In the latter half of the 1980s, Iron Mike Tyson became the self-proclaimed “baddest man on the planet.”
From his domination in the boxing ring to his personal pitfalls outside of it, watching Tyson exist was, in many respects, the original reality show. Unscripted and unpredictable, with more twists, turns and turmoil than one man should rightfully endure in a lifetime, it was must see TV.
So it reasoned that to see the man in person, regaling a packed house with every sordid detail of his larger-than-life existence would be riveting stuff. And maybe it would have been … in 1995.
It’s been more than 11 years since Tyson last laced up the gloves. In the ensuing years, the enigmatic boxer has dabbled in film and television. He has been the subject of documentaries and biographies and has, at every turn, told bits, pieces and shreds of his life story.
So when Tyson strode to the stage of the Events Center inside the Seneca Niagara Hotel and Casino on Saturday, the anticipation was somewhat muted.
At 50 years old and long removed from his prime, Tyson walked a considerably light audience (maybe a third of the 2,200 seats were empty) through his life – or at least as much of his life as he chose to grant access to.
In an often X-rated, manic whirlwind, Tyson – clad in leather shirt and jeans, sweat cascading from his smooth head – spent considerable time laying the groundwork of his hardscrabble upbringing in New York.
From the pimps and pushers to stealing and street fighting, Tyson left little doubt as to how he became the man who was arrested, by his count, more than 70 times.
“Iron Mike” was at his best as a stand-up comedian. His impressions of boxing foes Lennox Lewis and Mitch “Blood” Green earned big laughs, as did his colorful recounting of his first sexual experience and his decades-long battle with a painful venereal disease.
As compelling as his childhood struggles were, and as humorous and self-deprecating as he was, he missed a golden opportunity to connect with his fans who remember Mike Tyson the boxer.
If you wanted to know what it felt like to have the heavyweight belt strapped around your waist at the age of 20, you were out of luck. Curious about how he prepared for his fights or what emotions he felt after suffering his first defeat at the hands of a virtually unknown James “Buster” Douglas? You left disappointed.
On the whole, “Undisputed Truth” was light on boxing and heavy on crass and crude (albeit funny at times) material that left too many questions unanswered.
Still, Tyson had his moments where he appeared to let his guard down and show a side of the man rarely seen in his heyday. He seemed to choke up when discussing the influence his mentor, Cus D’Amato had on him, saying, “He took me out of the sewers and made me a respectable person.” As he prepared to wrap up his 70-minute show, Tyson paused and reflected for a moment, telling the crowd how grateful he was to be here – here, being alive.
“Most people who fall as far as I fell, they don’t come back.”
It was a raw and powerful sentiment wrapped around an hour of predominantly frat boy banter (heavy on his sexual conquests and light on his boxing conquests).
Though there were flashes of substance, and Tyson was better than you might expect in his delivery, pacing and comic timing, in the end, like Tyson-Holyfield II, “Undisputed Truth,” failed to live up to the hype.
But don’t blame Mike.
For a man who earned and spent an estimated $400 million in his career, “Undisputed Truth” didn’t feel cathartic, and it didn’t feel like a chance to connect with his public, it felt like a much-needed payday.