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Meet Mike Tyson, Role Model?

November 09, 1996|Tim Kawakami

LAS VEGAS — Thirty years old, indecently rich, a felon and a father three times over, Mike Tyson struck quite the moderate attitude this week.

Are we looking at the introduction of "Iron" Mike Tyson, soccer dad?

"I've been through a couple of crappy deals in my life; it's not any secret," Tyson said during a long, casual conversation with writers at Don King's house this week. "Sometimes I fall off the mark--I slip, but I try to do the right things.

"I'm a totally different person than I was at one particular time. And they overlook that. They only remember the things that I did that were kind of uneasy to live with and some of the bad experiences I've been through.

"But they don't look at, this is the first generation of the Tyson family that was never on welfare. And I think that's an improvement."

Tyson appears to have become comfortable with this ritual of his post-rape sentence fight career--he can be a snarling muttonhead most of the time, but once each fight, for a handful of writers in a relaxed atmosphere, he will sit down, be thoughtful and ramble on about the World According to Mike.

"I'm a guy that's been in prison all his life," Tyson said, "and then discovered boxing, and then did well and then got in trouble again, and then went to prison and came out. I don't know anyone who can relate to my background. . . .

"I'm saying people who've struggled all their lives, that's the ultimate accomplishment, just to think my daughters won't be on welfare. To me, that's fly. That's wild; that constantly freaks me out.

"I know my friends back home are going to kill me when they read this, but I think it's [welfare] the easy way out. It takes away our dignity, it takes away our strength and our ability to strive for a better life."

Most often this session, his thoughts spun away from tonight's World Boxing Assn. title showdown with Evander Holyfield at the MGM Grand, and almost always, to his paradox: His life is immeasurably enriched by his children, but he constantly feels the burdens of his ugly past.

"My life is over," Tyson said. "My children's lives are just beginning. Tomorrow is just another day, and Saturday, I'll pick up $30 million, and maybe another day, I'll pick up another $30 million. . . .

"[But] there's things I can't do that I used to do, I can't be Mr. Nightclub Boy, Mr. Playboy. I've got to be more of a role model. I'm not trying to be righteous at all, I'm trying to make sure my children aren't messed up. . . .

"I don't want my children to be rebellious like I was. I don't want them hanging out with the kinds of guys I hung with. So I know I've got to tell them what I did was bad. But I'm not looking forward to that, I'm not looking forward to looking like an ass in front of my kids."


Teddy Atlas knows all about Tyson's ever-changing moods and doubts, since Atlas was there with Tyson at the beginning. Atlas now trains International Boxing Federation heavyweight champion Michael Moorer, who, if he gets past Francois Botha tonight, has signed to be Tyson's next foe, for about $10 million on March 15.

Atlas left Tyson 14 years ago with a flourish: He put a gun to Tyson's head after Tyson allegedly assaulted one of his young relatives, and walked away from Cus D'Amato's training camp--and the millions that training Tyson as a pro would have earned him--believing that D'Amato was letting Tyson rumble out of control because of the money and glory he knew Tyson could bring.

Yes, Atlas sees the irony.

"I was the one who started training him, and I was the one guy in his world that never made money," Atlas said. "Without sounding holy, I made that choice.

"It was easy to make then, because I didn't have any family, and I was younger. It really was about developing fighters and doing the right thing. It was simple to me. It was something that was harder for Cus at that time, and now I understand better.

"But I would have had to lose a part of myself to stay in [the Tyson camp]."

With the Tyson fight in sight, and with Moorer generally regarded as having little chance to hold up against that kind of power, there are other normal human concerns for Atlas.

"I don't want him to have the last laugh," Atlas said of Tyson. "After what happened 14 years ago, I don't want to lose to him. I'd almost rather not fight him.

"But I just want a shot at it. I want a guy who has the ability and the commitment and the courage for one night, and the desire for one night, to face him as a person instead of this Godzilla. I don't want a guarantee, I just want that."

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