Taming Mike Tyson, was that even possible? A lot has been said about the managers who tried to do so, everyone from Cus D’Amato to Magic Johnson. The best way to understand the challenges they faced as handlers is to identify the animal they were dealing with.
Michael Gerard Tyson didn’t start out as a fearsome predator. He was born in a rough section of Brooklyn, and his single mother moved him and his older brother and sister to an even rougher section called Brownsville. There, Mike was taunted about his tubby shape and “fairy boy” voice. He struggled in school. He saw friends stabbed, skulls cracked open, and says he never believed he would live past thirty. His one solace was raising pigeons in the coops on the roof. Even in the middle of that concrete jungle, these birds were beautiful and able to fly.
The day a bully killed one of his feathered friends before his eyes, Mike discovered he was more than a roly-poly cub. He whipped out his claws and beat that bully down. No longer feeling helpless, he joined a group of local thugs who engaged in thievery, muggings, and “skullduggery”. This led to stints in Spofford, an infamous juvenile facility in the Bronx, and when that failed to tame him, he was shipped off to Tryon Residential Center, a detention home for boys in upstate New York. At Tryon he discovered a passion for boxing, and the state released him into the care of Cus D’Amato, a boxing manager in nearby Catskill. Mike was still a cub, they reasoned. He could be controlled.
But cubs grow into tigers. Mike showed early signs of frisky aggressiveness, groping various schoolgirls while also growing stronger in the ring. Mike looked like a promising amateur, maybe even something more. When Mike was kicked out of the school, Cus simply shifted his focus from academics to full-time boxing. The tiger grew. Over time, he was passed from one handler to another, none of whom seemed able to deal with his extreme actions and expressions of independence.
After winning the world-heavyweight-boxing belt, he still threw dice with the old street-corner gamblers and ate fried chicken with his boys on the steps of rundown apartment buildings. He went through money and marriages. He conquered men in the ring and women in the bedroom.
There was no caging this beast. He was destined – or doomed – to break loose one day and really do some damage, perhaps even bite somebody.
For the full interview grab the April 2015 issue of MAXIM, in stores from March 19 to April 15.
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