Mike Tyson can spray his apologia on every movie screen in America, and it’s not going to change the one fundamental truth about the former heavyweight boxing champion of the world: He’s a loathsome human being. He is a despicable, vile, grotesque waste of carbon matter and has no business even asking for another shot at redemption. Age may have mellowed him to a certain degree, but it hasn’t lifted the cloud of delusion that hovers over him. Mike Tyson thinks that, at his core, he’s a good person; that there’s an “angel” underneath his monstrous exterior. But the guy isn’t fooling anyone, and there aren’t enough sensitive-guy poems in the world that he can read to erase his legacy.
Tyson is the story of Mike Tyson as told by Mike Tyson, which is to say: It’s a plea for sympathy and understanding, a one-sided account of his career, his transgressions, and — most of all — his excuses. It’s occasionally effective, though even Satan himself could probably spin a sympathetic version of his life if given a microphone, 88 minutes, and no dissenting voices. He might argue that he’s gotten a bad rap, that he grew up on the wrong side of Eden, and that he wasn’t well suited to a career of evil-doing. If only Satan had has a proper father figure, he’d argue, the world could’ve been saved from so much war and famine. “But I have no one to blame but myself,” Satan would declare, and we’d all forgive him because Satan couldn’t help it, y’all! He had a horrible upbringing that no amount of success, fame, or money could remedy.
That’s what Tyson argues, anyway. He take full responsibility for the mess that was his career in one sentence, but blames it on the Brooklyn neighborhood he grew up in, or Don King, or the bullies that murdered his pigeons when he was a kid in another sentence. And there’s nothing more obnoxious than listening to Tyson’s 57th mea culpa in the last 20 years in James Toback’s annoying split-screen mosaic, which gives us three or four close-ups of Tyson to gaze upon at one time. Toback’s approach is a simple one: Let Mike Tyson speak from the comfort of his own couch, or while he’s walking on a beach reading poetry, and then splice it together with the low points and highlights of his career, mostly in ways designed to extract as much sympathy for his subject as possible.
For anyone that’s followed even the headlines of Mike Tyson’s career since he fully emerged into the boxing world in the mid to late 80s, there’s no new ground covered in Tyson, only empty apologies and whiny excuses. Thanks to a mentor in juvenile prison, who hooked him up with a trainer who somehow found some humanity in Tyson, Mike rose to prominence, won the heavyweight title, and plain massacred a series of opponents up and until Buster Douglas in 1991. And then Tyson frittered it all away, marrying and quickly divorcing Robin Givens (but not before racking up some domestic violence charges, glossed over in the documentary) and then raped a young girl, which got him sentenced to three years in prison. Of course, even now, Tyson denies that he took advantage of his rape victim, while simultaneously admitting that he’d taken advantage of many other women (any way you look at it, it’s called Karma, bitch).
Given a second chance after his prison stint, Tyson once again reclaimed the heavyweight title, only to give it up after a series of embarrassing bouts, highlighted by his Evander Holyfield match, where he bit off Holyfield’s ear. His excuse: He was really angry, and he wanted to kill Holyfield. You’re forgiven! And thus his star faded, sullied by his own disgusting behavior. And, in my opinion, Tyson brought so much disrepute onto the sport of boxing that even it has suffered. Tyson was the last great heavyweight champion, and nobody has really been able to match him in terms of presence, skill and ferocity, and thanks to Mike Tyson, fewer people care that that’s the case.
In Tyson’s estimation, at least, most of his bad behavior has stemmed from the fact that — way down underneath — he’s a scared, vulnerable person. He fights to disguise that vulnerability. But at the same time, his love life has suffered because he’s never found the right woman, though it hasn’t been for lack of trying (he admits that, during his first heavyweight championship bout, he had gonorrhea, transmitted either from a prostitute or “a dirty, nasty woman” he was with). And what kind of woman would Tyson be happy with? “I want a strong woman. Not necessarily a masculine one. I like strong women. Say a woman that runs a CEO corporation. I like a strong woman with confidence. Massive confidence. And then I want to dominate her sexually. I want to watch her. Watch her like a tiger watches her prey after they wound them.”
The CEO ladies must be lining up. What a nice man that Tyson must be.
Granted, it’s obvious from the documentary — from Tyson’s current demeanor — that he’s lost some of his aggression. That he’s not as feral and intimidating as he once was. But now that he’s no use to the world in the boxing ring, Tyson would have us believe that age has brought him wisdom (though the man still has very little understanding of the human language). But in my mind, that doesn’t make Tyson any less dangerous, at least as a public figure. He once manipulated himself into the American consciousness with his boxing gloves. And now that he’s hung those up, he’s trying to draw us in with remorse. Get close enough, however, and there’s a sucker punch waiting for you. He wants to apologize; I’m only hoping no one will be around to listen.