Mike trying to talk me into a face tattoo. Photo by TCA colleague April Neale

Mike Tyson: The Knockout (ABC) is the ultimate celebrity profile roller coaster ride. Seldom has such a polarizing personality been so at the centre of the American Dream.

Tuesday’s first episode deals with Tyson’s remarkable transition from bullied kid to “The Baddest Man on the Planet.” Among those interviewed are former trainers Bobby Stewart and Teddy Atlas. ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap is also a key commentator, as is a friend from their tough Brooklyn neighbourhood, Rosie Perez. We see the relationship between Tyson and legendary trainer Cus D’Amato evolve and how there was good and bad in that pairing. D’Amato rescued Tyson from a life of crime as a Brooklyn juvenile to becoming a feared and strategic fighting machine.

D’Amato died just as Tyson was about to realize their dream of becoming, at 20, the youngest heavyweight champion ever. That was a feat he accomplished by knocking out Trevor Berbick. Shortly afterward, one key member of his management team passed away and another was banished, leaving Tyson professionally orphaned. At 21, he quickly began to spiral out of control in a world of endless parties, rapidly vanishing wealth and international stardom.

The biggest sandbagging came in his brief and stormy marriage to actress Robin Givens. Her alegations of abuse shared to millions in the infamous 1988 Barbara Walter interview poured gasoline on Tyson’s spectacular flame-out. Former opponents Michael Spinks and Buster Douglas are also interviewed, with Douglas, the 41-1 underdog, shocking the world by knocking out Iron Mike in Japan. What followed was sordid and dark, with Tyson, among other things, serving three years in prison for rape.

Tyson’s story is tailor-made for the TV biography treatment. Rose from obscuity, headed for oblivion, now embraced as a tough and repentant survivor after funny film appearances, a Broadway triumph and even a docuseries about his lifelong passion for racing pidgeons. These days, there’s also an entertaining podcast where he spins his version of the “Undisputed Truth.”

Ten years ago I had a remarkable conversation with Tyson in a giant tent on the back lawn of the Langham Huntingtom Hotel in Pasadema, Calif. It was a press tour event and Tyson was there, as were reporters, as guests of Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network.


I remember having some reservations about approaching Tyson, who I spotted standing alone next to a table of hors d’oeuvres. Would he bite my ear off like he did Evander Holyfield? Instead it was the most relaxed and genuine conversation I had with anyone that press tour.

Tyson told me at the time that he had already shot his scenes for the upcoming sequel to The Hangover, the comedy film that went a long way toward revamping his image. We talked about an earlier documentary about him and another he was featured in, Facing Ali. Tyson told me that he was moved to tears watching former Canadian champ George Chuvalo spill his guts in that project about the tragic life and death of two of his sons along with his wife. He also offered the opinion that Muhammad Ali was indeed the greatest and would have whupped him had they faced each other in their prime in the ring.

That he has emerged at middle age still fighting trim and moving forward after a lifetime of so much excess, pro and con, is remarkable. ABC’s Mike Tyson: The Knockout, isn’t going to tell you a lot, if you’re a fan, you don’t already know about the man. It is, however, a thorough investigation of his life and times. It concludes one week later, Tuesday June 1, with Tyson coming clean about his past sins and his life today. Viewers will find that there’s more to Mike than the sensational headlines, as I discovered a decade ago on the back lawn of the Langham.

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