Document 56610

l{
t
Et.
4,.
1t.
-
"'/y',
/'
t,
I
,Ei
MIKE TYSON
ike Tyson's eyesskewerstraightthrough rne.
I am standinga few feet awayfrom hirn as
he preparesto strip offfor the weigh-infor
his fight here in Las Vegasagainsta boxer
narnedOrlin Norris. Hundreds of people
are packedinto the auditorium in which the
air-conditioning hasdriven the temperature
down to almost freezing point. People
aroundme are shivering,althoughit's 90o
outside.WhenTysonspotsme,he scrutinisesme sullenly.
He calmlystripsandstandson the scales.
Cheers ring out flom th€ crowd, which
includes some women who squeal with
delight when Tyson, a convictedrapist,
flexeshis muscles.His peopleseemjumpy
and wired. But not Tyson. He's still and
poisedto the point oflooking doped.When
our eyeslock, I realisehe's in control and
vigilant.As hestandsfacingtheworldnaked
apart from his prison tattoosand a pair of
briefs, he turns and glaresdown at me for
the last time. I nod at him. He turns away,
Then, a sechalf-smilingandhalf-sneering.
ond or two later, he directs his gazeback
down at me andretums the nod. It's asifhe's
seeninside my head- the way he doeswith
opponentsbefore a fight - glimpsing and
acknowledgingthe complicatedand conflicting feelingsI havetowards him.
Then Tyson's entouragevanish,leaving
the scramblingmedia in their wake,The
artificially chill€d air suddenlyreturns. I
shudder.Then I reachfor my lower back,
where the palm ofmy hand finds a sweat
stainaslargeasa dinnerplate.
lfs October 1999, l'|n in Las V€gat
andMike Tyson is in town for a fight tonight.
Four daysearlierhe'd soundedmore like a
man fending offa mid-life crisisthan aboxer
r€adyto beatup a mediocreopponentcalled
Orlin Norris. "My pastis history. I madeso
many mistakes,"said Tyson, cradling his
98
a.qsi'ta
FEBRUARY
2000
head."I listenedto all the wrongpeople.Now
I try to makemy life happy. I know who I
am.. . It's tough thesedaysto train for a fight.
I haven't seenmy family in months.But this
is what I do. This is my therapy."
That sort oftalk is fine for the couch,but
not for rhecrowds.They wantannihilation,
not analysis.
"I lost a lot ofrespect for myself. I lost
respectin my judgementand who I wasas
a person.That's realugly... I didn't careif
I went to iail or not. I waspretty ruuchat a
low point in my life. [But] I'm prettymuch
getting over a dark moment in my life."
This is a nan who'sblown $150min less
thana decade.The US papersclaimhe now
needsaround$20mto iust aboutcrawlinto
the pennil€ssbracket.He needsto fight, it's
theonly wayhecankeephisheadabovewater.
But Tyson is still a crowd-puller.Thus,
the whining privatejets havebeenarriving
at LasVegas'sMcCarronairpot for thepast
headingfor the
few hours.Their passengers
"City of
MGM Grand, the self-proclaimed
largest
and
the
world's
Entertainm€nt"
hotel, which sits on Las VegasBoulevard
with all the charmof a monolithic,luminous,greenbrick, Insideth€ rec€ptionarea,
thousandsofpeopleswarn around.
Tyson's public-relations people stride
aroundpurposefully.They haveto sell the
decentguy.
33-year-oldasamisunderstood,
Significant matters likc rape, assaultand
prison aresidelined.They orl,/selltheir man.
He oill vir.'fhey oil/ get their cut. All the
contractspil,/ be renewed.That's the plan.
In the vastmain lobby, a tower ofvideo
screensplaysan advertfo! the Tyson fight
o[ continuousloop.A baritonevoiceintones
the inane commentary:"It's the biggest
night in sports." Fast-cut imagesof Mike
Tyson and Orlin Noris training are washed
in red. "MIKE TYSON RLTURNS." The
v6ice-overassuresus that tickets for the big
fight are definitely still available.
Tylon's atory har now becomg Dart
of US media folklore. It's almost,but not
quite, down there with the washed-upfables
ofPee Wee Herman, Tonya Harding and,
significautly,SonnyListon. Tyson'scareer
bearsastonishingsirnilaritiesto Liston's.
Both werebullied at school;both learntto
box while incarceratedtboth obliterated
opponentswith left-hooks;both had periodic drinking problems.Liston alsohad a
gun put to his head,wasarrestedregularly
and committed rape severaltimes.Liston
died aged38 - "a baby!" in Tyson's words
- probably kitled by a letial heroin overdose
Welght of €xpection
Tyson weiths in for hls
| 999 frght In LasVeSas
aFinst Orlin Noris,
sponinSbri€fsandhis
prison tatroos ofChe
Guet'an, Ardu. Ashe
'l losto lotof
for
respect
I lost
myself.
respectin my
ond
iudgement
wholwos.
Thotsreolugly'
;l
?l
zl
Ir
:1
Shot by rhot
Fromtop, l0nchwlth the
D Amato hmlll,; tfie /oung
Tyson;winningthe WBC
tide with Don Klng triinint
with D'Amato: Tyson bears
r..nK 6runom rrdri Koorn
Givenswith TFon in 1988;
Tyson and Norris durint
th€lr 1999Rthc Bruno gos
down under a T/son barnge
in 1996iTFon gets rel€ased
from jailin 1995iTyson
tuhblesfor hispmshieldon
hb m/ to defeatateinst
tuiter Dougl6 In l99q
Ey.nd€r Holyfield's€ar after
m€etingTyson In | 997
100
€.qqrrt.
FEBRUARY 2OOO
administeredby localVegaswise-guys.It's
a taleofhaving it all andlosingit all.
At the moment, Tyson is teeteringon the
edge.There wasa time when he captivated
boxing fans.He wasthe greatestheavyweight
ofmy generation,winning the undisputed
title in sucha dynamic, convincing way that
you could imagineyour children'schildren
talking abouthim. Ifyou're under 40, you
neverreally had Ali so,when Tyson arrived,
he wasyour man.Now he'sveeringtowards
tlle sideshows.The n otedPhiladelphia Daily
Nerr boxingreporter,BernardFernandez,
explained:"MiIe Tyson is like a fat Elvis...
he's not the guy that he was before, but
there'sstill a curiosityfactor."
The cu osity lingers for complexreasons.
a phenomenaltalent: he
Tyson possessed
combinednatural gifts (his physiqueand
the mental ability to absorbthe technical
instructions and his gym-trained attributes)
with the discipline of restraining his atracktheminto
ing instinctsandsubordinating
technique. This wasa complicatedstrategy
that involvedasmuchhighlyskilleddefence
work as ferocity. To many, Tyson looked
too primal and brutal to be palatable.To the
rest of us, he wasthe genuinearticle.
There arebooksabouthim, videosabout
him. Consumethis stuffand you'll realise
that at times it's hard to decide whether
Tyson drovethe mediaor the mediadrove
Tyson.But it wasn'talwayslike this.
As a child-prodigy boxer, the medialoved
him. He waslike a wrecking cartoon.WIen
I first sawHarry Carpenterinterview him, I
vas enthralled.Tyson satin a darkenedroom,
already looking like a fully-grown man,
watchingold fight films ofJack Dempsey,
RocLy Marciano andJoeLouis. No wonder
when he fought at that agehis opponents'
handlersused to checkhis birth certificate.
He lookedlike he'd a coupleofgood fights
to go beforehe wasdue for retirement.At
age13he weighed15stone.But with a broken family and a New York City ghetto
upbringing behind him, Mike Tyson was
alreadyknown to explodein a rageifanyone calledhim "Fairy Boy" becauseofhis
high-pitched, lisping voice.He wasshipped
out ofBrooklyn by the authoritiesto reform
schoolin upstateNew York. Within montis
of fi$t pulling on a pair of boxing gloves,he
wasreadyto start his grisly ascentin what
he'd one day ruefully call "a lonely sport".
Wrtft I€3r ttan an hour to go, a duor
into MGM's casino.The
of peoplecascades
PR guysand the hotel managersperiodically
appearto view this sceneofwalking dollar
bills. They know Tyson needsbig bucksfast.
Glanceat tlte heavyweightrankingsand you
won't seehis name there any more. Ten
yearsago that wasunthinkablein boxing.
But dings change- $'alls fall, nationsunify
and evenTyson walkedinto a right hand.
But the memoryofhis lower body launching a left uppercut lingers in the minds of
the moneyrnen.Likd a Hollywood sequel,
he might haveonemore title shotleft in him.
That's why they're payingthe unranked
Tyson $10m to appearand his opponenta
derisory $800,000to act asa punchbag.Like
everythingelsein this town, it's a gamble.
Ifthe fight fansdon't corneacrosswith the
big (tosing)bets, Tyson is history. So the
men in suits watchand wait. As fight time
nears,the crowdskeepcoming;steady,but
not overwhelming.Tyson's fight is scheduled for 8pm.
nik€ lv8on wa8 onco d|€ iubi€et of
an audaciousand brilliantly conccivedlife
and careerplan. Upstate New York, the area
where Tyson grew up and where the plot
washatched,is the antithesisofthe city from
which it takesits name.It's a remoteand
leafypart ofthe world. Land ablackkid from
rhe city in the middle ofthis and, depending on his survivalskills,he'll eithersink or
he'll find a wayto swim.
At reform school,he wasspottedby a cop
calledBobby Stewart. He took Tyson to the
Catskill Boxing Ctub, run by a white-haired
trainer called Cus D'Amato. D'Amato took
Tyson in to live with him. Tyson became
the prot6g6 who exemplified D'Amato's
unique hands-upbobbing andweavingstyle.
He forecast,correcdy, that Tyson rvould be
tlte heavyweightchampionofthe world. But
D'Amato wascontrolling. He wascriticised
for unleashingTyson too fast,oyer-develasman.
opedasaboxerbutunder-developed
The wily, brilliant D'Amato spottedthe first
stirrings ofserpentinediscontentin his boy's
soul and contrivedto slayth€sedemonsby
flinging Tyson into the gym on a daily basis.
D'Amato knew that the only personwho
could ultimately beatMike Tyson was,in
fact, Mike Tyson.
"I used to say,'Cus, I'll sell my soul to be
a greatfighter.' And he said:'Be carefulwhat
you wish for 'causeyou rnight getit, "' mused
Tyson not long ago.
Like all child prodigies,Mike Tyson could
be troublesome.He fell out with another
D'Amato prot6g6Teddy Atlas, who trained
Tyson. The rumour is that Tyson gropeda
youngfemalerelativeofhis trainer. D'Amato
brought in another ofhis team, the brilliant
MIKE TYSON
trainer Kevin Rooney,to replaceAtlas. Two
class-actmanagerswerealsobrought in:Jim
Jacobsand Bill Cayton, both New YorLbased.both with unblemished.unassailable
reputationsin the frght game.Tyson lived
in the gym. The diary ofhis early pro-fights
in upstateNew York is bewildering.In1985,
he fought 15 times in nine months and won
all the contestsby knockout.
CusD'Amato diedsuddenlyin 1985.The
impact of his death on Tyson must have
beenterrifying. D'Amato's psychological
grip andphysicalaurawerelegendary.Tyson
had lost his motler a few yearsearlier; now
the personwho sincerelybelievedin him,
who had given him someself-esteem,had
goneout ofhis life. Yearslater, the adult
Tyson,worth tensof millionsofdollars,one
of the most fearedand recognisedmen in
the world, would cry like ababyon the shoulder ofa joumalist who interviewedhim about
D'Amato. "It occursto me how much more
fun it usedto be when it wasn't aboutmoney
so much," said Tyson. "He died and everything becamemoney, rnoney,money."
D'Amato and his team had rnappedout a
rout€ to the top and Tyson wastheir willing vehicleto getthem there.D'Amato knew
that the key to Tyson's successwasnot so
much aboutrraininghis body but getting
insidehis head.Tyson cameto completely
trust the old man: he wasthe one persontlte
fatherlessTyson felt hadneverlet him down.
Apart ftom the physicallessonshe learnt
ftom D'Amato, Tyson also absorbedone
important rule: trust no one in boxing, possibly in life. With him gone,trusting nobody
meant that. at one extreme.he could not
build new relationships,personallyor professionally.At the other extreme,when he
did reachout, he invariablyfound himself
touching the smiling sharts D'Amato had
iust startedpreparinghim for l'hen he died.
Maybe the rest ofhis life hasbeena search
for anotherD'Amato. He neededsomeone
to shield him, to keep the rcal world at bay.
He knew that he'd becometough to protect
the abusedwastelandon the inside. He knew
that he didn't know how to treat womenhe overpoweredthem. He knew that he was
out ofhis depth socially,that he wasn't educatedenough.Only when he boxeddid he
feel worthwhile.
In 1986,the heavyweightdivision wasa
disasterarea.Federationsand allegedchampions proliferated. Don King, the two-time
convict-turned-promoterand ex-numbers
bossfrom Cleveland,dominated the heavyweight division - most ofthe title holders
and contenderswereunder his control.
Tyson wasfirmly in Don King's sights.
King hadcut a TV heavl"weight-unification
tournament deal. He knew the real thing
whenhe sawit - Tyson'sraw art ofboxing,
his brutally truthful approach,wasa magnet to fight fans, and therefore to money.
Mike Tyson defeatedTrevor Berbickin
November 1986when he wasjust over 20
yearsold to win the WBC title and become
the youngestever heavyweightchampion
ofthe world. For anyonewho watchedthe
bout - asI did - the sight ofBerbick trying
to staggerlike a drunk to his feet signalled
the real arrival ofTyson. He'd later sayit
wasthe most memorablenight ofhis life:
'l soid,"Cusl'll
not becausehe waschampionofthe world,
but because,"I've neverreally had people
acceptme so fully before and haven't really
beenacceptedthat way since."
Photosin the ring after that fight show
Don King standinggrinning madly in the
back ofthe frame. He wasTyson's future.
Satudav night in Lar Uegas and ifr
almosttime for Tyson to do what he once
saidhe was"born to do". But life is not so
simple any more: "SometimesI get overaggressivewith people. Peoplethink I'm
mean,I'm bad... I don't think I was born
bad.We all dictatethe directionofour life.
Sometimeswe make mistakesthat last with
us the rest ofou! lives," Tyson recently told
USA Today.He soundedalmostcont te.
Tyson may be waking up to the messhis
life is in, but that's not the imagethe merchandisestand projects. Instead,his "Be
Real" logo is emblazonedon everything.
We're meantto buy into the myth that he's
still a focused,uncomplicatedman offew
words.That's the imagethat sells.Here in
1999LasVegasit's still 1985ir Tyson-land.
Brutal.Dramatic.Vicious.
I walk towardsthe Grand GardenArena
at 7.30pm. CJowdsgathernear the enffance
to seestars but, after the Holyfield clash
(the so-called"Bite-Fight"), few real A-list
celebritieswant to be seenaroundTyson.
There wasa time whenMadonna or Stallone
would havebeenamongthe spectato$.Not
any more. It's mostly the shadyunknowns
who fly in now - the oneswith the attitude
and offshoreaccounts.But, for a few, old
habitsdiehard:JohnTravolta, CharlieSheen
and PierceBrosnan all haveringside seats.
Securitycheckfollowssecuritycheckas
I enter the arena.There were riots after the
last Tyson fight here.Tonight, they are taking no chances.Clustersofbeige-uniformed
Las Vegaspolice are everywhere.
Tyson's fight is late; it'll be another hour
before he showsup. The crowd becomes
restless.There'sa buzzin the air, an illicit,
semi-seductive,almost-criminal tingle that
oneveteraniournalist
tellsmeissinplymissing from other heavyweightfights he sees,
including Lewis and Holyfield bouts.He's
right, I canfeel it. Mike Tyson hasindeed
enteredthe building.
sellmysoulto
beo greoter
fighter."
Andhe
soid,"Becoreful
whotyouwish
you
for'couse
mightgetit."'
lowaldr drc e||d ot dro Eiglraisr it all
changedfor Tyson. "There wasDon King,"
confideda former associateofMike Tyson's.
"Then therewasRobin Givens..."
A mid-range actress with a knowing
demeanour,Givens ran rings around the
FEBRUARY 2000
6quin
l0l
MIKE TYSON
Tyson's
former
troiner
soid,
'BrunohitTyson
withmore
punches
thon
he'devertoke
inthegymor
infights.
..'
A night to Emember \rvh.n Bruno
rocked Tyson wldr r .ltl|t In th€lr 1989n8ht,
TFon looked vunehbla TFon w€nt on to
win in d|e fffth, but Bruno d€clared
afterwards:'Mike Tyson crn be b€aten.'
Buster Douda proved hlm rlght a tear larer
r02
44u''.r-
FEBRUARY 2OOO
Time please,gentlom€n
Thispoge,clockwkefron top left,
Tysonhits Norris afterthe bell
rin$ to siSnaltheendofthe
frst roundoftheir 1999fightin
LasVe8as,
Norris hitsthe
canvas,
Norris claimshe can't
love-sickTyson ashe wasin the midst of
trying to unify the world titles. Tyson's
rrainingwasalsodisruptedby his growing
predilectionfor nightclubs.But he still won
the unification fight with Tony Tucker
to becomethe Undisputed Heavyweight
Charnpionof the World.
He married Givensafter a bizarreelopement in Chicagoin February1988.By now,
Tyson's management
ream were having
troublewith her involvernentin his affairs.
Then his co-manager
Jim Jacobsdied.The
loss flung Tyson offbalancethe sameway
D'Amato'sdeathhad.ButDon Kingstepped
in to add his own particularbrandofstability. After a Michael Spinks fight, Tyson
fired both his managerCaytonand trainer
Rooney.His final links with Cus D'Amato
weregone.
Tyson's behaviouroutsidethe ring was
incrcasinglyerratic.h affectedhis training
and his performances.
His formertrainer
Kevin Rooneytold meTysonliterallylet his
guald down againstBruno in 1989:"fFrank
Bruno] hit Tyson with more punchesthan
he'd cver take in the gym or in fights."
Journalistswere now kept at arm's length
duringTyson'straining.More thanonewas
thrown out for askingwhat his management
perceivedto be the "wrong" question.
Morc victories followed, but paradoxically with eachfight he lookedlessand less
like a Cus D'Amato fighter. Somesaidhis
opponentsnow fell into the "Bum of the
Month" category.Then a lucrative,seemingly easy, bout in Tokyo beckonedin
February1990.Tyson had to loseweightat
the last minute, so he enteredthe fight out
of shapc,wsalgngdand with an inexperiencedcornertearn.
His unknownchallengerfor tle bout was
"Buster"
Douglas- it should have
James
beenan eosyfight for an itr-shapeTyson.It
wasn't. Douglas leatheredTyson into an
asto[lsl]rngvictory in the tenth round.The
bizarrcfootageofTyson gropingaroundon
all fourstrying to put his gumshieldinto his
mouth after Douglashad flooredhim with
a solid left becameemblematicofthe fallen
champ.
thc lllst tlme | 8€e If,ike fyson in
pelsonls at a mid-morningpressconferenceintheHollywoodTheatreof rheMGM
Grand Hotel. We're herethreedaysbefore
he facesOrlin Norris. The 200 journalists
haveseentt all 6s6.t..
With o thick crop ofrecentlygrownhair,
Tysonlooksyears
youngerthanhedid when
he went for the shaven-skulllook. But his
104
a.4ql^.
FEBRUARy
2000
foreheadis huge, his eyebrowslike overhanging rocks. They are at odds with his
strangelyangularface,his cheekbones
more
prominentsincehedroppedweightrecently.
His small, dark brown eyesdart urgently,
taLingin the slightestmovement.He looks
agitatedin our presence.
When he talks, his eyebrowsarch like
thoseof a comicalpantomime-villain.
While
speaking,he hardly unclencheshis teethwhen he does,you catcha flash from his two
gold teeth. Then there'shis voice.It's his
most obviouscurse:God's way ofreminding him who'sin charge.Tyson soundsless
like the hardestman on earthand morelike
a pimply 14yearold with a breakingvoice.
Tyson looksasfed up asthe journalists.
He's wearinga blackbaseballcapanda white
T-shirt. Tyson's opponent Norris sits
nearbywearinga whitedressshirt,staring
at the table.He smilestoo much. He looks
like he hastoo muchbrainsto be in the same
ring with Tyson.A seriesofsoft questions
arelobbedatTyson.He answerscagily.The
majority ofthe journalistshavebeenhere
before.They know Tyson won't saymuch
andthat he can't wait to be somewhere
else.
&|saer Doughs rxas fFo|fs bogrynsl
all right. It all went sour after rhat debacle.
There followed court cases,lame victorres
in the ring againstsecond-raters,
an expen-
continueandchao!ensuesin
the rin& thenTysonis lead
away.OpPosite
Poge,Tyson's
faceappearson a tiant video
screenashe walksbackto his
dressintroom
sivedivorceftom Givensand then another
crackat the title. Even that fell apartwhen
Tyson wasimprisonedin 1992for six years
for rapinga Miss BlackAmericacontestant
calledDesireeWashington.The detailsof
thecaseweredisturbing.Tyson'slewdbehaviour towardswomenhad clearlyrun out of
control.Without monitoringandprotection
from his own excesses
he wasdangerous.
Tyson walkedout ofprison on 25 March
1995straightinto the armsofnot only a new
wife. Dr Monica Turner. but alsointo the
capaciousbear-hug of Don King. After a
returnto the ring andsomevictories,Tyson
lostinNovember1996toEvanderHolyfield.
In the third round oftheJune1997rematch,
he snappedand bit Holyfield'sear twice.
He had regressedbackto wherehe started
when he ra'alkedirto D'Amato's gym - all
aggressionand little else.The techniquehad
evaporated.His arrogancehad convinced
him that he could go it alone;he wassurroundednowwith yes-menwhowouldnever
dare tell him he was losing it by the day.
This waswherehis hubrishad led him.
Fined $3m for his conductby the Nevada
StateAthletic Commission,Tyson had his
licencerevokedfor a year.He startedpanicking. By February 1998,Tyson had fired
Don King. Rumourssurfacedin the press
that Tyson was in deepfinancial trouble.
An applicationfor a boxinglicencein New
MIKE TYSON
Jerseyfoundered:Tyson appliedin Nevada
instead.The boxerwasthen involvedin an
altercationwith two drivers after their car
hit a vehicledriven by his wife Monica. A
court casewould laterensue.
In the meantime,Tyson faceda psychiatric examination at the request of the
Nevada State Athletic Commission. Its
conclusions
wereasfascinating
astheywere
humiliating. Tyson revealed he'd "felt
depressed
all ofhis life". Whenhe wasbeing
examined,Tyson saidthat, "I haveno selF
esteem,but the biggestegoin the world."
The doctorsconcludedthat medication
wouldn't be helpful in his caseand that "a
return to boxingwill help alleviatesomeof
the stresses
contributingto his depression".
On l6January1999,Mike Tysonreturned
to the ring in the MGM Grand to facerelative no-hoper FrangoisBotha.Tyson's fifthround victory wasmarredby claimsthat he
wastrying to breakhis opponeot'sarm by
holdingonto ituntil itsnapped.Threeweeks
later,Mike Tysonwassentenced
to two concurrent two-year sentencesfor assaulting
the motoristswho'd rear-endedhis wife's
car.The judge,however,suspended
all but
ayearofthatjail time.Tysonwasfined95,000
and given two years probation. He was
released
on 24May 1999,weighing20stones.
l'rn herc to |nccl llike Tyson lor our
interview. Two hoursafterthe moming press
conference,
I'm standingin the Nevadasun
outsidethesquaremetalbuildingthathouses
the Golden GlovesGym. Tyson hasbeen
traininghereforweeks.His "adviser"Shelly
Finkel told me: "Come out hereand Mike
will speakto you at the end ofhis workout
ifhe feelslike it." I'm summonedinsideand
told to makemyselfscarcein a corner.
Mike Tyson's life in the gym isn't complicated,it's justsweatingand
fighting.Simple,
basichumanelementsthat arecontrollable.
The raging,confusinghurricaneof fameis
somewhereelse.The only thinking that's
requiredin hererelatesto the mechanicsof
fighting,and Tysol canhandlethat.
So I watch Mike Tyson skipping in the
corner of the gym. He looks perfectly at
home- and I meanat home,asifhe hasa
sleepingbagstashedin the corner-The handle ofthe skipping-ropevanishesinto the
slowball-vhite mitt ofhis bandagedhands.
Rapmusicpounds.He skipswith a medium
pace,occasionallyswingingthe ropesfrom
side to side. His light-brovn skin shrnes
underthe lights.The glarehits his forehead
and solid arms. Now and then he puts his
headback,biting his bortom lip in concen-
tration,hiseyesshut.The leatherropecracks
the floor, invisibleto my eyeasit whirrs.
After a while, Tyson pauses.He glances
up at me. I notice the large size of his
head,the knot of scartissueon his brow.He
staresthroughrne,asif in a trance.But he's
still watchful and clearlyon a hair-trigger.
I'm reminded of the
respectedBBC boxing
commentator Mike
Costello'scommentsto
me that: "With Tyson,
you just never know.
There's always that
sensearound him that
there's a time-bomb
waitingto explode,that
he can't really control
what he's doing... He
almostgoesintoa daze."
I watch as he cools
downfrom training.He
stretchesfor a while.
Then he disappears
into a changingroom.
When he re-emerges,
everyoneslowly gravitatestowards him. He
standsaround smiling that familiar halfsneer,half-childlikesmileandshakes
hands.
The gym is filled with other blackboxers
andhangers-on.The atmosphere
is relaxed
and friendly. I leaninto the crowd and touch
his shoulder.He turns aroundand looksat
me. I'm a stmngerand he's aswary ashell.
He eyesme up and down while I tell him
I'm hereto interviertrhim. "Sure," he says.
He smiles,shrugsand placidly followsme
to a quiet areaofthe gym.
I'm about to start my interview with a
questionaboutwhat kind ofshapehe's in,
whensuddenlyI heara voice."It's over!It's
over!CUT!" ShellyFinkelarrivesandstops
the interview beforeit's evenstarted.The
boxer looksat me and shrugs- the matter
is out of his hands. For all his recent
announcements
that he's his own man and
manager,in reality he's powerless:"Sorry,
man,I can't talk unlesshe saysit's OK," he
says.He pointsatFinkelwho'ssayingsomething about me "breating rules". Tyson
grins asifhe knowsall aboutsuchpredicaments,then leaves.
WhenI askFinkelwhatI'd doneto deserve
this treatmenthe prevaricates.
He tells me
to callhim tomorrowto arrangeanothervisit
(I do:"It's not goingto happen,"he tellsme).
A day later, I'm at the weigh-in for the
fight. I talk to oneofTyson'scurrentcomermen and trainers,Jay Bright, who $159
'l'vefelt
depressed
oll
mylife...
I hove
noself-esteem
butthebiggest
egointheworld'
FEBRUARY
2000
f.qqnt.
105
thememoryof it... Yeah,I wantmore...
He sighs.Unfortunately, they don't have
any at the ChateauMarmont, so we settle for
a glassofCabernet.Johnnytouchesmy glass
with his. We toasthis daughter.
lflhsn Lily noso l5elody Depp was bont
on 27 May 1999,saysher father,everything
suddenlymadesenseto him for the first trme.
He is living in the third dimensionnow. "It's
exactlythat, like living in 3D. I don't feelasif
I smiledbefore- whichI did, obviously,but I
really didn't feelit like I feelit now. I meanI
cany'el myself smiling and I smile everydaya lot. There tust wasn'tany particularreason
for anythingbeforeandLily Rosehasgivenme
a reason.Now I havemy own little family; I've
got my girl Vanessa,we haveour daughterand
it's a beautiful kind of simple life."
Johnny Depp sayshe'd alwaysknown that
one day he'd havea baby, but neverknown
when-or if- therewouldbe a righttime. But
whenhe met Vanessain Paris(for the second
time - he'd met her two yearsbefore)he knew
instantly, he says,that shewasthe one who
wouldbe the motherofhis child.
So it was all planned?Oh yeah, he says.
Absolutely.Had he not felt like that aboutanyone elsel Well, he sayscarefully, the situations
were difficult. "It was a different world, or
differentworlds.It wastoohardbefore- it was
like everythingmovedleally fastaroundme
and suddenly,I don't knov, it just got really
calmandslow,really slow.Things weren'tcalrn
before,never."
He has,he says,discoveredthe diiference
betveen night and day now, they don't just
roll into eachother like they usedto, andwhen
I askhim if it hasalteredhis Iifestylein any
way, he takesa long time to answer.When he
does,it's convinciug."Er... I don't wantto
poisonmyselfany more." Pause."For years
andyearsyou drink audyou... inebriateyourself in one way or anotherand it seemslike
recreation,but in fact it's not. You're trying
to medicateyourselfandnumb yourself,to be
comfortablein your skin, to be calm- and I
don't want to do that any more.Vanessaand
the babyhavereallygivenme a reasonto live."
"He's really, really centredand happy at
the moment," saysJim Jarmusch."He still
hasthe samequick perceptionsand senseof
humour, but whateverused to gnaw at him
doesn'tseemto be thereanymore."
"All he doesis talk about the baby," giggl€s
Gilliam, whom Depp frequently phonesfor
child careadvice."He's becomiugan incredibly boring human being, He's no longer a
greatactor, just one of hundredsof millions
offathers..."
Is this thenewJohnnyDeppl He'sjust beeu
awardeda Hollywood star on SunsetStrip,
something given in recognition not just of
goodwork, but to an upstandingrnemberof
the community.
At leastthey'vegot that bit wrong.O
grew up with him
inCusD'Amatols
housein Catskill.
He's friendlyand
courteousand speaksfrankly aboutTyson,
sayinghe'sslowlygertinghimselfbackinto
real world-classshape."He's talkedabout
.thefact he's taking on new responsibilities
and losingmoney... he's trying to get it all
backtogetheragain."
I ask him about Tyson's media image.
"He's not that individual portrayedby the
rnedia;he'sactuallya very goodperson,he's
got a heart ofgold, he's congenial,a good
guy... If peoplereallytook the time to go
pastthe sulfaceofwhat's written abouthim
and listen to him when he speaks,I think
they'd havea different conceptofhim asa
person."I stop the tapeand tell him that's
exactlywhat I wastrying to do the previous
day when I attemptedto interviewTyson.
He shrugs.Also powerless.
As we finishspeaking,Irealisewe'vebeen
joined - and our conversationtaped- by two
PR men, oneI believeto be from the company handling Tyson and one from a TV
companyshowing the fight. I'm askedto
stepaside.I complain,but to no avail.From
thatpoint on I'm ftozenoutby TeamTyson.
FROIII PAGE
Tyson ir introducad and lhe arona
erupts.Tyson pacesthe ring lookinglile his
broodinghero, SonnyListon. On the bell,
the fighters comeflying out. It's aneven6ght
for the next two-and-a-halfminutes.
Tyson
lookssharperand leaner,but missesa few
punchesasNorris movesawayfast.Norris
jabsinto his facefrequently.Then everyso
often,Tyson-usinghis shortheight- comes
fiom underneathlike a missileandexplodes
with a left jab. A couple connect.He also
bobs and weaves,the way he did when he
first startedout under D'Amato, Atlas and
Rooney.For thosebriefmomentsI'm watching the fighter and boxer I admired. And
it's beenworth the journey.
Then, in a clinchneartheendoftheround
and just asthey break,Tyson beltsNorris.
Points are deducted.The crowd boosand
whistles.Fighting resumesfor the next 20
secondsor so.Tyson seemsto be winning.
Then, iust asthe fightersclinch again,the
bell, which signalsthe end ofRound One,
goesfive times.The refereestepsin between
the fighters. Norris drops his glovesand
then.., Tyson hookshim on the chin. But
not hard. Everyoneblinks asNorris fallsto
his knees.Rollsover.Flat out.
The stadiumis stunned.Norris, still on
the deck, looksbewildered.He glancesto
his corner and elsewherefor instructions.
Then he risesand walks to his seatasTyson
retreatsto his. He doesnot limp. Or look
damaged.
A deafeningwaveofsoundcomes
from the crowdaspolicesprint by metowards
the ring. They form a wall around it.
Inside the ring, the refereeimmediately
decidesTyson unintenrionally
hit Norris.
He won't be disqualified.Norris sitson his
stool surroundedby his team.Someoners
rubbing one of his knees.He didn't look
injured whenhe walkedbacLto his corner,
but now he'sclaiminghe can't go on.
Tyson shadow-boxes
in a neutralcorner
waiting for the secondround to begin.He
loosens his legs off and keeps moving.
Opposite him in Norris' coffler there's a
flurry ofactivity. An official is consulted.
You cansensethat tlis fight is goingnowhere
fast.I know what'scomingnext.It's over.
The roar ofabusefrom the crowd makes
my headspin.Another line of securitymen
and armedpolicerun by me. Peoplebegin
sprinting for the exits. The atmosphereis
suddenlyhotandclaustrophobic.
The crowd
is on its feet, angry that anotherTyson fight
hasslid into farce."Bullshit!Bullshit!" they
chant.The word echoesround the vastarena.
[orrfu will reeoive his purs€ Liort{rat
night. Tyson's will be withheld for almost
a weekwhile an enquiryis held. Eventually
he'll receivehis $8.7m fee.The headlines
will comeout againstTyson claimingthat
he'soncemorebroughtshameon boxing.
Nevadaboxing commissionerswill addtheir
voices,saying,"We're not preparedto have
anyhoodlumsfight in the stateofNevada."
Within 40 minutesofsteppingout of the
ring, a glazed-lookingTyson appearsat a
pressconference.He saysthat Norris should
havefought on. His handlersseemto agree.
Then he hangshis head:"I didn't know the
bell went off. I don't know what happened.
I wasjust fighting. I ju5t want to go home.
I'm tired ofeverything and everybody.I'm
caughtup in all this political stuff. I don't
wantto put up with this anymore.I don't want
to fight anl,rnore,
man,I'm just tired,tired."
He looksburnt out, remindingme ofthe
oddly prophetic engravingon D'Amato's
tombstone,words which describethe way
he developedMike Tyson for the ring and
for life: "A boy comesto me with a spark of
interest. I feed the spark and it becomesa
flame. I feed the flame and it becomesa fire.
I feedthe fire andit becomesaroadngblaze."
Soon, the world has a new undisputed
heavyweightchampion:Lennox Lewis. A
Tyson-Lewis match is talked up. The
Manchester fight is announcedfor this
rnonti. New schemesfor his never-ending
comebackwill be mappedout. The flame
will be fannedbackinto life.
I can picture him back in a gym somewhere.Feelingsafeand accepted.Dressed
in hauntedblack.The sweatrunning in thick
rivers offhis face.The blastingr.p music
obliteratinginfiusive doubts.His eyesalways
sealed.The leatherrope in his handswhipping that confining, fetid ah. The perpetual
and lethal whispering behind his [email protected]
FEBRUARY
2000
t q.nit-
159