UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds
Courtesy of Hot Docs

Tyson

Brutally honest film returns some dignity to the former heavyweight boxing champion

By Kevin Spurgaitis

Tyson
Directed by James Toback
(Fyodor Productions and Greenroom Films)
www.sonyclassics.com/tyson



Mike Tyson — now in his 40s — doesn’t talk much about his “Iron Mike” glory days anymore. Interviewed while staying at a California rehabilitation clinic for drug and alcohol addiction, the former heavyweight boxing champion is introspective and even thoughtful.

At least, that’s the impression given in James Toback’s brutally honest, no-holds-barred documentary, which uses a mix of original interviews and archival footage to depict Tyson’s early days as a Brooklyn thug, his meteoric rise in the bloody sport of boxing — and his subsequent fall from grace.

In his prime, Tyson was among the dominant athletes of his era. Once he stepped into the ring, he felt like “a god,” he boasts in the film. In 1986, he became the youngest heavyweight champion in history at age 20 and was the undisputed champion from 1987 to 1990. Tyson lost and later reclaimed the heavyweight title, only to lose it again to Evander Holyfield in 1996. In a rematch the next year, he twice sunk his teeth into Holyfield’s earlobes, which led to his banishment from the sport. Outside the ring, he has been convicted of drug possession and driving under the influence. In the early 1990s, he served three years in prison for sexually assaulting an 18-year-old beauty pageant contestant.

Today, the ex-heavyweight boxer maintains his innocence but says he has committed other trespasses for which he was never prosecuted. Prison, he admits, was a place he entirely deserved to go. However, as Toback conveys in his film, Tyson was politicized and demonized, at least in part, because of the colour of his skin. As a result, he was “congenitally incapable” of playing anything other than a brawler, according to the director.

Age and perspective have now shifted Tyson’s priorities. He is overcome by a desire to be a good father to his six children and, as he puts it, truly know himself. He has immersed himself in the writings of Tolstoy, Machiavelli and Mao Zedong in the same way he once studied old boxing reels of Jack Dempsey and Henry Armstrong.

Tyson may be one-sided in its treatment. Still, the film returns some of the dignity to the disgraced prizefighter without pleading for his absolution. It’s obvious he carries a lifetime’s worth of regret on his massive frame. Like the elaborate Maori tattoo on his face, remorse will always be with him. In light of this, Tyson, the man, emerges as a complex and deeply self-aware figure. I found myself wondering if he doesn’t deserve a second appraisal. 
Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image

Editorials

David Wilson%

Observations

by David Wilson

If statues could talk

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image

Society

July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots

World

June 2017

A suitcase for Cuba

by Christopher Levan

You’ll find more than giveaway toiletries and hand-me-downs in the writer's luggage. Each carefully chosen gift offers a glimpse into the lives of Cubans today.

Justice

June 2017

Undocumented

by Kristy Woudstra

Up to half a million people are living in Canada without official status. The ‘sanctuary city’ movement is growing, but the fear of deportation persists.

World

June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.

Society

April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart

Society

March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Promotional Image