Mike Tyson is having the time of his life, it seems. For years, the former heavyweight champ came across as a tortured soul, but he finally, at long last, seems comfortable with who he is and where he is in his life.
He is, it seems, happily married and enjoying his children and life in general. And he is about to embark on some fun stuff. I had a chance to catch up with Tyson the other day in a half-hour phone conversation. Last time I spoke with Tyson was last summer, just a few days before his induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He was very emotional in that interview as he recounted his rise to the top under mentor and father figure Cus D'Amato.
It was a different Tyson when we recently spoke. He was excited, happy and looking forward to a pair of big events. The first comes Saturday night when he will be inducted into the celebrity wing of the WWE Hall of Fame at ceremonies in Miami on the eve of wrestling's biggest pay-per-view show of the year, WrestleMania 28.
Tyson, a lifelong pro wrestling fan who said he used to steal money and use it to buy wrestling magazines when he was a kid in the 1970s, said his experiences with WWE were some of the funnest times in his life. In 1998, when he was at one of his lowest points after his suspension from boxing for biting off a piece of Evander Holyfield's ear during their heavyweight championship rematch, WWE boss Vince McMahon, hoping to boost interest in that year's WrestleMania, threw Tyson a lifeline and invited him to participate in an angle with Stone Cold Steve Austin in which Tyson was eventually named "special enforcer" for the main event between Austin and Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 14. In the memorable match, Tyson knocked out Michaels after he disputed Tyson's ruling of Austin as the winner of the match.
In January 2010, Tyson returned to WWE to guest star on "Monday Night Raw" and teamed with Chris Jericho in a tag-team match against Michaels and Triple H. This is sports entertainment, so Tyson naturally turned on Jericho and knocked him out, allowing Michaels to pin Jericho for the victory.
Tyson said his kids were not all that interested in his boxing HOF induction, but that they can't wait for the WWE event.
"They all want to go to the WWE Hall of Fame event," Tyson said. "We all love wrestling. It's like a soap opera for men. ... When I give my speech, you won't have to worry about me breaking down and crying at that one like I did at the boxing Hall of Fame. You'll hear every sentence loud and crackling and clear. This one goes straight to my ego. It's like, 'I'm so cool.' This is going to be fun. I'm just very ecstatic about it. It's a very big honor to me."
USA Network will air the WWE HOF inductions on tape delay Monday night (8 ET).
"I had a ball doing WWE," Tyson said. "I was with [Michaels and Triple H tag team] Degeneration X [in 2010] and I was a pretty in-your-face kind of guy. We were the crotch choppers."
Tyson said the WrestleMania experience was huge for him. Not only was it fun at the low point after the suspension for the Holyfield incident, but it "really helped me out financially at the time," he said.
Tyson rattled off a list of some of his favorite WWE superstars, including old-timers Bruno Samartino, Junkyard Dog and Moondog Mayne, as well as Michaels, Austin and Triple H.
"I just loved doing it and I really appreciated Vince McMahon," Tyson said. "He knew how to get me when times were hard. Usually when times are hard, everyone knows how to run away from you, but he came to get me and I am extremely grateful. This is real and I am not just sucking up. I don't want to kiss no a--, but I don't know where I would have been without WWE at that particular time in my life."
Besides his WWE HOF gig this weekend, Tyson is also about to embark on a one-man show at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. He fought many of his biggest fights in the Grand Garden Arena, but now he will stand on stage alone inside the much smaller Hollywood Theatre (where many of the final news conferences for major fights also take place) for his "Mike Tyson: The Undisputed Truth" show, which will run April 13-18. If it's a success, the 70-minute show could see its run extended, according to Tyson.
"The prodigal son has returned home," he said of returning to the MGM. "I will enjoy my time there."
Tyson said he will pull no punches in discussing a variety of topics about his life. In fact, while we were talking, he asked me which topics I'd be interested in hearing about.
"Everyone knows about my situations, but I will talk about them and tell people what they don't know about them," Tyson said. "Everyone knows me and [first wife] Robin Givens were divorced and separated, but they don't know we were still sleeping together. One day, I went over to her house and I saw her come home with Brad Pitt. That s--- really depressed me."
Tyson said he has tons of stories that he wants to share with a public that has found him so fascinating. It will be something of a catharsis for him, he said, to just let it all hang out.
"I'm just going to tell the truth about all this [stuff]," he said. "I'm born to be in front of people and I hope they enjoy it. All I've been taught to do is entertain people in some sort of form. I get nervous, but I'm not intimidated by that stuff. Now I understand myself. Before, I thought that was for punks and chumps. I always thought it was about bragging rights and showing off and flaunting your money. Now I'm just going to keep it real."
Tyson said he'll talk about how D'Amato, who took him in and trained him to fight, changed his life. He'll talk about his marriages, being in a youth detention center, his rape conviction, promoter Don King, the ear-biting, the epic Buster Douglas fight, "all that sex s--- people always hear about," and his time in a psychiatric center. He also said he was considering dishing on his dispute and fallout with D'Amato disciple and former amateur trainer Teddy Atlas, now the ESPN2 ringside analyst for "Friday Night Fights."
Of the psych center experience, Tyson said, "I had all these Harvard doctors examining me like I was the missing link."
Tyson said he can't wait to get on stage and say his peace.
"I will be brutally honest," he said. "I'm open to using foul words, but I'm not going to be too hardcore. I'm not Mother Teresa, but I'm not Charles Manson either.
"We're gonna talk about everything. It will be the truth, the highlights and the lowlights."
Boxing offered many of both, but he said he is content to remain a fight fan and not a participant.
"I just love fighting. I love to be a part of it and part of the fraternity," he said. "I'm so happy I became a fighter. But I'm so happy with this [stuff] now. The best moment of my life was my retirement from boxing."