Sunday, February 05, 2023

The Front Row with Tim Dahlberg December 14, 2010

| December 14, 2010 8:00 PM

Mike Tyson and I were sitting around a few months back, talking about life.

His life, that is, a subject Tyson seems to find almost as fascinating as a lot of other people do.

"When I was younger I thought I was going to destroy myself," Tyson told me. "I'm very grateful I made it to this place in my life."

That place is a far different place than I ever imagined Tyson to be in the years I spent covering his career. By this time I figured he would be in prison, homeless or off by himself tending to pigeons somewhere.

Actually, I figured he would be dead.

Stabbed in a strip club, shot by a jealous husband. Perhaps overdosed on cocaine.

But dead, long before he confronted middle age. Like Tyson, I was convinced he would destroy himself.

Instead, in a development just as stunning as Tyson losing to Buster Douglas, he has launched a second career the old Iron Mike never would have recognized.

Now the 44-year-old is heading to the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Cue the jokes now, but there's no truth to the rumor his bust will be placed next to a bronze replica of Evander Holyfield's ear.

He'll be there because he once was truly was the baddest man on the planet.

OK, so the bar for entry in the boxing hall isn't set all that high. Proof was the announcement that actor Sylvester Stallone is joining Tyson as one of the 12 members of next year's class.

Unless you were around when Tyson reigned as the heavyweight champion of the world, it's hard to imagine just how big he was. It's also hard to imagine how troubled he was, though the tabloids of the late '80s and early '90s were filled with daily reminders of the difficulties he had outside the ring living up to what he did inside the ring.

"I got intoxicated with myself," Tyson said. "I didn't know how empty I was as champ."

I was sitting at ringside the night Tyson knocked out Trevor Berbick in the second round at the Las Vegas Hilton to become the youngest heavyweight champion ever. Later that night I watched as the fearsome 20-year-old paraded proudly around the casino with the gaudy WBC title belt wrapped around his waist.

Nearly a quarter century later Tyson is drawing laughs appearing in movies and videos that parody his former self. But there was nothing funny about the man-child who was at the same time both frightening and fascinating.

If this were another hall of fame, Tyson would have no chance of getting in. He served time behind bars for both rape and assault, narrowly missed another prison term after being caught with cocaine in Arizona and generally behaved so badly over the years that normal society wouldn't want anything to do with him.

But this is boxing, not baseball. And no one who watched Tyson viciously pummel opponents in his prime would ever question his place among the sport's all-time greats.

His prime didn't last long, a little over three years before Douglas exposed him as a one-trick fighter in Japan. But promoters were still selling Tyson a decade later to boxing fans who didn't understand that he was simply going through the motions to make another payday.

"You become a freak, so to speak," he told me. "People stare at you and you don't understand why the average person looks at you like you're someone special."

Tyson is remarkably good at analyzing himself and harshly candid when it comes to talking about his shortcomings. He's every psychiatrist's dream patient, and every talk show host's dream guest.

It's been five years since an out-of-shape and disinterested Tyson was knocked out in his final fight by Kevin McBride, journeyman heavyweight who wouldn't have lasted a round with him in his heyday. He's now approaching middle age and seems to have finally shed at least some of the demons that constantly tormented him.

Iron Mike is now Hall of Famer Mike.

Alive and surprisingly well.

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at

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