Mike Tyson was once the king of the ring—a legendary heavyweight boxing champion. Opponents feared his fists, and fans celebrated his athletic ability and bravado. In the '80s, the man known as "Iron Mike" seemed untouchable, but over the years, his legacy has been tarnished by controversial, and at times disturbing, events.
In the provocative documentary Tyson, Mike gives audiences a no-holds-barred look at his life, in and out of the ring. From memorable matches and tumultuous marriages to his rape conviction and stint in rehab, he tackles the highest highs and lowest lows.
When Oprah saw the film for the first time, she says she was struck by Mike's vulnerability. "I was so impressed with what you were able to reveal about yourself," she says. "It feels like it's more than about you—it really is a study in humanity."
After seeing the documentary, Mike also had a different opinion of himself. During an interview with the Associated Press, Mike said: "I never knew why I had the public opinion the way I did. Then, when I watch the movie, I get it. For the first time, I get it. I'm watching as a human being that's very rational now. I say: 'This guy's so unpredictable. You don't know if he's going to take you out to dinner or stab you with a fork.'"
Mike says he never intended to scare people, but since he was a boy growing up in Brooklyn, he's been taught to act tough and fight back.
It's hard to imagine Mike, a man known for his strength and ferocious fighting style, as an overweight child who was the victim of relentless bullying. But that's how it all began.
"I deal with a huge inferiority complex," he says. "As a little boy, I was fat and everybody picked on me."
Long before he slipped on boxing gloves for the first time, Mike learned to fight in Brooklyn's schoolyards and back alleys. One day, he says neighborhood bullies found out he was raising pigeons, and they came to take his birds.
"I said: 'Mommy, please. They're taking my birds.' I called my mom to help me. One guy took the bird, and he just ripped open the neck, and he just puts the bird in my face," he says. "Somebody said, 'Mike, fight him.' And I just fought him."
"And that was the beginning," Oprah says.
"Yes," Mike says. "That was a wrap."
Since then, Mike says he's never backed down from a fight. "I'm not somebody that will walk away from a street fight. I wouldn't provoke a fight with them," he says. "But I won't walk away from one either."
When Mike was 16 years old, his mother died. He never knew his father, so Mike's boxing trainer, Cus D'Amato, became his guardian. Over the years, Cus also became one of the biggest influences in Mike's life.
On the surface, it didn't seem like a black teenager and an older white man would have much in common, but in Tyson, Mike talks about their similarities and common interest—boxing.
"He was from a bad neighborhood. He was a street kid like me. Then, one day, he just said, 'Listen, you have the chance to change your life, your family's life,'" he says. "He said, 'You do what I tell you to do, and if it doesn't work, then you can leave.'"
Cus prepared Mike, mentally and physically, for the toughest fights of his life. Mike says they watched footage of great boxers together every day for years. "All we did was just—this is really megalomania stuff," he says. "We'd watch all the great fighters. I would ask him, 'How do you beat them?'"
Mike's mentor had an answer for every boxer except one—Muhammad Ali. "No one could beat Muhammad Ali, he thought," Mike says. "I agree with him."
By studying boxers like Jack Dempsey and Sonny Liston, Mike says he adopted certain characteristics and started winning championships. "I did everything he told me to do, and I won," he says. "I started believing in this old man. Cus was different with me than he was with his other fighters. Cus trained me to be totally ferocious, in the ring and out."
Looking back, Mike says Cus' tough love helped him become a great fighter, but some of the lessons he learned may have had negative effects on his personal growth.
"He would be very disappointed if I felt some kind of emotion, compassion for somebody, especially if they were somebody with wealth. He said, 'They don't deserve any feelings. They deserve what they get,'" Mike says. "He was really strange. That household was all about controlling your feelings."
Mike says he was trained to think of himself as a god. "I needed to believe that. That was my thinking ever since I was 12 years old," he says. "I had to think that because I had no kind of self-esteem."
When Cus died in 1985, Mike says he felt alone in the world, and he began abusing drugs and drinking alcohol to dull the pain.
A few years after losing his mentor, Mike fell for actress Robin Givens. After a highly publicized courtship, they got married in February 1988.
Soon after they said, "I do," rumors about Mike's violent nature and infidelity began to swirl around the couple. It all came to a head when the pair agreed to sit down with Barbara Walters for an unforgettable interview. During the interview, Robin said Mike was manic-depressive and, at times, abusive.
At the time, Mike sat at his wife's side, not saying a word. Now, he's ready to talk.
"I couldn't believe Robin Givens was saying those lies about me. ... I was flabbergasted," he says. "When I look back at it now, I can't believe I sat there and didn't say anything. But then again, if I were to act crazy and start smashing and going crazy in front of television, that's what they would have wanted."
Robin's accusations made Mike furious. "At that particular moment, I truly wanted to sock her, but I just didn't do it. I was young at that time," he says. "I have socked her before, and she socked me before, as well. It was just that kind of relationship."
"You are a very big guy, so it would be hard for some woman to stand up against you physically," Oprah says. "Is there ever an instance where a woman deserves to be struck?"
"I don't know. ... Women do kill people and hurt people too," he says. "I just know we're both human beings. ... And we have to treat this human being a certain way just from a physical perspective. When I was in this marriage, I was wide open like a puppy dog. She could have done anything. I would have said: 'Okay. I love you still.'"
Eight months after they married, Robin and Mike divorced. Despite their tumultuous past, Mike says he has no animosity toward his first wife.
"I realized that was a great learning period in my life as a human being," he says. "I have no hard feelings."
When Mike married Robin, he was just 21 years old, and he says he didn't understand marriage or take it seriously. He admits that he was unfaithful to Robin—and every woman he's ever dated—except his current wife, Lakiha "Kiki" Spicer. "I know most of my relationships have failed because I've never been loyal or honest to anybody in my life, as far as relationships," he says. "I'm just tired of failing."
One thing that hasn't changed is the type of person Mike says he's attracted to. In Tyson, he describes his ideal woman.
"I like her strong with confidence—massive confidence—and then I want to dominate her sexually. I like to watch her like a tiger watches their prey after they wound them," he says. "I love saying no all the time when I'm making love. I love saying no. When they ask for something, I say no. What I want is extreme. Always no. Normally what they want is not as extreme as what I want. Always no. So I always give them a little, but they have to give me a lot. I don't like being loved. I like loving. I don't feel like being loved. I don't like love. I have too much love to give and none to accept."
After his divorce from Robin, Mike's life began to fall apart. He lost his first fight in 1990, and in 1992, he was convicted of rape and served three years in prison.
Upon his release, Mike says he was a changed man. He was more disturbed and angry.
"[Prison] wasn't a good place for me. I don't think I should have been there," he says. "I don't know who the guy in prison was, you know. That's a place where you have no boundaries. You're restricted, but you lose your moral fiber."
Mike says he also lost his faith in God when he was first incarcerated. "[It's] very easy because there's nothing in there but hate reflecting off the walls," he says. "Hate reflecting. Hate. Hate. Hate. I hate you."
Soon after his release, Mike began fighting again. He now knows that was a mistake. "I shouldn't have fought," he says. "I was really not in no kind of condition emotionally, intellectually, physically to be fighting. I was just an angry ball of energy."
In June 1997, boxing fans tuned in to see Mike fight Evander Holyfield. It was one of the most anticipated comeback matches in the sport's history. Now, it's one of the most infamous.
At the end of the third round, millions watched in horror as Mike bit Holyfield twice, once in each ear. He was disqualified and condemned by the media.
Mike explains what caused him to snap that night. "I was angry that he was butting my head. He kept butting me and cutting my head," he says. "I was just enraged, and I wanted to inflict so much pain on him and stuff. I was just pissed off that he was such a great fighter too. ... I wanted to just beat him up."
Soon after the incident, Mike issued a public apology to Holyfield, but he now admits it wasn't sincere. Mike says he'd like the opportunity to apologize again. This time, he'll mean it.
"When I see him sometimes, he's a little leery of me," he says. "I can feel the vibe and energy is not good, but I always wanted to shake his hand and apologize. I've known him for such a long time, and it was undisciplined. I was in a very competitive mood, and I wanted desperately to beat him for my own self-aggrandizement."
During the decade that followed the Holyfield fight, Mike's life was marred by drug abuse, two other divorces and financial ruin. He filed for bankruptcy in 2003 and pled guilty to felony drug possession and driving under the influence in 2007.
Mike's darkest days were brightened by his children. After years of partying all night, gambling and doing every drug imaginable, Mike says his family inspired him to stay in rehab and get clean.
"I realized I was just going to die if I didn't settle down with my wife," he says. "I was [in] really deep. I was taking the drug dealers' money and not paying them their money. I told them to tell their boss to come get the money. Oh, man. I'm just so embarrassed."
Once he hit bottom, Mike says he knew he had to change his life or run the risk of destroying his family. "I didn't want to go down that road anymore," he says. "I know what it's like to be down that dark road and meet the devil and hang out with him for a while."
The children are now Mike's main focus. "I'm glad that I'm married, and I have a wife to go through life with me and understands that this is my priority in life," he says. "I have to take care of these babies now."
Little did Mike know, the darkest day was yet to come. On May 27, 2009, Mike's 4-year-old daughter Exodus died suddenly in a tragic household accident. Police reported that Exodus became tangled in a treadmill cord and strangled to death.
To this day, Mike says he doesn't know what really happened, and he doesn't want to know. "I started off to go about this in the wrong direction," he says. "But once I got there, I think from more of my experience in the rehab and all this, it just kicked in. Boom. It was all about being responsible. ... She had to be buried. She had to be taken care of, and I have no animosity. I didn't have anger toward anybody."
If he knows the details of his daughter's death, Mike says there might be someone to blame. "And if there's somebody to blame for it," he says, "there will be a problem."
Mike says he's using tools he learned in rehabilitation to deal with the loss and stay on the right course.
Days after his daughter died, Mike got married for the third time to his girlfriend, Kiki, a woman he's known for many years. They have a 9-month-old baby girl together.
"I reached a stage where I'm 43, and I'm just tired," he says. "I'm just tired of being alone and tired of not having that intimacy."
Mike says he chooses to live a very restricted life in order to avoid temptation. Instead of waking up at 3 a.m. to hit the Las Vegas casinos and clubs, he says he wakes up, smokes a cigarette on the balcony and comes back to bed.
"We're on this journey together, and we're going to raise these seven kids," he says. "We're going to try to make a better life for them."
Kiki says she doesn't care about Mike's troubled past or history of violence. "It's all about the way he treats me," she says. "I've never seen that side of what people say. He's been nothing but the most respectful person."
Mike says his wife hasn't watched the documentary Tyson because she's in denial, but she says she doesn't need to see the film. "I know that those are things that he's experienced," she says. "But we have a different experience. We live in the present."
Printed from Oprah.com on Sunday, December 8, 2013