Mike Tyson was absolutely scary. He would waft through an opponent’s defense like a ghoul, and hit with the wrath of the devil himself.
He had an aura about him that was hard to describe. A mixture of ferocity, confidence, insecurity and a love of boxing all melded together. His bellicosity was evident; his love for the sport was too. His confidence filled arenas, but his insecurity drove it all.
It’s been said that Tyson was a timid kid. He was said to have hidden from bullies, and found reclusion a better fit. Until fear drove him to fight back. When describing his mental preparation for a fight, Tyson himself said that fear fueled his motivation in camp. He even imagined himself losing and being embarrassed. Thus, fear and insecurity fueled him. But he never pretended otherwise. In fact, he openly spoke about his demons and skeletons. The willingness to bare the truth is what made him scary, and his intimidating aura was firmly founded on honesty.
Tyson’s honesty was just as scary as his physical prowess.
When his anger was on display, it was visceral and real. His confidence was founded on his honest dedication to the art of beating people up. His most private moments laid honest and bare under a constant eye of judgement.
When insecurities are revealed, most of us run under the shelter of politeness, and scrutiny makes most people conform. He didn’t do that. Mike Tyson’s honesty scared us because it never faltered. He leaned into the shock and infamy, because he knew he was a bad guy. Most of us can’t bear the weight of being the bad guy. We spend energy finding the right costume, the right words, and the right beliefs to satisfy polite society. You see, Mike Tyson didn’t have our problem. He always told the truth, even when he lied.
This kind of honesty is hard to define. It manifested itself in many ways. His ferocity almost had a tranquility to it because it was so raw. There was nothing to wonder with Tyson. You knew he was a bad guy; you knew he was the best. You knew he was not going to behave the way society expected him to, and you knew he would not bend to expectations. Oftentimes, society fears unpredictability, but fear is also exciting.
Eventually, time took Tyson’s physical strength, but his strength of character didn’t fade. As he got older, he tamed. His aura changed from intimidating to almost jolly. It was weird. He still stayed true to himself though. People who took his jolly aura for granted were quickly reminded that they were dealing with Mike Tyson. That honesty that drove his boxing career was still there.
The best example of his honesty came at the end of his boxing career. It was a miserable finish to notorious career. The image of him asking for help after tumbling to the mat sticks in the minds of those that tuned in. Steve Albet’s words reminded all of us of what we were witnessing. “Kevin McBride, a journeyman, is making Mike Tyson look like a third-tier heavyweight.” It was clear that his love of the game was gone. He knew it. He said it.
“I got the ability to stay in shape, but I don’t got the fighting guts… I just don’t have this in my heart anymore… I’m just fighting to take care of my bills,” he told the world before announcing his retirement. “I’m not gonna fight and I’m not going to disrespect this sport by losing to this caliber of fighters.” Candid.
There lies his commitment to the truth. If paying his bills was the goal, he could have easily met it by taking freak fights. Bob Sapp has made a living of it, but that is not Tyson. He still loved the sport, and was honest enough to know he was tarnishing it. So he stayed true to his love, and quit.
That’s the honesty that makes me excited for his return. He looks to have found a joy to train again. He seems excited to return to boxing with a fresh perspective. I believe him, and I want to see where this goes.