tyson would sit in darkened rooms watching films of the great fighters of the past. Tyson spent so many hours watching Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey, Rocky Graziano, Benny Leonard and Joe Louis that he knew their patented moves by heart.
But above all the things that D'Amato and Jacobs taught Tyson was the importance of controlling his emotions. They sat on him. Hard.
Tyson once told Phil Berger of the New York Times: "If I got upset, I'd get nasty. Cus would take me aside to warn me. If I did it again, he'd warn me out in the open--put me in my place:
"`I warned you about that already. You're not back in Brooklyn with those tomato cans and bums.'" There was a time when D'Amato went even further. D'Amato was in his seventies. Tyson was only 15, but potentially mutinous.
"You think you're tough?" D'Amato told him. "Let's go outside. I'll knock your fucking brains out."
Tyson did not step outside. He never attempted to defy D'Amato again.
D'Amato predicted, upon meeting Tyson when he was only 14 years old, that his new protege would be the youngest boxer ever to win the heavyweight title.
D'Amato was right, although he didn't live to see it. D'Amato died of pneumonia at the age of 77 on November 4, 1985. Tyson, at 20, became champion when he knocked out Trevor Berbick the following November in two rounds.
And the avaricious con men, like Don King, who had served time in prison for killing two men, weren't far behind.
The only buffer that stood between Tyson and disaster was Jim Jacobs. But Jacobs died of cancer little more than two years after D'Amato's death.
Tyson went from being sheltered and closely governed to being a free spirit. Suddenly, he could do anything he wanted. He was the heavyweight champion of the world and a rich man.
He made $20 million alone for a one-round fight against Michael Spinks. Endorsements followed. There was no end to the money. But he made a vigorous attempt to spend it.
In a single year, he spent $219,819 for jewelry. He paid $65,000 for a diamond-studded Piaget watch. He bought four automobiles: a Mercedes, a Jaguar, a Rolls-Royce and a Bentley. He began eating and drinking like a warrior king. He would eat three dozen chicken wings at a sitting or, if he was on a diet, three dozen steamed clams. He drank Dom Perignon, the best champagne, directly from the bottle.
One night, he crashed his $180,000 Bentley into a tree while fighting with his wife. Tyson was driving and said she was punching him in the head. Instead of calling for a tow truck, he gave the car away to the two policemen who came to the scene to investigate.
His behavior grew increasingly bizarre.
One night he hung from a seventh-floor balcony of a hotel and threatened to kill himself. Another time he rammed his car into a tree in what was believed to be a suicide attempt.
His wife said of him: "He thinks because he's Mike Tyson he can do whatever he feels like. If he feels like kicking in the television set or punching a hole in a wall or even hitting anyone in reach, he does it."
At a rock concert, he grabbed a female parking-lot attendant. She resisted. A parking-lot supervisor approached. Tyson struck him three times with his open hands. The case was settled out of court for $105,000.
The story takes a strange twist. Tyson always spoke of his admiration for Tony Ayala, a successful middleweight boxer known for his ferocity in the ring.
In April 1983, just months before he was to fight for the junior middleweight crown, Ayala was found guilty of sexual assault on a woman. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison with a 15-year minimum before becoming eligible for parole.
Just before the fight that could give him back his heavyweight title, Tyson has now been indicted by an Indianapolis grand jury for allegedly raping an 18-year-old college freshman in his hotel room on July 19.
While attending a Miss Black America pageant in Indianapolis that weekend, Tyson cut a wide swath. In addition to the rape charges, two civil suits have also been filed against him seeking more than $100 million in damages.
The charges all stem from a series of unseemly incidents in which a drunken and out-of-control Tyson fondled various female participants in the pageant at will.
In one of the lawsuits, Tyson is called a "serial buttocks fondler." In this suit, ten contestants in the Miss Black America pageant are named as having been either fondled or propositioned by Tyson.
The holder of last year's Miss Black America title has filed a separate $100 million suit for sexual harassment.
Certainly, there is a possibility that some of this legal activity is an effort on the part of overactive lawyers to find a payday.
Unfortunately, the ugliest facts would appear to have a solid basis. So many stories that are almost identical have recurred with frightening regularity over the past years.
The family of the woman who claims she was raped and held prisoner by Tyson in his hotel room refuses to talk about the case. The family has been offered money for the story but has turned it down.
The girl's father is a bookkeeper. "I could care less about money," he says. "Tyson must be stopped." Tyson has carried on without any checks on his behavior since the deaths of Cus D'Amato and Jim Jacobs. There has been no one to stop him.
"There's nothing on the planet that can stop me from confronting the world or stop me from living my life," Tyson says all too proudly.
He's wrong about that. Now he must face the consequences alone.
Tyson was the youngest heavyweight champion in history. No one was ever as aggressive, as wild or as cruel inside the ring.
"He thinks because he's Mike Tyson he can do whatever he feels like."
Tyson has carried on without any checks on his behavior since the deaths of Cus D'Amato and Jim Jacobs. There has been no one to stop him.
PASTRAMI DEAREST... v9-18-91
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Phoenix, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.