Mike Tyson and the spotlight, for better or worse, have always gone together like hand and boxing glove.
His touring one-man show, Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth, has been such a success that HBO will once again hope the Tyson mystique lures viewers to its premium cable channel when it airs the show in December. (Remember, HBO televised his biggest fights during his heyday.)
Tyson says standing on stage discussing his personal and professional life reminds him of what it was like to be in the ring when he was undisputed world heavyweight champion and dubbed The Baddest Man on the Planet.
It should, because people are there to see him, hanging on his every word just like they did whenever they saw him cock his hard-as-iron right hand.
His one-man show is on hiatus until fall, but he’ll still have a chance at thriving in the role of the evening’s star attraction come Friday night in Verona. Tyson makes his debut as a boxing promoter at Turning Stone Casino, and his Iron Mike Productions figures to make quite the splash in the boxing world during the nationally televised Friday Night Fights card. The six-fight card begins at 7 p.m., and the ESPN2 broadcast starts at 9.
The main event features junior lightweight Argenis Mendez (21-2, 11 KOs) defending his IBF world championship for the first time against Arash Usmanee (20-1, 10 KOs). The co-feature, which would likely be a main event on any other card, pits Claudio Marrero (14-0, 11 KOs) against Jesus Andres Cuellar (22-1, 18 KOs) for the interim WBA world featherweight title.
“This is all about crowd pleasing,” Tyson told The News during a phone interview. “This is all about entertainment and winning fights, giving the crowd what they want, and that’s what I think is going to be different from my production company and the rest of the promotion companies” out there.
Tyson, the 47-year-old International and World Boxing Halls of Fame member, will likely only step into the ring for a cheerful, promotional moment or two and not to cave anyone’s face in. Perhaps then it’ll really hit him that he’s back in the sport in a meaningful way for the first time since quitting before the start of the seventh round against Kevin McBride on June 11, 2005.
How did Tyson get into the promotional end of the business?
He was approached by Garry Jonas, chief executive of Acquinity Sports, earlier this year and they, along with Henry Rivalta, hammered out a deal that became finalized nearly two months ago.
The company changed its name to Iron Mike Productions and Tyson not only had an avenue to get back into the sport that made him famous but also inherited two world-class talents in Mendez and Marrero to use as building blocks in his quest to join Oscar De La Hoya as a former world-champion boxer who became a successful promoter.
“I’m very surprised I’m doing this stuff,” said Tyson of returning to the sport as a promoter, considering he doesn’t have fond memories of dealing with promoters, namely Don King, during his fighting days.
“I have a good feeling about this stuff,” Tyson continued. “This will be good. I can give back to society, to the fighters, more than just being an entertainer. I can give back more spiritually and emotionally to them.”
Steve Nelson, who managed De La Hoya and two-time world heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman, said it’s great Tyson is returning to the sport that gave him so much as a promoter.
“Of course there’s a lot of controversy and a lot of craziness associated with Mike, but it seems like he’s starting to settle down now from what I’m hearing from people,” the Rochester-based Nelson said. “I think this is just another step in life, a positive step in his life.”
Can Tyson’s involvement in boxing again give the sport a much-needed shot in the arm, what with Mixed Martial Arts becoming a more popular attraction with blood-sport enthusiasts than the sweet science?
“The one thing boxing always needs is an attraction and people who promote,” Nelson said. “There aren’t too many people of the old-school promoters any more. Don King and Bob Arum were two of the best ever. Mike will attract attention and he’s seen the biggest shows and the biggest fights; he’s been a part of them. I think he’s going to be successful and add a lot to the sport.”
Said Tonawanda’s Joe Mesi, who once was involved with negotiations with Tyson’s camp to put together a fight in Western New York before a medical suspension for brain bleeds blunted his plan: “He’s got his head together. He’s married to a nice woman. He’s off the drugs. ... The new Mike Tyson is really a fun-loving guy. I think the new business Mike Tyson is a great thing. It’s good for the sport.”
Tyson has the name brand to make the promotion a success but isn’t satisfied with just being the face of the operation. That’s why in addition to doing the media circuit to promote the card, he’s also putting in the time to do behind-the-scenes work, along with his wife, Kiki, and business partners. Remember, boxing promoters want to make money.
“It’s been overwhelming but it’s giving me a high,” Tyson said. “It’s motivating me to work hard.”
Tyson also plans to use himself as an example with the young fighters under his stable.
Specifically, he wants them to learn to protect their money. He wants them to stay out of trouble and not have their careers interrupted or totally derailed by jail time. He wants them to train properly and not pick up bad habits that will affect their in-ring performances (see, loss to James “Buster” Douglas).
Tyson, who spent three years in prison on a rape conviction during the mid 1990s, made $300 million during his boxing career but also filed for bankruptcy 10 years ago.
His net worth now is roughly $1 million as he’s made a mini comeback in recent years via acting roles (Scary Movie 5 and the first two Hangover movies) along with his involvement with World Wrestling Entertainment (he was inducted into the organization’s Hall of Fame last year).
“It gives me the opportunity to help people ... so that they don’t have to worry about being like Mike Tyson and one minute wake up and say, ‘Hey, what the hell happened to my money and friends? They’re all gone,’” said Tyson of his involvement with boxers in his promotional outfit. “And that’s what I feel like: I have an opportunity to be of service and give back to the community.”
Does this mean he’ll be a fighter-friendly promoter?
“I don’t know about being fighter-friendly, but I’ll be fair with them. I’ll be fair to them and give them my best,” he said.
“I think one of the things that fighters who end up getting signed to Tyson’s company will be able to hear firsthand from a guy that was involved in the sport when it was probably at its biggest and he can kind of guide them to perform the way it’s necessary to pick up a bigger audience,” Nelson said. “And on top of that, having Mike Tyson at the show brings people out there.”
Though Tyson lives in Las Vegas, let’s not forget he was born in Brooklyn and learned all he knows about boxing while training with the late Cus D’Amato in the Catskills. He made his professional debut March 6, 1985, in Albany. He also won gold in the Empire State Games in the Syracuse Carrier Dome during the early 1980s. So it’s kind of fitting that his promotional debut will take place in his home state.
“They can see I’m doing well and going in a good direction,” Tyson said. “At one time, it didn’t look like I was heading in a good direction but now things have changed. I’m very grateful. I’m so happy to come back upstate and show people that I’m not going in the direction everyone thought I would go in.
“I’m going to show people I am a good man. I’m going to make good things happen. I’m going to help people. I’m going to have a positive frame of mind. I’m not going back into the dark world again.”
“In a way, it’s a homecoming and a new beginning for Mike,” Nelson said. “There’s still a curiosity about Mike. It will garner attention for him, his fighters and his shows and that’s always a positive for the sport.”