Mike Tyson’s True Legacy: Pugilist Great or Human Piranha?

Weighing the former champion's boxing career against his troubled personal life.

Posted: 06/15/2011 01:53 PM EDT
Filed Under Mike Tyson

Before Mike Tyson was sentenced to prison for being a convicted rapist, years before he embarrassingly earned the moniker the cannibal for biting the ear of Evander Holyfield twice during a fight, and still a few decades before his drug and alcohol demons surfaced to become tabloid fodder, he was once a dazzling New Jack Brooklyn bomber—the undisputed heavyweight champion of world.

And with Tyson's four-day long induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame this past weekend, along with other fighters, boxing trainers, referees and an actor who played one in the movies (Sylvester Stallone—surely true-life Philly-born champion Smokin’ Joe Frazier was available to receive such an accolade), it conjured up memories of just how breathtakingly perfect this 44-year-old pugilist was in his prime.

His story is the stuff legendary folklore is made of. Plucked from a juvenile home as a youth under the careful tutelage of the legendary Cus D’Amato and later trainer Kevin Rooney, Tyson went on to become the youngest heavyweight champion in history in 1985 at age 20. Dubbed the "Uppercut King" by boxing purists, Tyson’s body-banging, quick-fire sledgehammer blows left a slew of KOed bodies in the ring that included champions Larry Holmes and Michael Spinks. And for a long spell, Tyson enjoyed a staggering boxing record of 37 wins, 33 knockouts and no losses.

We all know how this boxing fairytale ends. And today "The Mike Tyson Legend," which made him the subject of his own feature-film documentary, Tyson, and that buoys his current career in movies even when playing himself (Hangover, Hangover II), is now equally built on the accomplishments and mystique of his boxing greatness and the tragic, misguided trajectory his life took in later years. But as this former boxing champ continues to reinvent himself, the true essence of Tyson’s legacy is still an amazing study in paradoxes. Will Tyson be revered in history books for his stellar boxing achievements, like Muhammad Ali, or will he be forever cursed in damnation for all his many darker personal life travails? There’s no doubt today that Mike Tyson the man could never again be confused with the myth. But as for me, I believe the boxing legend lives on.


(Photo: Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

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