By Sean Crose
Let’s just get this out of the way: it’s refreshing to have Mike Tyson back.
Yes, he said and did some terrible things. Yes, he chose to be a villain rather than a hero. Yes, he turned his life and career into a punch line. But that was then. What’s more, the guy paid a huge price for his misdeeds. And now, with justice having been served, it’s time to watch him flip the page.
Tyson, who seems to be sincerely trying to turn a new leaf, is now a promoter. His stable of fighters, including Sammy Vazquez, a celebrated Iraq War war vet, will be appearing on Showtime’s Showbox program on April 18th. It promises to be an exciting night of boxing. Why? Because Tyson demands excitement from his fighters.
“These guys have to perform,” Tyson said of his stable of boxers during a media conference call on Monday. “This is a hurt business and these guys have to go out there and do some hurting.” He’s right. Boxing is a “hurt business.” Not a kill business. Not a cripple business. Not a maim business. But a hurt business. People like boxing rough and tough. Just as they like football rough and tough.
And, frankly, boxing isn’t always exciting these days. As great as he is, Floyd Mayweather isn’t the most thrilling dude on the planet. With that in mind, I asked Tyson if – as a promoter – he intended to take the sport in a new, more action-oriented direction. Tyson, friendly and polite, responded in the affirmative, arguing that the sport needs to be more exciting.
“It has to be,” he told me, “in order for boxing to grow as it once did.” Many fans will undoubtedly agree with those words.
“You can still box and be aggressive,” Tyson went on. “Sometimes the crowd doesn’t understand the movement. Sometimes it’s just not good.”
Then, the man made what could be considered his mission statement as a promoter. “ It’s all about making exciting fights,” he proclaimed. “That’s what I want to do. I want to make exciting fights.”
This was undoubtedly music to the ears of Stephen Espinzoa, the head of Showtime’s boxing division. Say what you will about Espinoza, the man is clearly a friend and fan of the former heavyweight champion. And he’s not the only one. “There are a lot of people at Showtime who have a lot of affection for Mike,” he asserted.
Still, Tyson the promoter isn’t taking things easy. He came across like a pro on Monday, as well as someone who was all business. When asked about the length of his new relationship with Showtime, Tyson put the responsibility on those boxing under his banner. “This,” he explained, “depends on the fighters.” The man who came up the hard way simply isn’t going to make things easy for those on his team.
“I’m not the boss,” he said. “I’m the promoter. The fighter’s the boss.” In other words, Mike Tyson isn’t going to make or break anyone. That sort of thing is in the hands of the one boxing. Does Tyson’s relationship with his fighters extend beyond the professional level, though? I asked Tyson if he intends to use his own personal experience to guide the boxers in his stable.
He answered in the affirmative, but once again emphasized personal responsibility. “Listen,” he responded, “my job is to get these guys good fights. I can bring a horse to water, but I can’t make him drink.” It’s ironic to hear these words coming from Tyson’s mouth, since they may very well have been said regarding him not so long ago. “The best way to learn is through experience,” he continued, adding that: “if they don’t take the message, there’s nothing I can do.”
Experience has taught Tyson quite a few lessons in life. But at least he’s taken those lessons to heart. “I’m doing great, man,” he answered in response to a question about his sobriety. It was a subject the guy once called Iron Mike wasn’t afraid to discuss.
“Anything (good) that happened to me came from my Higher Power,” he said, speaking like a serious 12 Stepper. “Before I thought I was entitled to everything.” It’s that honesty, that recent willingness to admit to past wrongs, that makes it hard not to root for Tyson at this point in his career. That and the fact that he’s going to bring some welcome buzz to the sport.
“This,” he proclaimed, “is the beginning of a dream come true.”
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