Mike Tyson transcended boxing in his prime and 15 years after his retirement, the original Tiger King is still one of the sport’s biggest draws
From the moment Michael Gerard Tyson stepped through the ropes to begin his professional career, a star was born.
This short, muscular teenager wasted little time blazing his way to heavyweight stardom and becoming one of the most recognisable faces on the planet.
He changed the game for fans – casual and purists – fighters as well as promoters. Everyone wanted a piece of him – even Jimmy Greaves risked a KO to meet him.
“Before the Tyson era, the division had stagnated a bit,” boxing fanatic and former Crystal Palace owner Simon Jordan told talkSPORT.
“That might not be fair to Larry Holmes, who was a great heavyweight champion, but previous to him you’d had Ali, [Joe] Frazier, [George] Foreman and Earnie Shavers – really engaging, interesting, flamboyant fighters that had taken the heavyweight division to a high.”
Then out of the blue in 1985 came the phenomenon that is Iron Mike, a man who broke bones, got rich beyond his wildest dreams and kept a tiger as his pet.
He blew competition out of the water in his early years with a series of quick knockouts. He wasn’t one to waste a minute and in 1986 became the youngest heavyweight champion in the world, aged just 20.
In doing so, he overcame a childhood that is hard to fathom for most where drugs, guns and prostitution were an everyday occurrence in his life.
He went from nothing to being the money fight at just 20 years old.
The best wanted to face him and it says a lot that Lennox Lewis was keen to delay hanging up his gloves to face him when Tyson was given a six-year prison sentence in 1992.
“I thought, ‘I’m going to have to wait and delay my retirement’,” he told Joe Rogan when discussing the appeal of his former adversary.
Tyson wasn’t quite the same when he was released from prison after three years, but he was still boxing’s biggest draw.
And he was even forced to spend time in the nick when he visited the UK for a fight against Julius Francis in 2000.
Home secretary Jack Straw granted him special dispensation to enter the country and a casual walk in Brixton, south London drew thousands of people desperate to catch a glimpse of the superstar, which forced him to take shelter in the local police station and plead for them to disperse.
He is also possibly the only man in the world to get the legendary Floyd Mayweather – unbeaten in 50 professional fights and with more money than God – to be humble.
“He paved the way for me to be where I’m at,” he acknowledged.
Where Mayweather is about slickness and glamour, Tyson was about pain and savagery. He didn’t mess about in the ring.
Was that his appeal? Did people like his throwback look? Were the black boots, shorts and very simple introduction what many think a fighter should represent? His entrance to the ring ahead of his fight against Michael Spinks definitely send shivers down your spine.
“People like that guy because he was like a drug,” UFC commentator Joe Rogan observed on his podcast. “That drug was excitement. You’d turn on the TV and think ‘oh s*** here we go…”
Global superstar Eminem appeared starstruck when being interviewed by Tyson on his podcast.
“I feel like a kid right now. Honestly, I’m such a huge fan. I’ve seen every fight and every documentary,” he gushed.
Even now, at 54, he’s still having an influence on the fight game’s biggest stars and earlier this year was spotted showing UFC heavyweight Francis Ngannou he has lost none of his speed.
Tyson Fury was named after him when his dad saw his premature son – lighter than a feather – lying there and decided he would one day become the heavyweight champion of the world.
Born with the powerful punch, which was developed by Cus d’Amato, who trained him ‘to punch through opponents and not at them’, the ‘peek-a-boo’ style taught worked as Michael Spinks and Trevor Berbick – to name two – discovered in a very painful way.
You’d have to be an idiot not to think the things he has said and done don’t belong in society. In fact, he would tell you they don’t.
But ‘Iron Mike’ is just plain Mike now. He is a different person, who will freely admit he still spends a lot of time apologising to his children for not being the father he should have been.
He doesn’t like the man he was or the ‘young thug’ who roamed Brooklyn in the 1970s, as he recalled in a piece he wrote for New York Magazine.
Chatting to fellow legend Sugar Ray Leonard, he broke down in tears when trying to convey his past life.
“I know all the warriors. From Charlemagne to Achilles – the number one warrior of all warriors – and then Alexander and Napoleon, I know them all,” he said.
“I read about them all. I know the art of fighting, I know the art of war, that’s all I ever studied.
“That’s why I’m so feared, that’s why they feared me when I was in the ring. I was an annihilator. It’s all I was born for.
“Now those days are gone it’s empty, I’m nothing. I’m working on the art of humbleness… That’s the reason I’m crying because I’m not that person no more, and I miss him.
“Because sometimes I feel like a b****, because I don’t want that person to come out because if he comes out, hell is coming with him.
“And it’s not funny at all. I sound cool, like I’m a tough guy [but] I hate that guy. I’m scared of him.”
Fans will be eager to see what fighter emerges in Los Angeles when he faces Roy Jones Jr in the ring on Saturday and he insists he will not be getting rich from it and instead will focus on aiding various charities.
Tyson was the baddest man on the planet then and even now, far removed from that guy, he is still having an impact on how a man can change.