Movie Review: Tyson Documentary

April 29, 2009

The recently released "Tyson" is a fascinating documentary that lets the viewer into the mind of former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson. It is unique in that Tyson himself is the narrator of the entire documentary, but the viewer is not made to feel as though we are watching pure propaganda.

In the movie Tyson, speaking very quickly, discusses his rise from the streets of Brooklyn, through his glory days as champion, until his ultimate decline and retirement. The movie touches on much more than Tyson's boxing career. Along the way we are told stories of Tyson's tough upbringing, his deep affection for his original trainer Cus D'Amato, his failed marriage with Robin Givens, his time in prison for a rape conviction, and his battles with addiction.

While the movie attempts to create a sympathetic portrayal of Mike Tyson, it does not prevent the "dark side" of Tyson's psyche from coming out. Further, it allows the viewer enough room to make their own judgments about the controversial ex-champion.

Some interesting highlights of the documentary are the following:

1. Tyson was suffering from an STD on the night he fought Trevor Berbick for the heavyweight championship. Tyson says he got the disease by sleeping with either a prostitute or a "very filthy lady." Tyson doesn't see the irony in describing the presumably promiscuous female he slept with as "filthy" when he admittedly was behaving the same way.

2. Also before the Berbick fight, Tyson was motivated to avenge Muhammad Ali's 1981 decision loss to Berbick in Ali's last fight. Moments before the fight, Ali told Tyson, "Get him for me."

3. Tyson acknowledges he did not train hard for the Buster Douglas fight and suggests he hadn't trained hard for several fights before that either.

4. Tyson appears on the verge of tears several times when he discusses his deceased trainer and father-figure Cus D'Amato, but refers to the rest of his entourage as "leeches." He describes promoter Don King as an "evil, slimy, reptilian motherfucker," and acknowledges he started to kick him and stomp him on the ground outside of the Beverly Hilton Hotel over a money dispute.

5. Tyson states he felt like a fool when Robin Givens criticized him on national television, but for the most part suggests he wishes Givens well. He states he wasn't ready to get married then and that both were too young. Tyson also states he still thinks about her.

6. Tyson refers to his rape accuser as a "swine of a woman" and maintains his innocence regarding the crime he was convicted for. Yet he also speaks candidly that he likes to sexually dominate strong women. He also states, factually and without remorse, that he "took advantage" of other women, just not his accuser. Tyson expresses outrage and disgust about going to prison and the horrors that take place there.

7. Tyson claims he "blacked out" in both the first and second Holyfield fights every time Holyfield butted heads with him. He still suggests Holyfield did this intentionally and makes no real effort to explain why he lost it and bit Holyfield twice, other than noting it was "chaos of the brain." Tyson states that after the cut, he no longer had any interest in winning the fight. The movie does falsely seem to suggest that without the clash of heads the outcomes may have been different in those fights.

8. Similarly Tyson offers no apology or explanation, other than impulsive behavior, for biting Lennox Lewis and screaming wildly in their pre-fight press conference. Insight into that would have been appreciated because as you may recall, Tyson was screaming at reporters and at the same time his voice was cracking, almost as if he wanted to cry. He also seems to suggest that his comments to hype the fight, "I want to eat his children," were just salesmanship.


Tyson has always been a larger than life figure in boxing. As a fighter he was probably overrated, never defeating the best fighters of the generation (Lewis and Holyfield). Yet there was always a sense that he never reached his full potential because of personal demons that haunted him.

I left the theater with the feeling that Tyson is genuinely seeking some peace in his life right now. There is a fair degree of acknowledgment about his past sins, but there is also still some denial. In the end, Tyson's life is undoubtedly in some sense a sad story, but it can still have a happy ending. He readily acknowledges he is capable of slipping into drug or sex addiction again, but expresses happy surprise that he is even alive beyond the age of 40.

Some have suggested that Mike Tyson's life is similar in scope to a Greek tragedy. To finish this tragedy, the script calls for Tyson to ruin himself before it's all over. Hopefully Iron Mike will surprise us all.

Manish Pandya
Staff Editor for

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