Mike Tyson: Growing up
By Victor Garcia (July 29, 2004) 
Mike Tyson
'Iron' Mike Tyson is set to face Danny Williams at the Freedom Hall in Louisville, Kentucky on July 30, 2004. Judging from his current demeanor, Tyson should come out of his corner boxing beautifully. He should bob, weave, catch, parry, pivot, and block with majestic artistry. We should all be witness to masterful combinations, fluid body attacks, and accurate head shots. Tyson should be able to listen to and fully incorporate the instructions of the battle tested Freddie Roach. Judging from his recent conduct, Tyson should leave the ring victorious, having wowed us, the boxing fans. After all, we know what he was capable of in the late 80s when he was focused and in shape, when he was pleasant and gracious. The shy, soft spoken Tyson that was groomed and guarded by Cus D’Amato fought beautifully. The eager-yet-introverted Tyson of that period did all the right things in the ring. He was at his best then. His recent contacts with the media and the fans have shown him to be, once again, polite and amiable. He is expressing himself clearly, cogently, and humbly. His insights into boxing have become what they used to be, knowledgeable and colorful. Unfortunately, a fighter’s behavior outside the ring is no indication of what he can accomplish inside the ring. Moreover, with his present comportment, Tyson’s past seems to belong to someone else.

During his rise to the top of the heavyweight division in the 1980s, much was made of Tyson’s young history. Nowadays, his childhood and his initial rise to the championship play second fiddle to his more recent antics in and out of the ring. However, to fully appreciate the boxer, the fighter, the controversial figure, one must understand what he used to be and how he got to where he is. 'Iron' Mike Tyson was born Michael Gerard Tyson on June 30, 1966, in Brooklyn, New York. He is said to have been baptized Catholic at an early age by his mother, Lorna Tyson. His biological parents are now deceased, and he is the youngest of three children. Because of his early troubles, his brother and sister are seemingly only footnote material. By the age of 10 he was reportedly arrested for the first time, and by the age of 12 he was in a juvenile detention facility for committing burglaries and robberies. The Tyron School for Boys, where a young Tyson was being held, was located in Johnstown, New York.

It was at this facility where the late Constantine 'Cus' D’Amato first took notice of the young boxer-to-be. Cus D’Amato was no stranger to delinquents. He had previously groomed Floyd Patterson, who spent time in a juvenile correctional facility, into the youngest heavyweight champion in history – a record that was to be broken by Mike Tyson. Under D’Amato’s guidance Tyson learned to box. He was adopted by the trainer and schooled in the intricacies and history of the sport. Having dropped out of Catskill High School in his senior year, Tyson focused on boxing. Cus D’Amato tested and honed his dropout in the amateur ranks, nearly leading him to Olympic glory.

Tyson’s amateur record is said to stand at 24-3. Two of the three losses were to Henry Tillman who beat Tyson out of a chance to represent America in the 1984 Olympic Games that were held in Los Angeles. Tillman, for his part, went on to win the gold medal in the heavyweight division. He was also later knocked out by Tyson in the first round when they met in the professional ranks. Failing to make the Olympic team, Tyson turned pro in 1985.

He had 15 fights in his first year. 15! He won them all by knockout, 11 of them in the first round. It was in this first year that Tyson suffered a setback in life and in career. Three days after his eleventh pro fight, Tyson’s mentor and father figure Cus D’Amato died of pneumonia. Tyson continued his championship trek with Kevin Rooney – also a D’Amato disciple – in his corner. His second year proved to be even more impressive. He increased the level of his opposition and fought 13 times. On November 22, 1986, remember, only his second year as a professional, he fought for the heavyweight championship of the world. Trevor Berbick of Canada – by way of Jamaica – held the World Boxing Council (WBC) heavyweight title. He had won it earlier that year against Pinklon Thomas. Mike Tyson was to be his first defense.

With famed trainer Angelo Dundee in his corner, Berbick’s plan was to take Tyson into the later rounds, hoping to tire the young prospect and then attack. The fight only made it to the second round. From the beginning, it appeared that Berbick was trying to use his greater reach to keep an advancing Tyson at bay. This having failed, Berbick shifted to two other tactics. He began to tie up on the inside in an effort to nullify the power of the compact challenger. This did little to help Berbick’s cause. He also began pushing away (literally) the powerful D’Amato protégé in order to make full use of his reach advantage. However, Tyson was persistent and started mixing his shots. He threw hooks to the body, hooks to the head, and uppercuts down the middle. All with bad intentions. With 23 seconds left in the opening frame, Berbick was nearly knocked down by a combination of punches that ended with a left hook. At the end of the round, Berbick looked at Tyson and sneered.

The second round saw Berbick visibly hurt by the first Tyson blow, a winging right hand. Seconds later, Berbick went down from a barrage of punches. He beat the count but was noticeably shaken and the fight continued. However, with 40 seconds left in the second frame, Berbick was dropped by a Tyson left. Berbick made every effort to stand and beat the count. His legs were wobbly though, and for his efforts he fell into the ropes. He tried again to get up, only to fall on his side this time. It was a sight to see one knockdown produce two subsequent falls. Trevor Berbick’s senses had been discombobulated by Mike Tyson’s crushing power. In the end, he made it to his feet but he was shaky and unfit to continue. Referee Mills Lane stopped the bout. This proved to be 'Iron' Mike Tyson’s crowning achievement. At 20 years, 144 days, he became the youngest heavyweight champion in history.

In his next fight, he challenged James 'Bonecrusher' Smith in a bid to unify the WBC and World Boxing Association (WBC) versions of the heavyweight crown. Tyson won a unanimous decision. His next landmark came when he outpointed Tony Tucker, the International Boxing Federation (IBF) champion, in 1987 and became the first undisputed heavyweight champion since Leon Spinks. Two years and five months after his professional debut, Mike Tyson was the true and acknowledged champion of the world.

Sometime after this, his life, both personal and professional, started to spiral out of control. After beating the previously undefeated Michael Spinks in 91 seconds and before his fight with the English fighter Frank Bruno, Tyson and Kevin Rooney parted ways. It was widely reported that they had had a falling out over Tyson’s then wife, actress Robin Givens. One year after the Bruno fight, Tyson was set to meet James 'Buster' Douglas in Tokyo, Japan in 1990. A 42-1 underdog, Douglas was being called Tyson’s next victim. This proved to be an incredibly inaccurate assessment.

After being down for what appeared to be a bit of a long count in the eighth round, Buster Douglas came back to knock Tyson out in the tenth round. Watching Tyson on the canvas, trying to get his mouthpiece in his mouth and simultaneously regain his footing sent shockwaves throughout the boxing world. The 37-0 (33) Tyson was stopped by the 29-4-1 (19) Douglas. Many consider this to be the greatest upset in boxing history. In fact, Ring magazine pegged this fight, 'Upset of the Year'.

Tyson was able to string together four victories against three different opponents after his first professional defeat. By this time it was 1991 and James 'Buster' Douglas had lost the titles he had won against Tyson. Evander 'The Real Deal' Holyfield had knocked the first man to defeat Tyson out in the third round. With this turn of events, Tyson signed to fight Holyfield. The fight was to be held in Las Vegas, Nevada on November 8, 1991. As fate would have it, Mike Tyson pulled out of the arranged contest due to a rib injury suffered in training. Subsequently, Tyson was indicted on rape charges in Indiana and eventually convicted. He was sentenced to serve six years in a penitentiary but served only three.

His return to the ring after his incarceration was highly anticipated. Tyson appeared to fight with the same tenacity and viciousness as he had when he was undisputed heavyweight champion. This, of course, may have been due to the quality of opposition. Nonetheless, Tyson eventually regained the WBC and WBA versions of the heavyweight title. Tyson the fighter looked to be on his way back up, while Tyson the person looked to be on his way down.

Tyson’s outbursts and rants were becoming increasingly outrageous and abusive. He was angry and troubled. His antics are well documented. The press conference outbursts have been witnessed, the interview statements have been printed, and the ring fouls have been recorded. There is little need to detail the ear and thigh biting incidents, the press conference fights, and the abusive manner in which he spoke to female reporters. There is little need to recount the continued run-ins with the law, the tattoos, his disinterest in training, or his recent inactivity. These things are all fresh in our collective consciousness. They make up a majority of what is now known about the man called 'Iron'.

Mike, by his own admission, has been irresponsible and has squandered millions. He now lives in a modest home and trains regularly. Being broke and having nothing has a funny way of forcing people to reevaluate their lives. Many have attributed his new character to his increasing age. However this may not be what has occurred. Judging from his current demeanor, 'Iron' Mike Tyson seems to have found Cus D’Amato’s voice in Freddie Roach’s instructions. He may have made a connection to his past that may translate into a more focused fighter. If this is the case the taller Danny Williams may have to fight off a more intent and well rounded opponent. The old, mellower, more respectful Tyson has resurfaced as the new version of 'Iron' Mike. Will he also be regenerated in the ring? Danny Williams may be the first to find out.
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