DSH Review - "Tyson: The Undisputed Truth" exceeds expectations

March 9, 2013

Anaheim, Calif. -- Mike Tyson's life is a rags-to-riches Horatio Alger story that soon turned into a catastrophic cautionary tale - but which now includes a surprising final chapter of possible redemption. His one-man play, "Tyson: The Undisputed Truth," is Iron Mike's intimate personal account of that journey.

The setting for this storytelling was elegantly simple. No actors, no musicians, and no props (with one minor exception: a Mitch "Blood" Green wig). Just a background movie screen primarily showing still photos, and Tyson himself, talking to the crowd. It works brilliantly.

For nearly 90 minutes Tyson invites the audience to experience the entire gamut of emotions that he has experienced. Even as we know that Tyson is essentially following a script, his genuineness somehow comes through anyway. It is a welcome surprise to see Tyson so comfortably communicating with self-deprecating charm like this and the audience readily buys in.

Of course, we still get to see the many sides of Mike Tyson: He is bitter and angry, funny and raunchy, somber and solemn, and even insightful and inspirational. Most importantly, through it all he is entertaining.


Tyson begins the show describing his early days growing up in Brooklyn and of being arrested over 30 times by the age of thirteen. He speaks dispassionately about how he truly enjoyed robbing people in his youth and matter-of-factly describes how he beat up and even stabbed people. Does this suggest he feels no remorse? Not exactly. He makes no overt apologies for his behavior but he does not glorify it either. In truth, he appears more resigned about his dark personal history than anything. To leave it out would be dishonest, so he talks about it.

Tyson's famed relationship with Hall of Fame trainer Cus D'Amato is discussed at length. Tyson jokes that he thought D'Amato was a "pervert" when he first met him and how he soon came to love and fear the old man as a father figure. He humorously describes the schizophrenic experience of living two totally different lives while travelling back and forth from Brooklyn to his protected life with D'Amato in upstate New York.

Tyson recalls how a younger Teddy Atlas (who has since repeatedly ridiculed Tyson) put a gun to his head when a 15-year old Tyson made a pass at his 12-year old relative. In his recounting of this event previously, Atlas portrayed Tyson as a remorseless and dangerous sexual predator who threatened a child. In Tyson's version however, he is just a goofy 15-year old virgin who made an innocent mistake and regretted it immediately.

Tyson talks at length, and with much bitterness, about his ill-fated 8-month marriage to actress Robin Givens. He points out that he and Givens maintained a sexual relationship even as divorce proceedings were going on until Tyson confronts his ex's new boyfriend...none other than a young Brad Pitt.

The most detailed fight discussion in the play? Berbick? Douglas? Spinks? Holyfield? Lewis? None of those. Surprisingly, it's the infamous street fight between Tyson and Mitch "Blood" Green. Tyson provides a hilarious image of a drug-induced Green rising zombie-like from repeated beatings to chase after Tyson late at night in a ghetto.

Tyson expresses regret for not training seriously for the Douglas fight and for losing control and biting Evander Holyfield's ear. Nonetheless, he adamantly maintains his innocence with regard to a 1990 rape conviction in Indiana, angrily pointing out that Don King provided him a "tax attorney" for his defense.

In separate instances, Tyson somberly reflects on the death of his mother, his sister, and most recently, his infant daughter.

Finally, Tyson candidly discusses his battles with addiction and other mental health issues that caused him to be admitted to a psychiatric facility on numerous occasions. He ends on a hopeful note, pointing out that he is now 4 years sober and has lost 155 pounds. As he closes the show, the audience is standing and roaring its approval. Another Tyson knockout.

The Mike Tyson Character Puzzle

There is arguably no more perplexing sports figure of the past 30 years than Mike Tyson. In fact, the former Heavyweight Champion of the World has lived a life as interesting as any American celebrity. But any real understanding of "Iron Mike" means confronting a confounding number of extremes as well as paradoxical personality traits.

Mike Tyson grew up in a life of extreme poverty and violence until he was a teenager, but by age 20 he was youngest Heavyweight Champion in history. At one time he had $400 million in his bank, but ultimately filed for bankruptcy.

Tyson exudes an intimidating and violent intensity while at the same time seeming capable of deep sensitivity. He can sometimes seem to genuinely regret his past violent behavior while rationalizing it at other times. And just when you think he might be asking for "forgiveness" of some sort, he is the first to remind you that he still harbors darkness in his heart and is far from a finished product in his own mind.

Tyson had very little formal education, yet he has a vast array of knowledge on a number of esoteric subjects, including the sport he once dominated, boxing. Indeed few fighters have ever known the overall history of prizefighting as well as Mike Tyson does. (The Undisputed Truth notably has very little discussion of Tyson's actual boxing career.) Even as he now humbly jokes about his inability to spell or pronounce various "big" words, he has never hesitated to use those words when speaking to people. Indeed, when you hear him you have to wonder why Iron Mike isn't working for HBO, ESPN, or Showtime as a boxing analyst.

Towards the end of his boxing career, Tyson defiantly identified himself as a "thug" and a "villain," while sneeringly asserting he was "from the gutter." Yet his own penchant for introspection often revealed that he found those blusterous characterizations specious. Even as he donned the character of a ruthless gladiator, Tyson also simultaneously expressed an almost child-like honesty and innocence. Amazingly, the "baddest man on the planet" has often come across as a sad and lost soul.

For Tyson's most adamant supporters, his redemption is complete and his one-man-show is akin to a victory tour. To his greatest critics, Tyson will seem far from being sufficiently contrite about his past behavior. Yet even these people would be blind not to notice the changes taking place in the man's psyche.

In any case, if "The Undisputed Truth" proves one thing, it is this: Love him or hate him, Mike Tyson is still mesmerizing.

Manish Pandya
Staff Editor for TheDailySportsHerald.com

1 comment:

  1. By any chance do you know the song playing when the backdrop had a black and white video of him training/sparring .. Had the lyrics "rock", in it


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