Mike Tyson, the once undisputed world heavyweight champion boxer, appears to be a different man than he was during the two decades that he reigned in the sport, and he says it’s not just his age.
But this weekend, the legendary fighter will be returning to the ring to face former champion Roy Jones Jr. in an exhibition match. It’s a fight that he’s spent months training for and, despite his reputation, one that he said he’s both “excited” and “absolutely” nervous about.
“I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t have nerves,” Tyson, 54, told “Nightline” co-anchor Byron Pitts. “I mean, you don’t participate in anything at this level of excitement without having nerves, but that also catapults you another level of participating.”
Although it’ll be an exhibition match, anything can happen in the ring when the two men start throwing punches, Tyson says.
“It’s an unwritten clause in our contract … that anytime during training and fighting, you can die,” Tyson said. “I’ve seen it happen. … So that’s a great possibility that we wish don’t happen, we hope don’t happen, but that happens in the sports game.”
The match will be part of a new initiative that Tyson’s launching called “Legends Only League,” which will give retired athletes a chance to compete again. He says that the “second chance at glory” was inspired by stories about former NFL wide receiver Jerry Rice.
“Just ask anybody who would they rather see play, Jerry Rice or the guy that’s playing his position right now on a team that he played with, and you would get, overwhelmingly, they wanna see Jerry Rice,” Tyson said. “And so, now just because he’s a few seconds over for the best time, he can’t participate?”
The initiative is only the latest of Tyson’s ventures since retiring from professional boxing in 2005. But even then, his tumultuous past would continue to haunt him.
Having grown up in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, Tyson was exposed to violence and poverty at a young age. With an estranged father and an alcoholic mother, he was no stranger to street crime, having been arrested over 30 times before 12 years old.
He was eventually introduced to Hall of Fame trainer and boxing manager Constantine “Cus” D’Amato, who molded him into a professional boxer. In 1986, at just 20 years old, Tyson became the youngest heavyweight champion of all time after defeating Trevor Berbick.
The title helped launch Tyson’s fame around the world. But for all the love he received from fans, there was also controversy.
During an interview with ABC News’ Barbara Walters for “20/20” in 1988, his then-wife Robin Givens accused him of domestic violence.
“He shakes, he pushes, he swings,” she said on TV. “Sometimes, I think he’s trying to scare me. There are times when it happened that I thought I couldn’t handle it. And just recently, I’ve become afraid. I mean, very, very much afraid.”
The marriage ended in divorce a short time after the interview. Then, years later during an appearance on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” he admitted to Winfrey that the relationship had been abusive.
In 1992, Tyson was convicted of raping 18-year-old Desiree Washington in Indiana and sentenced to six years in prison. He was released less than three years later, after which he returned to the ring.
Just a couple of years later, in 1997, Tyson was disqualified in a now-infamous moment during the world heavyweight championship fight when he violently bit off a piece of opponent Evander Holyfield’s ear. The incident led to the suspension of Tyson’s boxing license, although it was later reinstated.
Tyson left boxing and began to dabble in movies. In 2009, he appeared in a now-famous cameo in “The Hangover.” But on and off the set, he was also struggling with drug addiction.
“I OD’d a bunch of times,” Tyson said. “And my wife snapped me out of it and stuff — called people, fixed me up.”
Today, Tyson hosts the “Hotboxin’ with Mike Tyson” podcast and manages the Tyson Ranch, a company that promotes cannabis-based products.
However, he says his most important role is that of “family man.” Tyson had two children with his third and current wife, Lakiha Spicer — Morocco Tyson, 9, and Milan Tyson, 11. Tyson says Milan, who is a budding tennis player, “will be a prodigy.”
Reflecting on his past, Tyson says he is committed to leaving it behind.
“Life has beat me into submission. It has nothing to do with me being humble. Life was just tougher than me at the moment,” he said, referring to his responsibilities as a father and husband. “I’m unable to successfully be the ass—- that I was before. … I have no choice … I’m committed and living the other way.”
“I have struggled,” he added. “But it’s really good.”