Mike Tyson's 'Undisputed Truth': The fighter still remains

Once boxing champion and now entertainer, Tyson is also a train wreck, his memoir suggests

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A redemption song and reclamation project, "Undisputed Truth" is the exhausting but riveting story of a phenomenal boxer whose bad-boy behavior regularly made the celebrity pages and police blotters in the 1980s and 1990s. Mike Tyson, the boy from the Brownsville section of Brooklyn who became the world's youngest heavyweight champion at age 20 in 1986, here tells his version of a lurid, litigious, lubricious and hyperbolic story.


"UNDISPUTED TRUTH"
By Mike Tyson with Larry Sloman.
Blue Rider Press ($30).

It's equal parts fairy tale and nightmare. Vendetta, too. And so well written you feel as if Tyson's talking to you; credit co-writer Larry Sloman for that.

Tyson pulls no punches. He takes down former wife Robin Givens and her mother, "Ruthless," painting them as money grubbers and poseurs; tries to put another nail in the flamboyant Don King's coffin by slamming his managerial efforts and detailing his greed; rakes much of the legal profession; and pillories today's boxing for losing the soul it had when, as Cus D'Amato's most gifted ward, Tyson began his rise to the top.

D'Amato, the crusty, upstate New Yorker who effectively diverted this thuggish 13-year-old loose from a life of crime, and his partner, Camille Ewald, are the people -- outside of his family, particularly his wife, Kiki -- whom Tyson seems to adore most. While he's not exactly a giving guy (except in a Robin Hood kind of way toward his Brownville homeboys), the exceptionally readable narrative he's constructed with superstar interpreter Mr. Sloman suggests Tyson is content with his scaled-down life.

Tyson is an entertainer now, making money off movies (he began to redo his image with parts in "The Hangover" films), commercials and "Undisputed Truth," a one-man show, scripted by his wife Kiki and directed for HBO by Spike Lee, that debuted on Broadway to critical acclaim.

Tyson's boxing career began to decline when he lost his unified World Boxing Council, World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation titles when James "Buster" Douglas knocked him out for the first time in 1990. At 46, he now cuts a memorable, if humbler, figure.

In a book that is a curious blend of braggadocio and apology, Tyson doesn't let himself off the hook. While he blasts King and former trainer Kevin Rooney, he admits he should have taken more control of his career and been smarter about the financial arrangements he agreed to. He also goes granular about drug use so rampant he couldn't remember where he'd put the powdered cocaine he smoked.

No need to go into all his fights; "Undisputed Truth" details them, post-fight disputes and all, including the biting of Evander Holyfield's ear. His rise was a marvel: Tyson won his first string of professional bouts by knockout -- fast. He used to box in the Albany, N.Y., area in the early '80s. Fans couldn't decide between asking for their money back because the event was over so quickly or being satisfied by witnessing a physical phenomenon so devastating and dramatic Tyson seemed a natural force.

Despite his intimidating prowess, Tyson was a glutton, a robber, a brute, a man so randy and needy it's easy to see why he'd be a target (he says he was a mark) for women eager to pry loose a part of the $300 million fortune he made in the ring.

Convicted of the rape of Black Miss America contestant Desiree Washington in 1992 (he served half of a six-year sentence), Tyson couldn't keep his hands off women, he says. He says he is an addict; consuming cocaine and alcohol in strip clubs became default activity for him in the early 2000s, when he seemed permanently lost. Like the Maori warrior symbol tattoo on his face, the portrait he and Mr. Sloman paint is something you can't help staring at. It's often a train wreck.

Tyson has always been a work in progress. This book suggests that even though his notorious behavior is hard to forgive, he is no longer a damaged child but a man eager and ready to step into more refined arenas.


Carlo Wolff, a reporter for the Cleveland Jewish News, saw Mike Tyson fight in upstate New York in the 1980s.

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