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Saturday, 6 February 2010

Tyson: Savage God



Tyson, directed by James Toback: a review. All texts below spoken by Mike Tyson from the film, copyright Sony Pictures Classics, 2008


The first question we ask is, Who am I?

Language, language, multiple voices, voices fighting each other, the makeup of the mind, madness, madness, the chaos of the brain...


Cus D'Amato told me, If you don't have the spiritual warrior in you, you'll never be a boxer. And he said, You can be champion of the world. I'm gonna cry... I started believing in this old man. I changed my whole life. I turned my whole life over to boxing. I turned into a complete animal. If he told me to bite, I'd bite. I was like his dog. He broke me down and rebuilt me. He changed me into a completely different person. It was a father-son relationship.

Once he spoke to me, I knew that nobody physically was ever going to fuck me again. I never had to worry about anybody bullying me again. I knew that would never happen again, because I knew that I would fucking kill them if they fucked me again.

File:Holyfield vs Tyson I poster.jpg


I deal with a huge inferiority complex. As a little boy I was fat and everybody picked on me. So now I never back down from a fight. I am not somebody who will walk away from a street fight. In a fight in the streets, not like in the ring, it has to be almost to the death; because you never know, if you don't beat him half to death, he'll come back with a gun, or come back with a friend with a gun, or come back with a gang of people. So normally a fight in the street is deadly.


There's nothing like fighting when you're young and you're happy. There's nothing more deadly and nothing more proficient than a happy fighter. Everybody believes it's the mean and the surly fighter, but that's not true -- it's the guy who's more relaxed. He's the guy who loves what he does, and he's just happy to be in there doing what he does.


When Cus died, it was like I lost my whole life. I didn't know where to go from there. I was nineteen years old, I didn't know what to do with my life. I felt vulnerable, I felt lonely, I felt naked to the world. I just felt like a very young boy. It was just a horrific time for me.


I've always been interested in women. They have a magnetic force for me. I'm drawn to them. I have a knack for talking to them. I love conversation. I love talking to women.


Every punch was thrown with bad intention and the speed of the devil.

My job was to hurt people. I loved fighting not because I liked to hurt people but because I liked the after-effect of fighting. That meant I had got the job right. Once I got the job done correctly, that was my satisfaction of it all.


When I'm in the dressing room, five minutes before I come out, my gloves are laced up, I'm breaking my gloves down, I'm pushing my knuckles against the leather in the back of the gloves, I'm breaking down the middle of the gloves so my knuckles can pierce through the leather, I can feel my knuckles piercing against the tight leather of the Everlast boxing gloves.

I have total confidence. When I come out I'm totally afraid. I'm scared to death. I'm afraid, I'm afraid of everything, I'm afraid of losing, I'm afraid of being humiliated... But I'm totally confident, the closer I get to the ring the more confidence I get, all during my training I've been afraid of this man, I thought this man might be capable of beating me, I've always stayed afraid of him... But the closer I get to the ring, the more confident I get, once I get to the ring I'm a god, no one can beat me.

I walk around the ring but I never take my eyes off my opponent. I keep my eyes on him, even if he's ready and pumping, he can't wait to get his hands on me as well. I keep my eyes on him, I keep my eyes on him, I keep my eyes on him. Then once I see a chink in his armor -- boom, one of his eyes may move, and then I know I have him. And then when he comes to the center of the ring he still looks at me with this piercing look, as if he's not afraid. But he's already made that mistake; when he'd looked down for that one-tenth of a second, I knew I had him. He'd fight hard for the first two or three rounds, but I knew I'd already broken his spirit. During the fight I'm supremely confident, I'm moving my head, he's throwing punches, I'm making him miss and I'm countering, I'm hitting him to the body, I'm punching him, and when I'm punching him I know he's not able to take my punches. One, two, three punches. I'm throwing punches in bunches, he goes down, he's out, I'm victorious. Mike Tyson, the greatest fighter that ever lived.



What I want in a woman is protection, loyalty, friendship, companionship. Ferociousness. I want her to protect me, and have my back, to the bitter end. If I have a fight, I want her to jump in, even if I'm winning, even if she's ninety pounds.

I like strong women -- not necessarily a masculine woman, but a strong woman, say a woman that runs a corporation, a CEO of a corporation, I like a strong woman with confidence, massive confidence, and then I want to dominate her sexually. I like to watch her like a tiger watches their prey after they wound them, I want them to remember me, in a bizarre way I want her to love me -- and watch them, just watch them, I want her to keep her distance for at least twenty to thirty minutes before I devour them, and take them to the point of ecstasy. I love saying No all the time; when I'm making love, when they ask for something, I say No. What I want is the extreme, normally what they want is not as extreme as what I want. So I'll only give them a little, and they'll give me a lot. I won't let them turn me around. I don't like being loved, I don't feel like being loved, I don't like being loved, I have too much love, I have too much love to give, and none to accept. I turn around when I want to turn around -- No. I want to ravish them, completely.

File:Tiger in the water.jpg


I lost that belief in myself, once Cus died. I lost my mentor, I lost my friend.

I just never had the basics of putting all my life in a structure. It comes from my childhood, I never had the tools that a basic child had, the mother and the father and the whole tradition of family, where we work out our problems, I never had that particular type of life, I just looked out for me, me, me, and if there's a problem, I'm just gonna handle it my way, or else I'm gonna run. And I just was never able to decipher a problem, to decode a problem, everything was cryptic to me, and when it got too cryptic I just booted out of the situation.


Being in prison was the most horrible time of my life. I lost my humanity. It took the whole life out of me. I never again trusted anyone, including myself. By going to prison I lost my faith of trust in God. I became a Muslim in prison, but I really lost my faith in myself, I became almost inhuman. I have seen things that I couldn't understand one human being doing to another person... My insanity was my only sanity. I used Islam because I was bitter at the world. But later I became more humble. Because that's what Islam is all about, Islam is about humanity.

When I was in prison I put a tattoo of Mao on me, I put a tattoo of Che on me, because I hated my government so much. I wanted to put a tattoo on my face, I was going to put a tattoo of hearts, but then a friend told me about this other tattoo, I put this tattoo on instead, it represents a New Zealand warrior tribe called the Maori. They had face tattoos, because when they went into combat, they scared the enemy.

After prison I was afraid of everybody, I was scared of everybody and everyone. I felt like everyone was against me. I was paranoid. I thought everybody was gonna hurt me.

File:Mike Tyson.jpg


When I was heavyweight champion of the world, I believed I ruled the world. I had homes all over the country, I had luxurious apartments all over the country, I had the most exquisite of cars, but I loved leeches. Leeches -- I wanted them to suck my blood. I just wanted them to suck all of my blood, and then I'd sell my blood, and then I'd buy my blood back again from them, and allow them to suck it again -- and that was my downfall, I associated with so many leeches. I guess everybody has their purpose in life. I call them leeches, and that's not from a negative perspective either, I say that because I allowed that to happen. And in some aspects I guess I'm a leech as well, because I allowed them to suck, and I'd suck from them. So it was a give and take situation. So there's no one to blame, truly, but myself.



I think controlling money is an art -- it's an art to control money. I'm an extremist, because either I have a lot of money or I have none. I can't live in the center, I'm just not that kind of person. I don't know why I'm that way. No one can understand the mind of an extremist. People can judge me but they can't understand my mind -- nobody, if they don't have that extreme addict personality, could ever understand how a guy could blow three hundred or four hundred million dollars. It's as if I have to live at the top of the world or I have to live at the bottom of the ocean. I don't know how to live in the middle of life.

Money is like paper blood, you know, you need it to live. But I just like to use it help people, I like to spend it. Sometimes I neglect myself, but I make myself happy with it as well. I never thought I would live long enough to really enjoy anything. So I've been living pretty reckless. I never had any idea I would live to be forty years old. I don't have as much money as I used to have. And I don't really care, because I don't really care that much about money. But I wish I was smarter. But... old too soon, smart too late.


If I have any anger, if it's directed at anyone, it's directed at myself, because I should have known myself better. There are things I should have accomplished in my life, and things that I have done that were very harmful toward the people that I loved the most.

I don't like the person that I've become. I just want to be a decent human being. I can't make up for the past. What I've done in the past is the history, what I'm gonna do in the future is a mystery.



Wahine Tane: carving of woman and man embracing, representing Papatuanuku and Ranginui, primal couple of Maori mythology, Maketu, Bay of Plenty, New Zealand, c. 1870 (Auckland Museum): photo by Kahuroa, 2006

Tyson vs. Holyfield I, 1996, fight poster: image by Eqdoktor, 2007

Indian cobra, Naja naja, near Hyderabad: photo by Kamalnv, 2008

Malayan Tiger (Panthera tigris malayensis): photo by B cool, 2007

Mike Tyson in the ring, Las Vegas: photo by Octal, c. 2006

Leech (Hirudinea): photo by Shizhao, 2006

Tyson, directed by James Toback, 2008, film poster (Sony Pictures Classics)



Tom, very moving 'look' at Tyson (words and pictures) "experience . . . itself" ---


grey light in clouds against still black
ridge, red-tailed hawk calling on branch
in foreground, sound of waves in channel

pen over graphite, on paper
lower and upper right

here and there, experienced
prior to that, itself

blue-white sky on horizon next to point,
whiteness of gull perched on GROIN sign

Cy Mathews said...

I have to point out, as a New Zealander, that Tyson's take on the role of facial tattoos in Maori culture leaves a lot to be desired - and "Maori" doesn't designate a tribe, its a collective term for the many distinct tribes that occupy different areas of Aotearoa/New Zealand.

TC said...


Yes, "experience... itself".

And in MT's case, experience we will never fathom.

(The film itself is a visceral experience of great power.)

TC said...

Yes, you're right, Cy. But Tyson also says in the film, among other things, that he met "the president of Istanbul". This is Mike Tyson.

Anonymous said...

God savages Tyson
he goes down in multiple rounds
but is always up before being
counted out.

They both know the final bell.

Elmo St. Rose said...

I can't remember who said it, but
it's this:
"The pure products of America go

There was the biting of Hollyfield's ear.

TC said...

William Carlos Williams, "To Elsie"
from "Spring and all" (1923):

The pure products of America
go crazy--
mountain folk from Kentucky

or the ribbed north end of
with its isolate lakes and

valleys, its deaf-mutes, thieves
old names
and promiscuity between

devil-may-care men who have taken
to railroading
out of sheer lust of adventure--

and young slatterns, bathed
in filth
from Monday to Saturday

to be tricked out that night
with gauds
from imaginations which have no

peasant traditions to give them
but flutter and flaunt

sheer rags succumbing without
save numbed terror

under some hedge of choke-cherry
or viburnum--
which they cannot express--

Unless it be that marriage
with a dash of Indian blood

will throw up a girl so desolate
so hemmed round
with disease or murder

that she'll be rescued by an
reared by the state and

sent out at fifteen to work in
some hard-pressed
house in the suburbs--

some doctor's family, some Elsie
voluptuous water
expressing with broken

brain the truth about us--
her great
ungainly hips and flopping breasts

addressed to cheap
and rich young men with fine eyes

as if the earth under our feet
an excrement of some sky

and we degraded prisoners
to hunger until we eat filth

while the imagination strains
after deer
going by fields of goldenrod in

the stifling heat of September
it seems to destroy us

It is only in isolate flecks that
is given off

No one
to witness
and adjust, no one to drive the car


On the biting of Holyfield's ear: video footage in "Tyson" confirms Tyson's contention that in their second fight, as earlier in the first, Holyfield had been head-butting him. This, says Tyson, injured and disoriented him in both fights.

The bloody climacteric of the second fight is raw primal carnage.

"I'm a good person but at that moment I went insane," says Tyson in the film. "I wanted to inflict as much pain as possible on that man. I was totally insane at that moment... I lost my cool, I lost my composure, I lost my discipline. It's the worst thing a warrior can ever do."

He says that the fight was a turning point for him. "I lost my desire in being champion, I didn't really care about it anymore."

poetowen said...

Saw the documentary after reading your post--boxing's an international sport, but as metaphor it seem so American--class, and race issues, but also that feeling that violence is around every corner. Sometimes I'm embarrassed that I'm so drawn to it--spend too much time watching old fights on youtube--but it (and Tyson's life) holds a mirror to the large terribleness of living here.

"The name of the game is be hit and hit back"
- Warren Zevon, from Boom Boom Mancini

TC said...

Thanks O for picking up on the film and for saying these true things.

Indeed, "a mirror to the large terribleness of living here".

Reality. Who wants to look?

We thought this movie blew all the tissue-thin and skin-deep '09 best picture nominee films right off the dark map of the present moment. An actual work of art, yet.

(By the way it seems certain tastes remain common, you'll have noted MT has probably watched all those same old fights you have, at least 1000 times each.)

~otto~ said...

Fantastic documentary about someone who I think is a fantastic representation of the country that created him.

TC said...

Thanks Otto,

Good to feel others are feeling this.

The film swirled back into my mind (as soon as it started working again) after the brief synaptic storm of adrenalin triggered by the events described here.

leigh tuplin said...

Thanks so much for this Tom.. There is something so very seductive about the art of boxing..My head can never defend the act itself, but my gut understands.

TC said...


In my (enforced) boxing days, I too had trouble defending myself.

(Once had a religious medal implanted into my chest in the course of a particularly unsuccessful defense.)

leigh tuplin said...


Once again I didn't explain myself very well I fear (I'm guilty of that way too often) -

I couldn't stand up and defend boxing or any similar sport to anyone who wanted to ban it or control it further, since it is basically two people desperately trying to harm one another, albeit in a skilfull way, yet, even though I didn't box alot, in the queensberry sense, I did practise Muay Thai for many years and too a lesser extent Taekwondo. The feeling of being in the ring was very seductive. I loved it. It's a cliche, but that, and being lost in the middle of a painting, are probably two of the experiences I associate most with feeling truly alive. Standing there facing an opponent before the bout has begun: the gut bursting with adrenaline and fear, for me was unique and quite addictive.

Apologies for not explaining myself well.

TC said...


No, I did understand, I think, and was merely having a laugh (at myself).

I do indeed see the relation you suggest, in terms of those two exacting disciplines of the moment.

Tension and fear and the beckoning possibility of a release into clarity are always so near and so intimately related as one steps into the ring of the page or the canvas.

The Aztec warrior disciplines, in my small comprehension of them, came very close to being a central metaphor for all this, as in those games the price of failure in the moment seems to have been death in the next moment.

And this brings us back to what I found in the Tyson film, for I gathered from it that for MT the initial discovery of the warrior discipline was literally also a discovery of a way to survive. As he makes clear in the film, there was a channeling of anger. And his comments on the Holyfield fight make it clear that when the anger overcame the discipline, insanity ensued; and after that turning point, there was never again to be a return to the clarity of the discipline.

leigh tuplin said...

Tom, last night i finished four small drawings inspired by this post. They're more instinctive rather than intelligent, which is me. I've linked them to here. Hope that's ok.

TC said...


Thank you. The drawings are remarkable. The power and flow of an articulate energy, contained, released.

Here is the direct link, for those who'd like to look:

Drawings: 'From Combination to Being...'(After, 'Tyson, Savage God')

(I take it that in the various senses of 'combinations' you may mean to include a figure of that lightning-quick right to the body/right hook to the head 'combination' which was the lethal signature of Tyson's warrior art, inculcated by his teacher Cus D'Amato, in his early days?)

leigh tuplin said...

Thankyou Tom.

And regarding 'Combinations'... yes, that sense of the word was high on my list. Poetically explosive. Thanks again.