What a fresh look at Mike Tyson’s troubled past uncovers: ‘Life kicking my ass’

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Maybe you remember it all. Maybe you were too young for the ride. Maybe the past 35 years have buried and blurred details that once seemed too phenomenal or abhorrent or surreal to ever forget.

The boy who was bullied and molested growing up in Brooklyn became the youngest heavyweight champion in boxing history. The invincible fighter finished his career with six losses to his name. The generational wealth led to bankruptcy. The convicted rapist became beloved in Hollywood and on Broadway. The longtime drug addict found sobriety and stability.

This is Mike Tyson. His story will always have an audience.

ABC understood that fact when it produced a two-part, four-hour documentary — “Mike Tyson: The Knockout” — which premieres Tuesday night. The second installment airs on June 1.

Tyson is still the sport’s biggest name, having attracted the seventh-most pay-per-view buys ever for a boxing match in his November comeback fight against Roy Jones Jr. At 54, Tyson only hopes to have an uppercut in common with the one-time “Baddest Man on the Planet.”

“Whatever it is I thought I was, the baddest guy, the meanest, that guy’s dead,” Tyson said in a 2020 “Nightline” interview, used in the documentary. “I’m trying to kill that guy, but that guy was my only salvation for a long time.”

Tyson doesn’t participate in the project. Neither do important voices like Don King, Robin Givens, Desiree Washington, Evander Holyfield or Tyson’s wife and children. But the film features a treasure trove of unfamiliar photographs and pictures, including a 16-year-old Tyson crying with trainer Teddy Atlas before the U.S. Junior Olympic Games, fearful of the response if he lost.

Tyson’s entire life is retraced, beginning with his poor upbringing under an alcoholic mother in Brownsville. Teased and nicknamed “Dirty Ike” because of his poor personal hygiene, Tyson’s path first took shape because a bully ripped the head off one of his beloved pigeons, bringing Tyson to violence for the first time.

You’ll hear how he became a juvenile criminal, how he was arrested more than 30 times, how he learned to box at reform school and was then mentored by legendary trainer — and eventual legal guardian — Cus D’Amato in Catskill, New York. There, a teenaged Tyson is seen setting up a film projector to watch fights of Jack Dempsey, wearing Cosby sweaters, cleaning counters and setting the table for meals.

You’ll hear Atlas recount when he pulled a gun on Tyson for the boxer’s inappropriate behavior with his sister-in-law, the toll of a string of deaths in Tyson’s formative years — including his mother, D’Amato and trusted manager Jim Jacobs. You’ll see knockout after knockout after knockout, followed by Givens’ infamous interview with Barbara Walters, in which Tyson sits beside his then-wife, as she accuses him of abuse and labels him a “manic depressive.”

“I always saw Mike through the rearview mirror of those limousines, as just a sad young guy, hiding the fact he didn’t know what to do next,” said Rudy Gonzalez, Tyson’s former bodyguard and chauffeur.

Part 1 ends in 1990 with the all-time upset against Buster Douglas in Tokyo. Part 2 begins in 1991 in Indianapolis, where Tyson was found guilty of raping Washington and scalpers collected $100 a seat for the trial. The film then details his release, his comeback, his decline, his meltdowns, his infidelity, his drug use, his grieving of the death of his 4-year-old daughter, his search and struggle for peace and happiness.

“Success for me is not cheating on my wife. Success for me is not going to prison. Success for me is being responsible and being present. That’s success for me,” Tyson says. “I’m from Brownsville, Brooklyn and I have a penchant for violence. I’m 54 years old and there’s a possibility for me to do something really stupid and lose everything.

“I learned gratitude. This is what I learned from life kicking my ass.”

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