Tyson shouldn't be lauded into oblivion

Mike Tyson in Brisbane on Thursday. Picture: Harrison Saragossi
Mike Tyson in Brisbane on Thursday. Picture: Harrison Saragossi


''I guess I'm gonna fade into Bolivian,'' squawked Mike Tyson a decade ago, after he'd been smashed sideways by Lennox Lewis. He always said things like that. And people always laughed. Indeed, looking at his life - arrested three dozen times by the time he'd hit puberty and progressively catastrophic from there - one never knew whether to laugh or cry.

When he was fighting, Tyson was essentially unknowable. Crawling on the canvas and grasping for his mouthpiece was about as exposed as he ever stood. When he finally did retire - fat, broke, disinterested and barely able to raise a glove in defence - we finally got some sort of insight into his tortured mind.

Before us stood a searingly honest and unusually introspective man, prone to stream-of-consciousness rants that were for the most part nonsensical but that would occasionally stop you in your tracks.

Tyson, we discovered, liked talking. And in that falsetto lisp of his, he basically hasn't shut up since. Even Australian journalists found it easier to snare a phone interview with him than the 300th best AFL footballer in this town.

There were plenty willing to listen too. Whether it was the 10 minute ovation at the Cannes film festival, pouring his heart out on The View or dancing the paso doble on the Argentinian version of Dancing with the Stars, Tyson lived one of the more curious second acts in American life.

In many ways, the joke was on him.

Tyson, not as stupid as many would have you believe, knew it too.

For sanity's sake, he knew he had to withdraw from the limelight, tend to his pigeons and wrestle with his demons. But as prisoner of his own device and living from gig to gig, this travelling wreck of a train couldn't stop.

The train rolled into Melbourne this week and there was only one man equipped to meet it at the station. The middleman's middleman Max Markson has brought us everyone from Nelson Mandela to Corey Worthington. In matters moral, he says he draws the line at David Hicks.

Tyson, as far as Max is concerned, is the golden goose.

As the fighter himself once said, ''I could sell out Madison Square Garden masturbating.'' In Australia this week, he's basically going to have to do everything but.

Unsurprisingly, tickets for Tyson's ''Day of the Champions'' tour sold like hot cakes. Some neat packaging and a bit of the Markson magic worked a treat. On the capital-letter-happy promotional website, the hitherto unhinged Tyson is, we are told, ''A Man Who is Dedicated, Hard Working, Courageous, Intelligent, Insightful and Funny.''

On the tour's undercard, so to speak, is a woman named Loral Langemeier, who is about to release her latest book, Yes! Energy: The Equation to do Less, Make More. It's a confounding and busy title but it no doubt resonated with the star of the show. Like most former sportspeople who hit the speaker's circuit, he probably thought he'd rock up, spew out a few anecdotes, crack a few gags, press some flesh and hightail it to the airport.

But nothing is ever so simple for Mike Tyson. Whether it's forking out four dollars for a menacing answering machine message, or $3000 to quiz him about hookers and STDs, there's ne'er an aspect of his life that isn't for sale.

Tickets for his bread and butter show at Festival Hall - Melbourne's ''House of Stoush'' - range between $69 and $189. Expect profuse sweating, musings on Nietzsche and the lamentations of a man who used to weep himself awake. All up, your standard Tyson fare.

However, for the heavy hitters - those willing to fork out for the $3000 intimate dinners in a Festival Hall dressing room - he's going to have to up the ante. As Markson mooed recently, ''He's quite open about talking about all the controversial parts of his life, including his incarceration, venereal disease, splashing $100,000 on prostitutes.''

It throws up all sorts of ludicrous scenarios. Picture 20 members of the Australian general public, sitting in a crummy old sweatbox, sipping pinot noir, downing canapes and drawing straws on who'll ask first.

''So, Mike, about the gonorrhoea … ?''

It's hardly dignifying - but for the most part nor is the professional boxer's lot. So many of the great heavyweight champions have ended up dodging bailiffs, mopping floors, greeting in casinos and chasing brain cells.

Tyson, compelling and cautionary as his tale can be, exhausted all sympathy years ago. Rape convictions tend to do that.

But increasingly, the finger deserves to be pointed at the milkers, the enablers and the rubbernecks. For those who continue to drag out his carcass, who continue to give him a platform and who continue to lap it up, it's impossible to feel anything but contempt.

Jonathan Horn is a freelance writer.


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