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If there’s a real-life Jekyll and Hyde in the sports or entertainment fields, it’s “Iron” Mike Tyson, who for 30 years has straddled the line between terrifying competitor and sympathetic victim. We sparred (figuratively, thank goodness) with the youngest heavyweight champ of all time as he prepared to revive his show Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth.
M&F: Where would you rank yourself among the greatest heavyweights of all time?
Mike Tyson: It’s not my position to do that. People saw me perform and do whatever I did when I did it. It’s up to them to choose where I belong.
You had a great physique throughout your career. When you were coming up as a fighter, did you lift weights at all, or were you just boxing?
No way. Only hitting the bag and boxing all the time. I did lift later in my career, when I came back in ’95. I started lifting weights because that’s what everybody was doing. Everybody had strength-and- conditioning guys at that time.
Is there a workout regimen you follow today?
Normally it’s just an hour and a half on the treadmill, 200 Russian twists with a 15-pound medicine ball, and then I do chest exercises. I don’t do heavy weights. I’ll do bench presses with about 100 pounds, a bar, and plates. I just do repetitions.
I get addicted to running sometimes. Sometimes I’ll do it till I have to go to the hospital and get shots through my foot. I haven’t been on the treadmill for two months. I’m so happy because this is the first time I’ve stopped running and I didn’t gain a pound.
You lost 160 pounds by adopting a vegan diet. What were you eating?
I stopped eating basically altogether. I was miserable. Every time I traveled I had to bring food with me.
So what are you eating now?
First thing in the morning I get a bison burger and some cream of wheat. I’ll go to the health club and work out. In the afternoon I’ll eat some greens and chicken and take vitamins. At night I have tea and maybe some grapes.
In your show, you talk about catching Robin Givens, whom you were in the middle of divorcing, with Brad Pitt. How close did you come to knocking him out that day?
Not close at all. I wasn’t mad. He just beat me to the punch. He’s a nice guy. Even then he came across as a real nice guy. He said, “How you doing?” And I said, “What’s up, buddy?”
How does it feel to relive your life every night onstage? Does it make you feel differently about anything?
Never, ever. I don’t think of myself as Mike Tyson up there. I think I’m an actor who’s portraying Mike Tyson and I know him better than anyone else. I’m very objective about it. It’s not personal at all. If it hurt I wouldn’t be able to do the show.
So you’ve made peace with your past?
Absolutely. I would be a monster to live with if I hadn’t. There’s no way I could live with my wife. I’m sure I have regrets but I try to believe that I don’t. I don’t think there’s a better life out there than the one I have now. Thinking regretfully means I don’t appreciate this life, and this is an awesome life. But I don’t know if I’d call it peace. Peace comes with death. I don’t have any drinking or drug issues anymore, but life on life’s terms is always a struggle.
Don King famously cheated you out of a lot of money. Does boxing need an organization that protects fighters?
One hundred percent. But it won’t do that. Boxing comes from the underworld. It sees the people in it as subhuman. That’s the stereotype about fighters, that we’re savages. Black or white, that’s just the category we’re in. The fighters should organize unions and leave their egos at the door.
Is it true you had gonorrhea the night you fought Trevor Berbick and won the title for the first time?
Yeah. I asked my assistant, “What’s that stuff? It doesn’t look good.” I was only 20. He looked in my underwear and said, “You have gonorrhea.”
What was going through your mind that night when you won, becoming the youngest heavyweight champ ever?
I wished my mentor, Cus D’Amato, was there. He deserved to be there, and I deserved to have him there.
What do your tattoos mean?
When I was away in prison some people sent me books on Mao and Arthur Ashe, and I read them. I liked them, so I put the tattoos on my arms. Mao was a peasant who hated his father. He had a harsh life. He conquered the British and Japanese. He’s an interesting guy.
Ashe was very intelligent, insightful. He was a giant intellect. There wasn’t anything he didn’t know about. And I always loved Che Guevara, so I put him on my stomach. It took a long time to get, about six months, because it hurt so much.
Is there a presidential candidate you’re supporting?
Have you ever played [the 1987 Nintendo game] Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out and fought yourself? You were almost impossible to beat.
I sucked! I wasn’t into that back then. Now I play Call of Duty every day by myself. My kids stay far away from me when I’m playing.
You turn 50 on June 30. What wisdom do you have to offer younger guys?
If they get to 50 they’re very fortunate