We cornered the ex-champ, ex-convict, and current best-selling author on his way to his one-man show, The Undisputed Truth.
How’s life these days?
Pretty good. I’m enjoying myself, man. I’m feeling great. I couldn’t ask for anything better.
You’re covering a lot of ground touring your show across the country these days. Is it as rigorous as your early boxing career, when it seemed like you were knocking out some bum every few weeks?
My early career was hectic. I would have 15 fights in a year. But that’s a good thing - I like to stay busy. I enjoy staying busy and working constantly.
When you got to be champ, the schedule slowed down. Did you ever feel like that broke your momentum?
Big time. I started to get involved with outside distractions. A fighter’s biggest enemy is inactivity; his biggest friend is activity. You need to stay in the ring, moving around throwing punches at people, people hitting you, avoiding punches…
What gave you more butterflies - your first big fights, or your first few times onstage alone for The Undisputed Truth?
Well, as the fights got bigger I was more experienced. I could handle the pressure better than in the earlier fights, where I was a neophyte. Just like now, even though I’m an experienced performer, it’s a totally different genre. You have to have a great audience, but the audience can’t be overzealous, because then you can’t get your message across. I’ve had crowds where everybody is screaming and yelling, and then I’m screaming and yelling, and people say it’s the best show in the world, but I’m not enjoying it.
You sure have a lot of stories you could tell. Does the show vary from night to night?
I try to stay on the script, but sometimes the crowd asks for something different. You know, sometimes you wanna go here, but you can tell they’re on the edge of their seats wanting something else, so I hit them with that.
Do you have any jams you like to listen to, to get juiced up for a show?
Jay-Z is still the best, and Kanye. What else? Amy Winehouse, “Tears Dry.” I put that stuff on for 35 minutes and boom.
You also run the Mike Tyson Cares Foundation. Does that bring you back to your old Brooklyn neighborhoods, Bed-Stuy and Brownsville?
Absolutely. We’re trying to give people a fighting chance at a better life. When you see Chicago and all the inner-city places where people are killing each other like the Vietnam War, they have no hope. If they had hope for a better life, they wouldn’t live with that perspective. If you have a bad education and go to a bad school, you get a bad job, and if you get a bad job, you do crime on the side. It’s gratifying to give back. I take my son into the old neighborhood. He’s a little apprehensive. I tell him, “Listen to these guys, talk to them. That’s your father if I didn’t have the experience I had. That’s Mike Tyson.” It’s hard if you don’t have mentors. Like I had [trainer and mentor] Cus D’Amato. Someone you admire. I always wanted to make him happy, make him proud.
You always hear about how so many Brooklyn neighborhoods are coming up and becoming trendy. Is it still as tough in your old ’hoods as when you were there?
The Bronx is always going to be the Bronx. East New York is always going to be East New York. I don’t care how many condos and stuff you put in some of some of these neighborhoods. If you don’t have a jail or a police station and a camera on every block, then we have a problem.
Maxim did a story a few years back about a “woman’s fight club.” It was women in Brownsville fighting to make a few hundred bucks to get by.
In my book [also called The Undisputed Truth] I was saying that’s why I have a very weird dynamic in my relationship with women from a physical aspect. Because where I come from, women fight back. Women weren’t treated like women, you know, they were treated like men. They fight you, they shoot you. And so that was a real change in my life. And that’s what I had to explain in my book. This is just how it is. Those women fight like men. They want the respect that men want, and if you don’t give it to them they’ll fight you for it.
With you being on the road so much now, who takes care of all your pigeons?
Oh, I have a team to take care of my birds.
There are plenty of pigeons Brooklyn, especially at the beaches…
Those pigeons, we call them rats, because we don’t want to take care of them. They’re not pedigree.
The seagulls throw them off the beach at the end of the day.
The seagulls are scary and aggressive. They’ll kill the pigeons. I threw a piece of meat in the air and they grabbed it like a Goddamn dog.
Mike Tyson will be performing his one-man show, "The Undisputed Truth," at Caesars in Atlantic City on Saturday, January 25.