Home/Exclusives/Celebrity Interviews/MIKE TYSON – RED HOT & UNDISPUTED



by Randy Mastronicola | portraits by Scott McDermott

The pop culture zeitgeist that was the 1980’s. You had to be there.

The short dossier: Madonna, the ’86 Mets, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Brook Shields, Eddie Murphy, Indiana Jones, Michael Jackson, Ronald Reagan, coke, New York’s Limelight, London’s Hippodrome, Jean-Michel Basquiat, The Berlin Wall and a multitude of transformative people and events that defined the divine and decadent decade.

And then there was Mike Tyson. “The Baddest Man on the Planet.” “Kid Dynamite.” And the everlasting, “Iron Mike.”

Mike Tyson became the youngest heavyweight champion in boxing history when he knocked out Trevor Berbick on Nov. 22, 1986. Mike would subsequently defend his title nine times. But more than that, his fights were spectacles. The energy, the fervor was beyond belief. Mike became a god-like gladiator, and his penchant for blowing guys up before the fight even settled into a match, propelled the man, along with the myth of his invincibility, into rarified boxing and pop culture air. Far beyond any sports phenomena of his time, or maybe all-time.

Of course, every hero takes a fall. It’s the bounces up and off the mat that defines Mike more than those devastating knockouts. His controversial life has been chronicled in many ways over many years. The good, the great, the bad and beyond.

Our recent chat took place at Malka Media in Jersey City just after Mike finished his popular Hotboxin’ podcast. The podcast is aptly described as “Listen as the baddest man on the planet pours his soul into conversations with fascinating minds, celebrities and athletes in a studio full of smoke.”

The podcast is just one of a plethora of projects he has going in this redemptive renaissance. There’s the Tyson 2.0 premium cannabis line, apparel and boxing gear. And, he’s been co-starring in film roles alongside the likes of Sean Penn. All this makes for a breakneck pace of a professional life. More importantly than his red-hot business endeavors, his home life with his children and his splendid wife Kiki have placed Mike firmly in the sweet spot of life. That is undisputed.


Cigar & Spirits Magazine: Our staff got pretty juiced when they learned we’d be meeting with you.
Mike Tyson: Well, thank you.

We started talking about the Mount Rushmore of heavyweight champions around the office. My assistant decided to take a poll. 24 out of the 25 put you up there. Do you want me to give you the dissenter’s name and address?”
[laughs] Actually, I don’t. Those are the ones I appreciate the most. I appreciate the honest opinion.

24 out of 25. Not too shabby.
Hey, I’m overrated, man. Way overrated.

[laughter] Many would feel differently.
Thank you.

For some boxing fans when they meet you, it’s a very big thing. “This is like Mike Tyson, heavyweight legend.” Has there ever been anyone that you’ve met that you were just awed by?
That wouldn’t be hard at all. Muhammad Ali. My brother Roberto Duran. He was a street fighter. I’m a real fighter groupie. I respect fighters.

Obviously, they make your personal boxing Mount Rushmore. Others?Wow. This is so hard. I would look at guys from different perspectives. I would look at Lester Ellis.

Lester Ellis. “The Master Blaster.”
Yes. George Foreman. Sugar Ray Robinson.

No doubt, right?
So many people deserve to be up there.

What about Jack Johnson, Rocky Marciano and champions of previous eras? Do you think those guys would be able to hold their own with current boxers?
No way. I don’t believe that. Guys are just bigger and stronger. Much stronger. A different kind of human being—even though they trained longer and harder back then—the fighters today train smarter.

Just their sheer physicality, training methods, nutrition, etc.
Right. The older generation fought longer than fighters now, though. Today, they get that money. One fight now, you get $20 million. You don’t have to fight again.

Isn’t that just something?
A guy doesn’t have to be a better fighter now, just a big attraction.

I’ve spoken to people who come from a similar background who grew up in neighborhoods like Brownsville [Brooklyn] as you did. Point being, it’s not so easy finding the right path. We all have a calling in life. Did you choose boxing or did boxing choose you?
Boxing, big time, chose me. Big time. Once it was introduced to me, then it was a wrap. I wanted to be more acquainted with it and pursue it. Like “This is what I was going to do.” I felt this was absolutely it.

That’s my belief. But I know once I met Cus, he made me feel like I could do anything. [Cus D’Amato was Mike’s trainer, mentor and father figure, and produced three world heavyweight champions: Floyd Patterson, Jose Torres, and Mike Tyson.]

Cus was your inspiration.
Big time. He helped bring me along, to become a man and a boxer.

Did you ever think a troubled kid from Brownsville would
have such a successful entrepreneurial career?
I know that I’m in a position to help people now.

To give back. Maybe it’s a way of never going back?
I see it now. I see people and they’re like “Hey, what were you doing with this crime-infested guy?” I said, “This guy lives in the same building that I live in. His mother and my mother smoked cigarettes. They exchanged cigarettes together.” They don’t understand that. Well, they understand, they just don’t want to. I don’t care how successful you are. You can’t run from your roots.

It’s just what’s in your veins.
I understand that.

You can come from the ghetto, move past it, or you can have the ghetto in you.
Exactly. I don’t care what Black, White, Red or Yellow—it’s just the personality you were born with. It’s just who you are, but you can change. This is how life transforms us.

What inspires you at this stage in your life? You’ve come so far. You’ve had such a path.
What inspires me is someone telling me, “Is that all you got?” In other words, “motivate me.

Exactly. 100%. “Look at your fat ass.” Like “Oh
man, you feel happy? You feel good about yourself?” You can’t inspire me with like “Hey, Mike. Let’s go to the gym because you’re not looking that great.”

Harsh, but it works?
Yes, you’re like “Motherfucker, get your fat fucking ass off and go to the gym. Do you remember what the gym looked like, motherfucker?” That inspires me. I only want people to tell me the truth. Like the guy you mentioned who didn’t vote for me. He told the truth. That’s the guy I respect the most. He didn’t go with the pack.

That 25th guy.
Yes, I respect him the most. He was the odd guy.

Ok. I admit it. It was me.
[laughter] That’s funny, man.

Circling back to the entrepreneur thing. You launched Tyson Pro. What is that?
It’s high-end boxing equipment for boxing pros, boxing enthusiasts. The motivation comes from a phrase that I live by, “Will-vsSkill.” It’s the ideology that discipline is key to success and growth, and that hard work is more important than raw talent.

Nice. What items are in the collection?
Limited Edition pro standard gloves, focus mitts, hand wraps. I’ll be launching apparel as well.

Like most of us, you’ve had a life with high of the highs and low of the lows. Why do you think you’ve been given this life to work through?
I don’t look at it as a negative thing. Highs and lows are a part of any life. It’s relative to your station in life. But I know I have been blessed with an outstanding resilience and strength. Each low after every high has given me more perspective on myself, humanity and gratitude. Many think it was a low when I lost my money, but they don’t know I was miserable most of the time when I had money. People think money equates to happiness, but those people never really had money. I know my journey was all divinely written to lead me here to this path, to this moment of inner peace and self-knowing. That is priceless.

What would you like your legacy to be? Family man? Boxing Business/entrepreneur?
I don’t look at my legacy as a thing I want it to be. I’m just me, a man, a student, a father or whatever label you want to call me. But my legacy is a personal statement for myself. People are going to view me from their lens whether it’s good or bad, but I can’t allow my ego to spend time caring about that stuff. We all return to dust, that’s inevitable, so a legacy means nothing because it doesn’t go with you to the next place after you leave here. So, for me being a present father, husband and friend is more important than an attachment to my ego, which is all legacy really means to me at this stage in my growth.

What would you like the man upstairs to say to you?
“You are a beautiful prophet for dying.”

We’re all just passing through. Thank you.
Thank you, brother.


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