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Looking back at the Topsy-Turvy Life of Mike Tyson Who Turns 51 This Week

Rick Assad

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With the possible exception of the immortal Muhammad Ali, it seems that more words have been written about Mike Tyson than any other boxer.

And that’s saying a mouthful given the thousands upon thousands of young men with colorful stories and pasts that have stepped into the ring.

Tyson, who will celebrate his 51st birthday on June 30, has been on top of the mountain and in the basement during a professional career that spanned two decades.

At his very best, Tyson was one of the most feared and explosive punchers ever, reminiscent of such sluggers as Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano and George Foreman.

And he also reached the very lowest depths a man can face, including inner-doubt and self-loathing.

Tyson’s nadir was being convicted of raping Desiree Washington, an 18-year-old beauty pageant contestant.

For his punishment, Tyson was handed a six-year prison sentence, but spent slightly less than three years incarcerated.

When asked recently on a sports talk radio show publicizing his latest book “Iron Ambition: My Life With Cus D’Amato” co-authored with Larry Sloman, what year stood out with regard to partying, Tyson quipped, “Nineteen eighty-nine was a really good year.”

Everybody laughed. Tyson didn’t explain, but didn’t need to. We knew exactly what he meant. Early on, one could have predicted that Tyson’s future wasn’t going to be trading stocks and bonds on Wall Street.

For Tyson, the Brooklyn native, simply waking up every morning and still in one piece was an accomplishment.

From the very beginning, with little or no guidance from his delinquent father and overwrought mother, Tyson was a wayward kid, walking the tough and nasty streets of Brownsville, acting like a thug, always getting into trouble.

“I never saw my mother happy with me and proud of me for doing something,” Tyson said of his late mother Lorna Mae. “She knew me as being a wild kid running in the streets, coming home with brand new clothes that she knew I didn’t pay for. I never got a chance to talk to her or know her. Professionally, it has no affect, but it’s crushing emotionally and personally.”

Remarkably, before Tyson turned 13 years old, he had been arrested 38 times.

Once while driving around his old haunt in Brooklyn, he told his then wife, the actress, Robin Givens, “see that corner right over there? That’s where I once beat up a guy.”

To which Givens replied: “Mike, stop saying those awful things. Those were in the past. That’s not you.”

Only to have Tyson retort: “But it is me, only now I’m the heavyweight champion of the world.”

Tyson would often brag about being a ruffian and even told stories about helping little “old ladies” carry their groceries to their apartments, only to knock the lady on her fanny and take the goods for himself.

Tyson was simply too much to handle and was sent to the Tryon School For Boys.

It was there that he met Bobby Stewart, a counselor and one-time boxer, who later introduced Tyson to the legendary trainer D’Amato.

D’Amato was at the same time a genius and also paranoid, helping build a shy and introverted Floyd Patterson into at the time the youngest heavyweight champion and turn Jose Torres into the light heavyweight title holder.

“If you don’t learn to control fear, it’ll destroy you and everything around,” D’Amato famously said to Tyson and the others who came before him.

After seeing Tyson, with his powerful punches and perfect head movement, the old man predicted that he would someday be the heavyweight champion.

In time, D’Amato and his lady friend Camille Ewald, would take in Tyson and teach him table manners and instill the importance of getting good grades.

It was in Catskill, New York, that Tyson, in a training camp atmosphere would learn the tricks of the trade from D’Amato, Kevin Rooney and Teddy Atlas.

“Cus would give me confidence,” said Tyson of his first trainer.” I didn’t know what he was talking about. You’re going to be champion of the world. At first I thought he was crazy. But the more I thought about what he was saying, it made sense.”

During Tyson’s salad days, I had friends who were not fight fans per se, but after witnessing him set the heavyweight division on its proverbial ear, became fight fans.

Rather, Tyson fans, if only to see the 5-foot-10 bulldozer knock out whoever was placed in front of him.

Tyson, who had 58 professional fights, winning 50, losing six with two no contests and 44 knockouts, would indeed fulfill D’Amato’s prophecy and become the youngest heavyweight champion ever.

It happened on November 22, 1986, at the Las Vegas Hilton when Tyson earned a technical knockout win over Trevor Berbick in the second round for the World Boxing Council belt.

Four months later, Tyson would add the World Boxing Association crown by defeating James “Bonecrusher” Smith in a unanimous decision and five months later outpoint Tony Tucker on all three judges’ scorecards for the International Boxing Federation title.

Tyson seemingly had it all. The three heavyweight belts and all the money and fame he would ever need. Or so we thought.

While Tyson finally had something to be truly proud of, D’Amato never saw any of it because he passed away in November 1985.

These were exciting times for boxing and especially the heavyweight division in large part because of Tyson.

When Tyson reigned as the king of the division, he made it a throw-back era in which the gladiator came out of his dressing room as a stark figure, attired in black trunks, sock-less and in black high-top shoes.

There was more in store for Tyson, who reached his high-water mark on the night of June 27, 1988, at the Atlantic City Convention Hall.

It took all of 91 seconds for Tyson to knock out Michael Spinks.

Afterward, Spinks tried to explain what happened. “I’m a fighter. It’s what I do,” he told the assembled media that included the Newark Star-Ledger’s Jerry Izenberg. “I tried to take a shot, but I came up short. Fear was knocking at my door big time.”

Tyson’s road to stardom started innocently after taking out Hector Mercedes in the opening round via TKO in Albany, New York, on March 6, 1985.

Over time, 36 others would also be found on the short end, including 17 whose evening ended in the initial frame.

Without the need to brag, Tyson was indeed, the “baddest man on the planet,” and was feared by everyone in the division, except maybe one.

That was James “Buster” Douglas, who in February 1990, at the Tokyo Dome and a 42-1 underdog, unbelievably decked Tyson in the 10th round.

How could this have happened? To Tyson? The longtime boxing analyst Howard Cosell, who helped make Ali because of television, said Tyson could be beat. “You need to stick and move and keep away from him,” Cosell intoned.

Well that’s what the 6-foot-4 Douglas did. He kept his distance, jabbed when necessary and unleashed stinging rights.

After that debacle, Tyson righted the ship and reeled off eight straight victories before facing Evander Holyfield in November 1996 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena with the WBA, WBC and IBF belts on the line.

In a fierce battle, Holyfield earned a TKO victory in the 11th round. A rematch was needed and took place seven months later at the same venue.

But instead of it being remembered as a classic, it is known as the night Tyson lost his cool and bit a piece of Holyfield’s ear off and was disqualified in the third round by Mills Lane, the referee.

Tyson was no longer feared, but was still extremely dangerous. In a lopsided loss against Lennox Lewis at The Pyramid, in Memphis, Tennessee, in June 2002, “Kid Dynamite,” as Sports Illustrated once dubbed Tyson, was savagely pushed around by the much taller and better boxer that ended with an eighth-round knockout.

After earning a win, Tyson then closed out his time in the ring with consecutive setbacks to journeymen Danny Williams and Kevin McBride.

On one of my sojourns to Las Vegas a few years ago for a Saturday fight card at the MGM, I happened to be sitting ringside next to Harold Lederman for a Friday event at the Tropicana Hotel.

Early in the proceedings, I noticed a boy, probably 12 years old with boxing gloves and pen in hand walking toward Tyson and his wife Lakiha.

In short order, Tyson saw the boy, took the gloves, signed them and wished the youngster a good night. I leaned over and told Lederman that was a nice gesture and he agreed.

When Tyson began his storied career with Rooney in his corner, the Brownsville Bomber was practically unbeatable.

With the passing of D’Amato and Jimmy Jacobs, followed by Rooney and Atlas eventually cutting ties with the former undisputed heavyweight champion, Tyson’s life was in shambles.

Tyson has done some nice projects since retiring in 2005 including a one-man show, had a documentary done on his life and has appeared on television.

All of this is fine, but for me, Tyson’s last great gesture was being a pallbearer at Ali’s funeral.

Because even if only for a few minutes, the “Iron Mike” we all knew was back on top.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel

Mike Tyson

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“One Night in Miami”: Film Review by Thomas Hauser

Thomas Hauser

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On February 25, 1964, Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. defeated Charles “Sonny” Liston in Miami Beach over the course of six remarkable rounds to claim the heavyweight championship of the world. Late that night, the new champion found himself in a room at Hampton House (a black hotel in segregated Miami) with Malcolm X, several other followers of Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad, and football great Jim Brown. Soul singer Sam Cooke (a friend of Clay’s) had been at the fight, but there’s no historical record of his being in the hotel room with the others at that time.

One Night in Miami is built around imagining what transpired in that room amongst Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke. Directed by Regina King from a screenplay by Kemp Powers, it’s available on Amazon Prime.

The film fits into the genre known as historical fiction. Dramatic license was taken. Viewers should understand that, at times, it’s allegorical rather than an accurate factual recounting. The larger question is whether the film is impressionistically honest. The answer is “yes.”

One Night in Miami begins with the 1963 fight between Clay and Henry Cooper in London. It then segues to Cooke being treated rudely by an all-white audience at the Copacabana, followed by Jim Brown (the greatest running back in National Football League history) being reminded by a patronizing southern gentleman that he’s just a “n—–.” Next, we see Malcolm as the Nation of Islam’s most charismatic spokesman, after which the scene shifts to Liston-Clay I.

Thirty-four minutes into the film, the drama moves to Hampton House.

Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke were prominent in different ways. Each was young, black, and famous. But Malcolm was a social and religious figure of considerable intellect while the other three were known as entertainers.

The dialogue between the four men is light at first and then turns serious.

Malcolm is played by Kingsley Ben-Adir. On what should have been one of the greatest nights of his life, his world is slipping away. His deadly rupture with Elijah Muhammad is almost complete. Soon, Clay will abandon him. Ben-Adir comes across as a bit weaker and more tentative than one might expect, although Malcolm’s intellect is evident in his performance.

It’s hard to imagine anyone playing Cassius Clay well except the young Muhammad Ali. But Eli Goree bears a resemblance to Clay and is pretty good in the role.

Jim Brown was an intimidating physical presence. Aldis Hodge lacks this physicality but his performance is solid.

Leslie Odom Jr, who plays Sam Cooke, has star quality. He’s the only one of the four major actors who has the charisma and presence of the man he’s portraying. But as a result, Cooke has a stronger on-screen persona than Malcolm. That’s a problem as tensions between the two men boil over.

Toward the end of the film, Malcolm reveals that he intends to leave the Nation of Islam because of differences with Elijah Muhammad and will found a new organization.

“Who’s gonna be in this new organization?” Clay asks.

“I think lots of people will follow me over,” Malcolm answers. “Especially if you come with me.”

Clay, of course, didn’t follow Malcolm. He sided with Elijah Muhammad. One year later, he and Jim Brown were the only participants from the hotel room gathering as portrayed in the film who were still alive. Sam Cooke was shot to death in a California motel on December 11, 1964. On February 21, 1965, Malcolm was assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem.

One Night in Miami cautions us that our icons are flesh and blood human beings with strengths and flaws. In its best moments, the film is a powerful reminder that the issues of self-respect, black empowerment, and racial equality are timeless.

Pictured left to right: Aldis Hodge (Jim Brown), Kingsley Ben-Adir (Malcolm X) Leslie Odom Jr (Sam Cooke) Eli Goree (Cassius Clay)

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – Staredown: Another Year Inside Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, he was selected for induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel 

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Crossover star Holly Holm Adds New Dimensions to Claressa Shields

Kelsey McCarson

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She laughs about it now, but back then it wasn’t all that funny.

Boxing champion Holly Holm was competing in her first professional MMA fight, and all her years of training inside the ropes as a world champion boxer had just taken over her entire body.

Holm had kicked her opponent down to the ground, so she did what any well-schooled boxer would do. She pivoted away from her fallen prey and headed over to the neutral corner.

All of that was wrong.

“What are you doing?” her coach yelled from cageside. “Finish her!”

It was Holm’s first big mistake in moving over from boxing to MMA, but she was lucky that night. It turned out that Holm’s opponent was finished whether she had run over there or not, so it was a lesson she could learn without much consequence.

But the instruction of that moment stands true today, so it’s just one of the many things Holm has shared with 25-year-old boxing champion Claressa Shields as the two-time Olympic gold medalist attempts to follow in her footsteps.

“I was thinking yeah, that will definitely happen to me!” Shields said.

After Shields signed a three-year promotional deal in December with the Professional Fighters League (PFL), the first thing Shields needed to do was look for the right gym.

Shields found that place at Jackson Wink MMA Academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico, one of the most famous MMA gyms in the country, and the one most recognized among the masses as the home gym of former UFC women’s bantamweight champion Holm and pound-for-pound king Jon Jones.

Holm remains the only fighter (male or female) to have won legit world championships in both boxing and MMA, and Shields said Holm welcomed her to Jackson Wink with open arms.

“She’s been super great and very nice to me. We both come from the same background…and she actually turned out to be a world champion [in MMA], actually turned out to be really good,” Shields said.

But Holm’s funny story about her first MMA fight is something that points to just how large a hill Shields has decided to climb.

Whereas pop culture has just recently started to realize the power of habits through the work of writers such as Charles Duhigg and James Clear, it’s something professional fighters have known for a long time now.

“Oh, you’re going to have a habit of this because you used to box.”

That’s something Holm tells Shields almost every time they work together, and there are just so many examples.

In fact, just watching the 25-year-old boxing champion trying to learn to do all these new things in a different way is exhausting.

That Shields practically lives inside the gym for weeks at a time so she can train four or five times a day for all the kinds of things she never had to worry about before as a professional boxer is a testament to her seriousness and her courage.

But perhaps the most amazing part of the entire story is that Shields still plans on boxing.

While Holm won world championships in both sports, she achieved those things separately. Meanwhile, Shields said she wants to do the same thing Holm did but at the same time.

So, while I’m standing there with her inside an MMA cage in New Mexico, Shields is plotting fights in both sports. On one hand, she’s talking to me about a title unification bout in boxing against Marie-Eve Dicaire. On the other, she’s talking about future superfights in MMA against the likes of UFC champ Amanda Nunes.

“I’m trying to separate the two,” Shields said specifically about her training that day but she might as well have been talking about her whole life right about now.

It’s arguably the most amazing storyline right now in combat sports.

Shields started boxing when she was just 11 years old. She earned her first gold medal at the Olympics at 17 and her second four years later.

Today, Shields is a three-division world champion, and she says she’s not nearly finished adding to her growing number of boxing belts.

But all those years and all those successes have built so many habits. Ducking and slipping is great for boxing, but both become considerable detriments to defense when you suddenly have to worry about things like knees and kicks.

And what about wrestling and jiu-jitsu?

But all that stuff together is exactly what makes Shields’ epic decision to dare to be great at both sports at the same time so amazing in the first place.

Look, Shields might never accomplish the same amazing feat Holm did when she shocked Ronda Rousey in 2015 for the UFC women’s bantamweight championship.

But she’s aiming to eclipse that incredible mark anyway, and with Holm and many others offering Shields ideas about what she needs to think about as she climbs up the steepest hill she can find, she’ll definitely have her best chance at doing it.

Kelsey McCarson covers combat sports for Bleacher Report and Heavy.

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel 

To comment on this story in the Fight Forum CLICK HERE

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Boxers Fighting the Best and Doing It Again for the First Time: Part One

Ted Sares

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Britain’s Martin Murray has fought the very best and has now closed out a heartbreaking if not admirable and old school career.

Others are just beginning to hit their stride and suddenly the possibilities are mouthwatering.

The buzz is back on. The heat is coming. No excuses. No badly injured shoulders. No running. This is macho explosive. This is the best fighting the best like it used to be done. Cherry picking is not allowed.

Back in the day, warriors like Ernie Durando, Kid Gavilan, Joey Giardello, Tony DeMarco, Bobby Dykes, Paul Pender, Joey Maxim, Holly Mims, Bobo Olson, and way too many others to list here would fight other top-notch boxers. It was the norm; not the exception. Tony DeMarco beat Kid Gavilan in 1956 and then fought Gaspar Ortega three times in a row in a relatively short period of time.

In the process of compiling a 95-25-1 record, Ezzard Charles engaged in an eye-popping 27 fights against men who would go on to be enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame and/or the World Boxing Hall of Fame.

The List

Rocky Marciano (twice) – IBHF/WBHF

Joe Louis – IBHF/WBHF

Jersey Joe Walcott (four times) IBHF/WBHF

Archie Moore (thrice) IBHF/WBHF

Joey Maxim (five times) IBHF/WBHF

Jimmy Bivins (five times) IBHF/WBHF

Charley Burley (twice) IBHF/WBHF

Harold Johnson IBHF/WBHF

Lloyd Marshall (thrice) WBHF

Gus Lesnevich WBHF

In addition, Charles had three fights with Rex Layne, two with Ken Overlin, two with Elmer Ray, and one with Bob Satterfield

“Some day, maybe, the public is going to abandon comparisons with Joe Louis and accept Ezzard Charles for what he was—the best fist fighter of his particular time”  –Red Smith

Beau Jack, Aldo Minelli, Yama Bahama, Johnny Cesario, Fighting Harada, Eder “Golden Bantam” Jofre, Vicente Saldivar, Jose “El Huitlacoche” Medal, and then later Juan LaPorte and Livingstone “The Pit Bull” Bramble did not know what easy opponents meant. They were willing to fight anyone anywhere and were seldom stopped.

Vito Antuofermo, Ralph Dupas, Willie Pastrano, Curtis Parker, Bennie Briscoe, Kassim Ouma, Emanuel Augustus, Scott LeDoux, Ben Tackie, Ray Oliveira, Renaldo Snipes, Freddie Pendleton, John Scully, Charles Murray, Ted Muller, Anthony Ivory, and Alfredo “Freddy” Cuevas were also representative of those who would fight anyone anywhere. Picking made-to-order opponents was not what they were about.

Ali, Norton, Young, Quarry, fought one another. So did Duran, Leonard, Hagler, and Hearns. Across the pond, Watson, Benn, and Eubank did the same. Frazier, Holyfield, Mugabi, Tszyu, Cotto, and Chacon never ever backed away, nor did Mexican notables Castillo, Marquez (JMM), Morales and Barrera.

No one will accuse Floyd “Money” Mayweather of not fighting the best but they might point out that Floyd sometimes used long time intervals between bouts to his advantage. “Money” was not a particularly active fighter. The phrase “cherry picking” gained traction during this time.

Still, Andre Ward cleaned out an entire division. Cotto fought Pacquiao and Canelo, De La Hoya met Pacquiao, Klitschko faced Fury and then Joshua. Fury — after beating Klitschko — fought Wilder twice. Chisora will fight anyone they put in front of him. Heck, GGG fought 24 brutal rounds with Canelo and if that wasn’t the best fighting the best, what was?

“…great fights lead to other great fights.”—Max Kellerman

To be continued……

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel 

To comment on this story in the Fight Forum CLICK HERE

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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