Published on December 3rd, 2019 | by Kim Kurtenbach0
We take a look back to 2013 to Undisputed Truth, the Mike Tyson autobiography, trying to figure out whether there’s a man behind the monster.
I spent last week reading Undisputed Truth (2013), the Mike Tyson autobiography. The narrative is distinctly Tyson’s voice, as is the choice of words. With help from Larry Sloman, a veteran New York writer who already had famous books from working with Howard Stern, Bob Dylan, and Anthony Kiedis, Tyson’s life of magnificent horror is exposed for all to see, genital warts and all.
Undisputed Truth is not a difficult book, but I was truly unprepared for the 600-page exercise in mental gymnastics it took to unpack the whole of Mike Tyson. In fact, the book is less about Tyson and more about whoever is reading the book. It challenges the reader to really understand what made Tyson one of the greatest fighters of all time, an animal, a convicted rapist, a husband, father, actor, addict, sexual assault survivor, and all the hundreds of other things he has been in his life. Tyson’s story, like the man himself, is complicated and morally challenging, relentlessly honest, and surprisingly sensitive.
Mike Tyson is the heavyweight champ of my time, becoming the youngest ever in 1986. I was 12-years-old and cannot emphasize enough what it meant to be heavyweight champion of the world at that time. You could ask anyone in any bar, anywhere in the word, who the champ was and get the correct answer. It was POTUS level attention. Professional boxing, gambling and the mob were all in bed together. Along comes Tyson, the most ferocious, unbelievable prizefighter of his time, and the human ATM that would soon be exploited for hundreds of millions of dollars. Rare athletes such as Tyson are magnetic because people of all kinds are attracted to their power and Tyson had a savage radiation, like a gigantic nuclear furnace.
The media attention on Tyson was omnipresent in the 80s and 90s. Today, you can still go down the rabbit hole that is YouTube and watch fights, interviews, courtroom drama, or Mike in a loincloth splashing around the pool of his mansion with his (pet) Bengal tiger while blasting tunes out of his Rolls Royce.
The public’s perception of Tyson begins and ends here. Spending millions; divorcing Robin Givens; biting Holyfield’s ear; being financially exploited by Don King — but these are the least interesting parts of his life. His violent childhood of crime and abuse had Tyson seeking immortal glory through boxing from the moment he met the late, great Cus D’Amato. Tyson was only twelve when D’Amato became his trainer and much needed father figure, but by then Tyson was already surrounded by death and violence and covered in blood, long before he ever got into a boxing ring.
Undisputed Truth makes it clear that Mike Tyson is not a child, and yet people would talk to him — talk about him in front of him — like he was slow. Watch Barbara Walters interview Tyson and Givens as an example, but know that his entire life was surrounded and consumed by people that were untrustworthy and downright crooked. They pretended to be his friend, manager, wife, and accountant. But they were all charlatans. Imagine a life where you are constantly being baited — people knowingly and unsympathetically lighting that fuse because they don’t care about you at all. They just care about what they can get from you. It created a spoiled and lonely man that was difficult to reason with and impossible to argue with. They created a monster, and then had the audacity to call him one in front of the entire world.
The book is fascinating and relentless, each new revelation more incredulous than the last. At times his storytelling is redundant, Tyson repeating himself like he’s pummeling an opponent in the ring. Then suddenly he says something that is simple and profound. Followed by something ignorant. And round and round the ride goes, until you feel just as confused with his life, luck, and behaviour as Tyson himself. As a sober, mature Tyson reflects back, his most breathtaking ability is to be honest about himself and his past. There are sections of the book where Iron Mike cries and sobs uncontrollably. Again and again this happens as pressure, tragedy and loneliness plague him, but it’s even more unsettling when he stop letting himself cry. His cold rage is chilling. And suddenly he softens again. He calls himself a schmuck dozens of times, self-deprecating his life as a cad, and then oscillating wildly between shameful admission and boasting — often about the very same thing.
“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”.
– Mike Tyson.
My plan in reading Undisputed Truth was to keep hating Mike Tyson for being an idiot and a piece of shit rapist. What I didn’t see coming was the challenge of judging what kind of person he is after reading his painfully truthful examination of himself as a human being. It meant I had to do the same thing. Reading this book was a very serious exercise in coming to terms with someone who is infamously violent and mean, but also abused, victimized, and exploited. It wasn’t easy, but I found a beautiful, wise, and compassionate man has finally arrived to let the savage warrior rest. I can’t believe the autobiography of Mike Tyson broke my heart, and that he would be the unlikely source of a critical life lesson for all of us: you can earn the right to say, I’m not that person anymore.