Updated: March 13, 2014 6:07AM
Mike Tyson was brutally honest, surprisingly candid and entertainingly animated, as well as funny, furious and foul-mouthed. But was he truly being himself?
That’s what I kept asking myself last Saturday night while watching the 47-year-old former boxing champ’s critically acclaimed one-man show, “Undisputed Truth,” at The Venue inside Horseshoe Casino in Hammond.
“It was love at first fight,” Tyson joked with the audience about his first street fight, at age 10, which led to his boxing career. “I bit a couple people back then, too. I was already a legend in the making, at least in my own head.”
“Back then, I didn’t know that I wanted to be a boxer. I just knew I wanted to be something great. But I didn’t know what,” he said.
The young, raw and angry Michael Gerard Tyson joined a boxing club, though the trainer didn’t want him.
“I was a troublemaker,” Tyson said. “But he eventually accepted me and introduced me to this old Italian guy who would forever change my life.”
His name was Constantino “Cus” D’Amato, a short but intimidating trainer and manager who died in 1985, but only after teaching “Kid Dynamite” Tyson how to fight, as well as how to read and write.
“Hey Mike, are you scared of white people?!” Tyson jabbered loudly and abrasively while emulating D’Amato. “Remember Mike, the way you fight your fights is the way you live your life.”
Tyson recalled, “The names Mike Tyson and Cus D’Amato would forever be synonymous with one another.”
D’Amato told Tyson he could become a boxing legend if he listened to his every word. And Tyson did, becoming the youngest boxer ever to win three heavyweight titles before age 21, including 19 bouts by knockout (and 12 of those in the first round). He also broke the record for the fastest knockout ever, in eight seconds.
“I didn’t trust Cus at first because where I came from somebody always wanted to (expletive) you,” Tyson said, prompting another laugh from the crowd. “I had no idea what I was getting into.”
Tyson soon got into fame, fortune and trouble, again and again and again.
On stage, he covered every aspect of his troubled, tumultuous life, from his early Brooklyn-born days of crime and punishment (jailed 30 times by age 12, he said) to his brief marriage and high-profile divorce to “gold digger” Robin Givens.
“Robin and her mom were like vultures with me and my money,” said Tyson, who took repeated jabs at Givens. “Remember, I wasn’t nigga-rich. I was white people rich and they knew it.”
Just like in his heavyweight bouts, he didn’t juke away from the heavy issues in his life and career, including his “wrongful” conviction and three-year imprisonment for the rape of Desiree Washington, Miss Black Rhode Island, in 1992. In Indianapolis, if you recall.
“I should have known this (expletive) would be trouble,” Tyson said while looking at a jumbo screen image of Washington alongside other pageant candidates. “But I did not rape Desiree Washington, that’s all I’m gonna say.”
During his time in prison, Tyson found temporary “freedom” and converted to Islam, but it didn’t seem to temper his temper or find him peace.
“I was still mad as a mother (expletive),” he recalled. “Plus, I was homeless and hoe-less.”
This played out again with his 1997 ear-biting incident with boxer Evander Holyfield, who later forgave and befriended Tyson.
“I snapped. (Expletive) happens,” Tyson explained with a shrug.
And, again with his out-of-the-ring bout in 1988 with boxer Mitch “Blood” Green at Dapper Dans clothing shop in Harlem, New York City.
“Mitch was on angel dust that night and he just wouldn’t go down,” Tyson quipped while pretending to be Green, complete with a black afro wig as a prop. “I hit Mitch so hard I broke my (expletive) hand. But he looked like a Cyclops.”
Tyson also revealed the deal he made with the devil: “I signed with Don King,” he said with regretful disgust. And he noted his three marriages and six surviving kids.
He also noted the deaths of three loved ones in his life — his mother (who died when he was a teenager), his sister (who died at age 25) and his daughter (who died at age 4) — each who took away a piece of him. The show’s brief intermissions each began with their images projected on the jumbo screen behind the stage.
“My mom, she died of cancer, but she died of a broken heart,” he said while looking at her image on the screen.
Tyson’s nearly two-hour show was intriguing, humorous and insightful. Not quite a stage-show knockout but still a split-decision victory. He routinely had the crowd laughing hysterically at times and even yelling back encouragement at him.
“That a way, Mike!” and “You’re still the champ!” they shouted to Tyson, who retired in 2006.
Still, I couldn’t help but notice how scripted and choreographed Tyson’s show seemed, especially when he stumbled over his own overly rehearsed words. This revealed to me that those words were actually not his, but possibly Spike Lee’s, whose directing fingerprints were all over this polished multiround production.
“I didn’t go to school much so I’ve been working with a vocal coach,” Tyson confided in between stories. “Nobody told me I needed a (expletive) interpretator. Uh, I mean an interpreter.”
Also, I haven’t heard this much cussing on stage since Richard Pryor in his (expletive) heyday, including countless N-word jabs and cliche jokes about “white people.”
“I can’t dance. I’m so white when I’m dancing,” he admitted while trying a dance move on stage. And, “(Expletive) you, you fat stupid-(expletive) (N-word),” he quipped, recalling one of his early fights.
However, by the time the final bell rang, Tyson’s show served its purpose — it was entertaining, vividly reflecting his colorful life, his obvious sins and his disputed truths.
“I just hope you guys leave here tonight with a better understanding of me,” he said to a rousing standing ovation.