Published April 15, 2012
LAS VEGAS – The urge struck me about halfway through Mike Tyson's latest adventure, just after he told the audience about how his mother loved the bottle more than she loved him. Or maybe it was when the big video screens showed a young Tyson serving as a pallbearer for Cus D'Amato, the man who molded his boxing career and the only man he really loved.
The former baddest man on the planet once made opponents and anyone who came into his path shake with fear. On this night, though, it was all I could do not to run up on stage and give him a big hug.
Surely a lot of those gathered in a hotel theater just down the hall from where Tyson had some of his biggest fights felt the same way. How could they not after watching him bare his soul for assorted VIP's and anyone willing to pay $117.49 to hear his story?
It was billed as "Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth" and there's still time to catch it if you have the cash and can get to the MGM Grand hotel before Wednesday's final performance. Beware, though, because this is more about Tyson's greatest misses than it is about his greatest hits.
"Many of you wondered what the hell Mike Tyson was going to do on stage tonight," Tyson said at the beginning of the show. "I was wondering the same thing."
Actually, I had a good idea because I've been listening to it for years. So did Tyson, because the show is mostly scripted — credit is given to wife Kiki — and he knows the subject material because he's lived it.
That he's still alive at the age of 45 after all that living is remarkable enough, a fact Tyson himself acknowledged on stage. Any combination of the women, the fights, the drinking and the heavy cocaine use could have done him in at any time.
"I'm coked up and fat," he said at one point, gazing up at a Los Angeles police booking shot of himself on the video screen. "I'm a fat cokehead."
That he's transformed himself into something far different than his fearsome former self is even more remarkable. He's now America's Guest, a comedian/actor/storyteller who finds it both therapeutic and financially lucrative to talk about a time gone by, when he mesmerized the world with his wild and crazy ways.
Some of it can still make you shift uncomfortably in your seat, like when Tyson talks about being with Japanese prostitutes before his upset loss to Buster Douglas in Tokyo. Some of it makes you wonder, like his conflicted feelings toward ex-wife Robin Givens, 20 years after their divorce. Some of it makes you laugh, none more so than the 10 minutes Tyson devoted to his infamous street brawl with fellow fighter Mitch "Blood" Green in New York.
"I hit him so hard I broke my hand," Tyson said. "But I broke his face, too."
The idea of Tyson doing a one-man show that people would actually pay to see seems a bit ludicrous. Somehow, though, it works — in a lot of ways.
His thin, high-pitched voice isn't made for the stage, but the tales he tells are compelling and he delivers them with a showman's flair. He's backed by a singer and a five-piece band, and the message he brings in a show that runs nearly two hours is one of redemption and forgiveness.
Redemption for himself. Forgiveness for others, like his alcoholic mother, and promoter Don King.
"When I first met Don I didn't realize I was meeting the (insert your own word here) devil," Tyson said. "But Don and I made peace. Forgiveness is my new motto. I hope it works for me."
Forgiveness goes only so far, though. The people in Indiana who put him in prison for three years for rape apparently don't merit it, even as Tyson acknowledges the lockup may have saved his life.
"There's a lot of things I could have gone to jail for and I deserved to go to jail for," he said. "But this wasn't one of them. I didn't do it and I will never admit doing it."
Strangely enough, the show barely touches on the biggest moments in Tyson's career. There's no footage of him knocking out Trevor Berbick to become the youngest heavyweight champion ever at the age of 20, nothing on the video screen from his 91-second destruction of Michael Spinks.
The only two fights he really talks about were among the lowest moments of his life. He's seen getting knocked out by Douglas, and there are pictures of him biting Evander Holyfield's ear.
He explains the Douglas loss to the fact he was cavorting with Japanese prostitutes instead of training. The ear biting, he says, was mostly Holyfield's fault for head butting and the fact referee Mills Lane "hated my guts."
Fair enough. It's Tyson's show, so he can say what he wants, even if he risks rewriting history in the process. But this show is more about feelings than punches, and if you couldn't figure it out when he was talking about his beloved Cus, you got the idea at the end when the band played "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and Tyson added the voiceover of his troubled life.
The audience that mostly filled the 740-seat Hollywood Theater on this night was a loving one, with one woman shouting out "You're doing great, Mike" as he paused during one particularly bleak story. They gave him a standing ovation when he took the stage, and many did the same when he finally left it two hours later.
A good night for all. About the only thing missing was a group hug at the end.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg