Say what you will about Mike Tyson, but the man isn’t afraid to try new things.
The former heavyweight champion of the world brings his one-man stage show, “Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth,” to Stockton’s Bob Hope Theatre on Oct. 2 for a one-night engagement. Once equal parts famed and feared for his ferocious personality and prowess in the ring, the boxing legend has settled into his middle age and now prefers, according to his Twitter bio, to be known only as a “family man.”
His road from boxing champ to media personality and theatrical star has been filled with the highest highs and the lowest lows. The man known as Iron Mike spoke to The Modesto Bee in a teleconference from Pittsburgh last week about his life and the show.
“I think when they see my life and see what I endured, they’ll see that if I can be successful after enduring that, anyone who applies themselves can be, as well,” Tyson said. “No one is going to give you any handouts. There’s no such thing as a free meal. You have to work for every meal you get.”
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This will be Tyson’s second trip to Stockton in as many years. He was in the Central Valley city in October for a Red Rhino Orphanage Project benefit. While in town for the fundraiser, which gave aid to children in Kenya, he also visited the gym of area boxing great Alvaro “Yaqui” Lopez. But it was really his friendship with former training partner and current Stockton businessman Tom Patti that brought him to town then and for the coming show.
The two men met and became friends in 1981, when they trained together in the Catskill Mountains. They both worked with legendary boxing trainer and manager Cus D’Amato. The men, just teenagers at the time, were roommates and have maintained a friendship and worked as business partners over the years.
“When he was leaving town last year, Mike told me something that really surprised me,” Patti said. “He said, ‘Tommy, this has been the best weekend of my life.’ And I was like, what? He goes, ‘I am telling you, Tommy, the people, the place, everybody gives Stockton such a bad rap, it’s been in the news and people all the time are telling me, “Don’t go there” ... but this is a great community.’ So I said, ‘Mike, how about you come back next year and we do more in the community?’
“Because a lot of people don’t know Mike Tyson as well as I do, I called him up and asked, ‘When you come to town, would you mind doing your show?’ and he said absolutely. I wanted to bring Mike to town so people can really see and hear from him.”
Life story on tour
“Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth” debuted in early 2012 in Las Vegas. In an autobiographical monologue set to images from his past, Tyson chronicles his life story from the stage. The piece, directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Spike Lee and written by Tyson’s wife, Lakiha “Kiki” Spicer, went on Broadway in August 2012. The following year, he took the show on its first national tour.
Last November, “Undisputed Truth” was turned into an HBO special, also directed by Lee. The production was filmed over two days at the Imperial Theatre in New York. Tyson also released a best-selling autobiography by the same name last year. He is performing the show on a limited number of dates this year.
Tyson said the continued popularity of his production surprises even him.
“I thought it would be over after people saw the show on HBO, but they still wanted to go on to Europe and other places,” Tyson said. “I don’t know, I can’t explain it.”
But the fascination with Tyson’s life, which has played out largely in the headlines, doesn’t seem to be stopping. The youngest heavyweight champion of the world – at age 20 – Tyson became an international sensation in the 1980s. Once known as the “baddest man on the planet,” he was hailed for his raw power and aggressive style.
‘A champion in life’
His meteoric rise from poverty in Brooklyn and a troubled youth (he was arrested more than 38 times by the time he was 12 years old) to the pinnacle of boxing is balanced by an almost as spectacular fall (he was convicted of raping a pageant contestant in 1992 and served three years in prison). Then there was the notorious 1997 Evander Holyfield fight, in which Tyson famously bit off a part of his competitor’s ear. And, of course, there’s also that face tattoo.
But Tyson said he has learned and grown from all of his past triumphs and mistakes. He has worked his way back into popular culture, taking roles in hit movies like “The Hangover” and other high-profile projects. His long road to where he is now all comes out in his show, he said.
“It’s not about becoming a champion in the ring, but a champion in life,” he said. “It’s taking the qualities you like from boxing and applying them to life – discipline, hard work, character.”
Patti said he is proud of his friend and the way Tyson has turned his life around over the years. He said Tyson also has inspired him to do more for the community. He plans to make an announcement about his own political aspirations when Tyson comes to Stockton for his show this fall.
“One of the greatest things you can see in your entire life is for a person to come out and bare their soul the way Mike does,” Patti said. “To open up and be truthful, not only the experiences he has had and the roller coaster of a ride he has had, but also the self-revelations and his own understanding. That’s one of the most courageous things a person could ever do is open themselves up and be vulnerable like that. I really applaud Mike for doing that. That’s really for the sake of teaching other people.”
Show offers hope
Tyson has several other projects in the works. In the fall, his new cartoon series, “Mike Tyson Mysteries,” in which he voices himself, will premiere on the Adult Swim network. He also still is working on his fledgling boxing company, Iron Mike Productions, which launched last year.
A biopic about his life is being negotiated, and Tyson said Oscar-winning actor Jamie Foxx is considering taking the lead role.
As with his stage show, Tyson said his only hope is that the movie tells the truth about his life and inspires others to dream big.
“You know, there’s hope. The reason we have problems in Chicago and Stockton and all these cities is because they don’t have hope for a better life,” Tyson said. “If they come to the show, they can realize I was one of them, I was worse than them. But I was given hope for a better life.
“If they had hope for a better life, they wouldn’t do the things that they do because they’d look forward to the future, and their children’s future.”