Mike Tyson’s life makes no sense. It’s extraordinary, literally. He grew up poor in a violent neighborhood, then trained with legendary boxing coach Cus d’Amato. At twenty years old, he became the youngest boxing heavyweight world champion in history. He then spent time in jail for rape (for which he maintains his innocence) – but describes being in jail as a great experience, where he had time to read (Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, for example) and no one bothered him. When he got out of jail, he had four hundred million dollars waiting for him in his bank account. He spent it all on drugs and then was sixty million dollars in debt. He bit off part of the ear of rival Evander Holyfield. He had eight kids, and has many pigeons, whom he feeds Fiji water. He once had several tigers, which he had to give up after they ate the arm of a burglar who broke into his house. He reinvented himself as an actor in several blockbuster movies. He became a best-selling author when he wrote his autobiography. Then he became a stand-up comedian before launching his own cartoon, Mike Tyson Mysteries. He’s now reinvented himself again as a marijuana entrepreneur.
It makes no sense, at least in comparison to an ordinary human life. But it makes total sense if you compare him to Hercules, the mythological hero who had to complete twelve very different tasks as a punishment for his sins. Ancient Greek heroes were not only powerful, they were also flawed, Hercules having killed his family in a bout of rage. Tyson prefers to compare himself to Achilles, and is a student of mythology. His story has a lot to teach us, with every possible twist and turn, with triumphs, multiple falls and finally, redemption. For most of his ups and downs, he was already in the public eye – we were there watching. His story, in a way, is a bit our story too.
Mike is also a human being, splitting his time between Newport Beach and Las Vegas, living a quiet family life with his wife Lakiha Spicer (aka Kiki Tyson) and his two youngest kids, daughter Milan and son Morocco. He credits his wife from saving his life, both emotionally and financially, and it’s clear Kiki Tyson plays a huge role in Mike’s new endeavors, closely managing his multiple projects. She’s ten years younger than him, but very much in charge, keeping him on schedule. If he gets angry, she’s the one who knows how to calm him down.
His new company, Tyson Ranch, has a large office near LAX. It’s also where he records his very successful podcast, Hotboxin, inviting everyone from Tyson Fury to Snoop Dogg. This is a Californian weed company, after all, and the mood is understandably relaxed.
However when we chat, Mike isn’t in the office. He’s at home in the living room, surrounded not by tigers, but by several dogs that the couple own. Mike’s relaxing on the couch, alone in front of the TV, watching the TV show Black-ish. Mike speaks with his trademark soft, high-pitched voice, which is sometimes hard to understand. Nevertheless, he mixes references from the boxing world and a rough upbringing with elaborate vocabulary that only a well-read man could know. He speaks in a totally unique way, like no one else I’ve met. Mike’s much calmer these days, there’s no doubt about that. But he can still, almost on demand, dial in the intensity he is world famous for. He’s still a fighter at his core, and is set to face off with Roy Jones Jr. in an exhibition match on November 28 in California. The bout was originally expected to take place on Sept. 12, which probably explains Tyson’s current high level of fitness, but has been delayed along with most sporting events this year. However, if he manages his new comeback well, then another page of his already legendary career is yet to be written.
What do you remember of growing up in Brooklyn at that time?
MT: It was complex. A lot of crime and violence. Death, and all that kind of stuff. But I don’t want to look at it from a negative perspective.
So you also have happy memories?
Absolutely. I was living life, like we do now. But I come from a violent environment. Scary people.
Was that fear very present as a child?
Absolutely. Yeah. You’re very careful who you associate with. If you do meet those guys, you might want to be associated with somebody you know. You learn respect at an early age.
You published a book about Cus [D’Amato, the coach who discovered Tyson] three years ago, named Iron Ambition. What were some of Cus’ most important life lessons?
He was interested in helping people. He was like a Bernie Sanders type. I grew up with that stuff with Cus. You know the stuff Bernie Sanders got in trouble for saying, about Cuba? Cus said the same things too.
You don’t generally associate this type of mindset with the boxing world…
I think the powerful people should take care of the less fortunate people. That’s my belief. That should be our taxes. But I don’t like Bernie. I don’t like Bernie at all. I understand Bernie, though. Look, I’ve got Mao, I’ve got Che [pointing to the tattoos on his chest]. I know that, I understand that and I’ve lived that. “The Rosenbergs were falsely accused” – that’s my growing up stuff. That shit was my mindset at the time. But now I think socialism and communism prevent people from reaching their highest potential. It’s not like welfare. It makes people not depend on themselves.
The whole country has been focus on the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests. Have you been following this?
It was wrong and needs to be changed, for our children and grandchildren. They shouldn’t live through the same injustices that we did.
In your early career, was boxing a way for black kids to integrate into a white world or were they actually being used?
Absolutely! Boxing was a way to be accepted by the white world because they accepted boxers. And from that, you wound up in people’s household. You were able to get into households of working dad and working moms who watched the fights. It took you to another level. You’d walk into a neighborhood and people would be like “hey Mike, hey Mike, hey Mike!” I would think “who is she?” That’s just what it does. It’s not about my ego, it’s really the reaction of the people.
I saw the videos you posted recently on Instagram – you’re in amazing shape. Can you detail what you did to get to that point, your exercise routine?
I went into a serious diet for eight months. I ate vegetables and burgers with a meat substitute called “beyond meat.” I basically committed myself to be the best I could possibly be.
You mentioned something that I found very interesting. You said “the Gods of War have awakened my ego and want me to go to war again. I could fight and help people and animal.” How did this start?
My wife told me “why don’t you work out for fifteen minutes on the treadmill.” I did that for two weeks. And then it went from fifteen minutes to thirty minutes. Then from thirty to forty-five minutes. Then from forty-five minutes, to two hours. And then I added an hour and a half on the bike. I did about 4 hours cardio. Then eventually, I start lifting some weights. Light weights, like 40 pounds (18kg) dumbbells. I did a [set of] two hundred, for chest. I did pull ups and pull downs – a hundred of both. Now I throw some punches and do some cardio.
What went through your mind the first time you started training with Rafael Cordeiro?
It looked good on film, but after I trained with him, I was dead! That tells you how far I came. Now I can do a whole work out. It’s different now. I’m in enough a condition to do that. Now I gotta get in boxing condition and do some boing exercise. Nothing is really planned yet, it’s just in case it happens, I have to be prepared. I have to be in shape and mentally alert.
Everyone’s wondering if you would go for the traditional 12 round matches, or another format.
I haven’t come to that conclusion yet. It’s getting discussed right now.
Would you fight someone from the younger generation, or someone from your era?
Either way. Both could happen.
You seem to be a very different person in your mind now than during your professional career, with a lot more compassion. Do you think it’s possible to fight as efficiently from a place of love than coming from a place of anger?
I think so. Love is useful to educate people. You can fight and be violent, but you can fight and not be an evil person. I’m just learning to address this. I put that out there: I don’t want to hurt nobody, but I’m just prepared if something happens. I said “hey, let’s do this for charity.” I haven’t fought for years, but I’ll be prepared. I look forward to it.
It’s quite amazing that you and Evander Holyfield are friends now. Was it easy to mend fences with him after all that happened [Tyson infamously bit Holyfield’s ear off mid-fight]? Some people hold grudges for a long time but you guys were able to let it go.
He’s a really great guy. I was very fortunate and grateful that he accepted my apology. It’s like nothing ever happened now, between us.
At one point you were called “the baddest man on the planet.” How did it make you feel?
It fed my ego. But it’s a lie, it’s a joke. I’m glad I don’t have that title no more. Let somebody else have it. It’s not healthy! But at that time I loved being that guy.
What was your toughest defeat?
Losing my daughter. That was the toughest one. I don’t even know if I overcame that, actually. I’m still trying to figure that out.
How about in the ring?
That’s bullshit. That’s just money. It has no effect on my life.
What are the virtues you most appreciate in a human being?
Intestinal fortitude. The desire, the will to win and not give up. The incomparable desire to conquer the soul. It’s what I owe my survival to.
Have you ever wondered what your career would be like if you started now?
I would be in a lot of trouble! I’m just that kind of guy.
With everything being on social media?
Yes, that would be part of it, for sure.
If you were a child today, do you think you would still want to box or would you feel more attracted to mixed martial arts?
I don’t know. I just think at that particular time of my life, I was ordained to be a fighter champion. The only reason I became a boxer is because I met somebody when I was pretty young, pretty raw, who was an ex-boxer and knew about training. If he had been a wrestling coach, I would’ve been a wrestler, if he had been a kung fu fighter, I could’ve done kung fu. The sport was boxing, but I look at it as fighting. I always wanted to be the best fighter in the world. I know it sounds crazy!
You’ll be going back on tour with your one-man show in the future, what should we expect this time around?
It’s called “Undisputed Truth Part 2”. There will be more comedy, about me being a dad. There will be moments with explosive happiness and laughter.
Are you doing any movies again?
Absolutely. We have our own scripted show called Tyson Ranch, it’s pretty interesting, it will come out soon.
[*interrupts] Hey, Kobe Bryant lives right here… [points to the window in the direction of a nearby house] you see the house?
Did you know him?
Yes, I did.
We’re all going to go on that journey. We’re all going to die. Why are we being emotional? We can’t take anything with us.
Maybe it’s the timing. We didn’t expect him to die so young…
You don’t know when you’re gonna die either. Who knows? You might die in five minutes from a heart attack! Or you might die years from now. We just have to be grateful for whatever time we have left on this planet. We woke up this morning, that should be a celebration. Think about how many people will not wake up today. We’re lucky to even wake up.
Is it easy to explain this to your kids, since they grew up in privileged circumstances?
They’re kids who have this [motions around]. Sometimes the world has to be their teacher. It’s a hard life, it’s a struggle. How do you think we got in this situation? You think somebody gave us this fucking shit? You have to take matters in your own hands. What will happen after mommy and daddy die? They laugh and don’t understand it. I tell them we might not be here twenty-five years from now, when you’ll be thirty-five. Their lives are protected. You see life from our perspective, but you have to see it from your perspective. They’ll have to leave the nest, and then we’ll see how they react to that.