'Iron Mike' explosive in and out of ring
"People want to see a train wreck, a car wreck, a whatever wreck. And to those people, Mike Tyson represents that. So they want to watch it for all the perverse reasons, not for boxing," says boxing historian Bert Sugar on ESPN Classic's SportsCentury series.
His career once held the promise of reaching the heavyweight division's pantheon. But even before he became the world's youngest heavyweight champion at 20, Mike Tyson had led a rough and unpredictable existence. Since then, his life has been one giant soap opera. Questions concerning how great Tyson could become were eventually replaced by "What's next?"
But Kid Dynamite was also a powder keg waiting to explode outside the ring. Tyson has been sent to prison twice, once for the rape of a Miss Black America contestant and later for assaulting two motorists during a traffic dispute.
And Tyson's meltdowns haven't been limited to his personal life. The boxing world watched him lose his cool during a WBA championship fight in 1997, when he bit Evander Holyfield's ears, an act that cost Tyson his boxing license and $3 million.
"There are nine million people who see me in the ring and hate my guts," Tyson said. "Most of them are white. That's okay. Just spell my name right."
In 1998, a psychiatric exam said that Tyson suffered from low self-esteem and bouts of depression.
Trying to become the first fighter to win the heavyweight title in three decades, the no longer "Iron Mike" was dominated by champion Lennox Lewis on June 8, 2002 in Memphis. An underdog for the first time in his career, Tyson was bleeding from cuts over his eyes and from the nose when he was knocked out in the eighth round.
The youngest of Jimmy Kirkpatrick and Lorna Tyson's three children, Mike was born on June 30, 1966 in Brooklyn, N.Y. Jimmy and Lorna were never married and he left around the time Mike was born. Lorna gave Mike the surname from her previous marriage (Tyson).
The first of Jimmy and Lorna's children, Rodney, was born in 1961 and a daughter, Denise, followed three years later. Shortly after Mike's birth, Lorna took the children and moved to the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, one of the borough's toughest sections. Growing up in the ghetto, Tyson learned to express himself with his fists. He would pummel schoolmates who ridiculed his high-pitched voice.
At 12, Tyson was arrested for purse snatching and sent to the Tryon School for Boys. He soon met Bobby Stewart, a counselor and former boxer who saw in Tyson a pugnacious kid who had grown to 200 pounds and could bench press more than his weight.
Through Stewart, Tyson met Cus D'Amato, who had trained former heavyweight champ Floyd Patterson. After his release from Tryon, Tyson moved in with D'Amato, who had become his manager. But Tyson couldn't avoid trouble and was expelled from Catskill High School in upstate New York in 1982 for disciplinary reasons.
Two years later, D'Amato became his legal guardian. At the same time, Tyson was hoping to represent the U.S. in the heavyweight division at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Two controversial losses to Henry Tillman ended that dream.
Tyson's pro debut came on Mar. 6, 1985, when he knocked out Hector Mercedes in the first round. He finished the year 15-0. Outside the ring, Tyson suffered a blow in November when D'Amato died, leaving Tyson without a father figure.
After improving his record to 27-0, Tyson received a WBC title shot on Nov. 22, 1986. By knocking out Trevor Berbick in the second round, Tyson became the youngest heavyweight champion.
Less than four months later, Tyson gained a 12-round decision over James "Bonecrusher" Smith for the WBA crown. Tyson added the final piece of the heavyweight pie -- the IBF belt -- by winning another 12-round decision, this one over Tony Tucker on Aug. 1, 1987.
After successfully defending his title three times, Tyson hit it big against another unbeaten fighter, Michael Spinks. Iron Mike needed only 91 seconds -- two seconds quicker than the singing of the national anthem -- to knock out the former light-heavyweight champ on June 27, 1988 and collect $20 million.
At about the same time, Tyson's personal life became a tabloid publisher's dream. First, wife Robin Givens went public with stories of being physically assaulted by Tyson. Then the fighter sued manager Bill Cayton to break their contract -- the case was settled out of court, reducing Cayton's share from one-third to 20 percent of the purses.
In September, Tyson became partners with promoter Don King. A month later, Givens filed for divorce after a stormy eight-month marriage when Tyson hurled furniture from the window of their home, forcing Givens and her mother to flee the scene.
In 1989, Tyson registered TKOs over Frank Bruno and Carl Williams to improve his record to 37-0. Then came a monumental upset: a 42-1 favorite, Tyson was knocked out in the 10th round by Buster Douglas in Tokyo on Feb. 10, 1990.
Losing the heavyweight championship proved to be the least of his problems. On July 18, 1991 he met Desiree Washington at a beauty pageant rehearsal in Indianapolis. The two returned to Tyson's hotel room in the early morning hours. Four days later, Washington filed a complaint with police alleging that Tyson raped her.
He was indicted on rape and three other charges and released on $30,000 cash bond. Meanwhile, his scheduled November fight against Holyfield was postponed because of a rib injury Tyson sustained while training.
On Feb. 10, 1992 -- exactly two years to the day after his loss to Douglas -- Tyson suffered a more telling defeat: He was found guilty of one count of rape and two counts of deviate sexual conduct. Judge Patricia Gifford sentenced him to 10 years in prison, suspending four, to be served at the Indiana Youth Center, a high-medium security facility with 1,400 inmates.
His release on parole came three years later, on Mar. 25, 1995. Five months later, he returned to the ring, even if it was only for 89 seconds, the time needed to finish off Peter McNeeley. By scoring TKOs over Bruno and Bruce Selden in 1996, Tyson regained the WBC and WBA titles, respectively.
On Nov. 9, 1996, Holyfield took the WBA crown from Tyson, an 8-1 favorite, by registering an 11th-round TKO. Their rematch took place the following June. This time Tyson was disqualified for biting Holyfield's ears in the third round. Tyson defended his actions by saying he was retaliating for a head butt that opened up a gash above his right eye. Not amused, the Nevada State Athletic Commission revoked his license in a unanimous vote.
Eighteen months later Tyson was back again, knocking out Frans Botha in the fifth round. Then came more trouble. Tyson was convicted of punching a 62-year-old man and kicking another in the groin after a traffic accident in suburban Washington, D.C. He received a one-year sentence after pleading no contest, but served only 3½ months in jail.
On June 24, 2000, Tyson knocked out Lou Savarese in the first round and then directed remarks toward Lewis, the heavyweight champ: "I want your heart. I want to eat your children." Tyson later followed up that comment by saying he would put a bullet in Lewis' skull if Lewis ever tried to intimidate him.
"I guess he doesn't get any peace anywhere he goes," Lewis said before whipping Tyson. "His life is basically an open book. Everybody is waiting for the next thing to happen."
After Tyson knocked out journeyman Clifford Etienne 49 seconds into the first round in February 2003, the next two things that happened to him in the ring weren't good. In July 2004, he was knocked out in the fourth round by 9-1 underdog Danny Williams and in June 2005 he quit on his stool after the sixth round against unheralded Kevin McBride. The defeats dropped his record to 50-6, with two no contests and 44 knockouts.
Outside the ring, Tyson also took a beating. In the summer of 2003, he filed for Chapter 11 protection in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, saying he squandered almost all his estimated earnings of $300 million through lavish spending and bad advice.