Monday, January 20, 2014

Book Review: “Undisputed Truth” by Mike Tyson with Larry Sloman (2013)

Iron Mike’s tell-all autobiography is every bit as crazy as you’d imagine it to be. But what’s even more shocking is just how insightful and enlightening a read it ultimately turns out to be.

“Whenever the last trumpet shall sound, I will present myself before the sovereign judge with this book in my hand, and loudly proclaim, thus have I acted; these were my thoughts; such was I. With equal freedom and veracity have I related what was laudable or wicked, I have concealed no crimes, added no virtues; and if I have sometimes introduced superfluous ornament, it was merely to occupy a void occasioned by defect of memory: I may have supposed that certain, which I only knew to be probable, but have never asserted as truth, a conscious falsehood. Such as I was, I have declared myself; sometimes vile and despicable, at others, virtuous, generous and sublime; even as thou hast read my inmost soul: Power eternal! assemble round thy throne an innumerable throng of my fellow-mortals, let them listen to my confessions, let them blush at my depravity, let them tremble at my sufferings; let each in his turn expose with equal sincerity the failings, the wanderings of his heart, and, if he dare, aver, I was better than that man.”
-- Jean Jacques Rousseau,
The Confessions,” 1782

"This book is dedicated to all the outcasts -- everyone who has ever been mesmerized, marginalized, tranquilized, beaten down and falsely accused. And incapable of receiving love."
-- Mike Tyson,

I don’t think anyone other than Mike Tyson himself can fully grasp the unbearable guilt that willed “Undisputed Truth” into existence. His almost 600-page autobiography is less a standard recounting of his life as it is a typed confession, a laundry list of the sordid deeds that both nourished his monstrous ego and rattled the most decent part of his soul to its breaking point. Reading “Undisputed Truth” is like watching a flooded vessel explode from the inside out -- the only thing more tragic than the sight is its sickly beauty, the kind of destruction so spectacular you can’t help but stare at it in awed amazement. Your personal opinion of Mr. Tyson probably won’t be altered by the contents of the book -- if you think he’s a megalomaniacal fruitcake now, you’ll still hold such as self-evident -- but after reading the tome, you'll at least partially understand Tyson’s demeanor and attitude. His stories herein may not absolve him of his many, many debaucheries and disgraces throughout his lifetime, but the the book does do something almost as astounding: it actually allows you to rationalize his actions and doings, and eventually come to empathize with one of the most universally despised public figures of the last quarter century.

The book -- which was essentially ghostwritten by “Private Parts” scribe Larry Sloman -- begins with Tyson discussing his 1991 rape case against Desiree Washington, and how he tried to do some Santeria rituals to sway the outcome of the trial. He then starts recalling his childhood, growing up in Brownsville, New York, in the late 1970s.

Folks, all I can say is that after reading about Mike’s childhood, nearly everything he went on to do in life -- no matter how depraved or disgusting -- is kinda’ understandable. He claims to have been doing home invasions at the age of 10 and spending much of his elementary school years living in abandoned buildings -- perhaps its worth noting that he says that he never actually "attended" school in the traditional sense, arriving only to eat breakfast and lunch before playing hooky.

Up until the age of 15, he said he slept in the same bed with his mom, even while she had sex with men. On one occasion, he recalls her scalding one of her lovers with boiling water, and watching his mom pop his pustules with a blowtorch afterward. His after-school activities consisted mostly of scaring pigeons off roofs as a gofer for local drug runners and snatching gold chains off subway passengers. At the tender age of 11, he was fist fighting grown men (his mentor, he claims, was some dude that used to shadowbox while high on weed), constantly getting the shit beat out of him by his mother (who loaded him up on Thorazine to control him) and robbing special ed students for gambling money. Perpetually in trouble with the law, he said he basically had a "time share" at the local juvenile detention center.

Eventually, Mike was sent to the Tryon School for Boys, where he was taught how to box by Bobby Stewart -- a guard that had a proclivity for engaging in fisticuffs with the center's underage residents. Displaying impressive raw talent, Tyson was then sent to live with elderly boxing trainer Cus D'amato -- a paranoid socialist that hated Ronald Reagan and was so fearful that International Boxing Commission goons would plant drugs on him that he sewed his own jacket pockets shut.

Training with Cus and Teddy Atlas, Mike Tyson said his fascination with pugilism began to flourish after watching the first Ray Leonard/Roberto Duran bout. Patterning himself after Muhammad Ali, a young Tyson said that he spent his teen years reading Tolstoy, Adam Smith and Nietzsche (so he could better understand "the hearts of men") and absorbing all of D'amato's aphorisms -- including the battle cry of making all his opponents "causes a lie" before the opening bell sounded. Battling a major eating addiction, he said one of the hardest parts of his regiment was abstaining from sexual activity; as such, he describes his life as revolving around "training and jerking off" for several years.

As a junior amateur, a 14-year-old Tyson was battling 22-year-old men. After his mother's death, Tyson returned to Brownsville, and mourned her passing by smoking PCP and going on a robbing spree. In Dec. 1982, Tyson experienced his first loss at the U.S. Amateur Championships. He was 16, while his opponent was nearly a decade older.

Tyson talks about his shortcomings at the 1984 Summer Olympics, and we get a role call of his first 8 professional fights -- all knockout wins, by the way. He recalls hanging out in the New York social scene, meeting people like Raul Julia and Drew Barrymore, the celebrity that impressed him most being former WWF Champion Bruno Sammartino.

Tyson discusses his early philosophy on boxing, parroting D'amato's famed "the way you fight your fights is the way you live your life" quip, as well as describing how he feels his opponent's "spirit" prior to a fight -- before the bout even starts, he claimed to have been able to tell whether or not a competitor was "a pussy," or "oh shit, he's coming here to fight." He had an undercard bout scheduled at Madison Square Garden once; after it was cancelled, he gleefully talks about visiting a whorehouse to celebrate.

D'amato then dies, and Mike talks about speaking to a photograph of him, and how being at the bank reminded him of his mentor and always made him weep. "I fight my heart out, give it my best," he said. "But when it's over, there's no Cus to tell me how I did, no mother to show my clippings to."

From there, Mike's handlers becomes a trifecta of individuals -- Steve Lott, Jimmy Jacobs and Bill Cayton. As Mike keeps chalking up more victories, he continues to party with prostitutes, go out on lavish drinking sprees in upstate New York and steal quotes from his biggest idols; among them, football great Jim Brown and in, Apocalypse, the X-Men villain.

On Nov. 22, 1986, Tyson defeats Trevor Berbick to claim his first World Heavyweight boxing championship -- at the age of 20, making him the youngest such champ in the sport's history. Even more impressive? He said that he was "leaking" from a bad case of the clap throughout the entire bout. On the precipice of international stardom, he recalls a foreboding quote from Lenin: "freedom is a very dangerous thing. We should ration it very closely."

Immediately after winning his first belt, Tyson said he found himself torn between his dual lives in high society and his old Brownsville stomping grounds. He recalls hanging out with Rick James and Carlton Banks at bars and having sex with groupies while literally wearing his championship strap; he also talks about trekking to his home turf, where he would buy sneakers for the homeless and pass out $25,000 a night like Robin Hood. The money he got from doing an anti-drug PSA, he said, was used to fund the coke distributing operations of his childhood friends.

Tyson continues to tear through challengers left and right: Tony Tucker, Tyrell Biggs, Michael Spinks, Larry Holmes. The last one, he said, was revenge on behalf of his childhood icon, Muhammad Ali. He encounters Barbara Streisand, and tells her how sexy he thinks her nose is.

Tyson then marries sitcom star Robin Givens, whom he said had a "Herdipus complex." He pays for the funeral of famed pimp Iceberg Slim, and Jimmy Jacobs passes away. Drama with Givens and her mother begins almost instantly, with Tyson alleging that their goal was to either goad him into a pricey divorce or take over his finances by having him locked up in a mental institution. Meanwhile, Tyson gets into a series of street brawls with a guy named Mitch Green, and after an infamous 20/20 interview, he and Givens officially call it quits. He says the president of his bank held a party the day Givens and her mom was officially taken off his bank account -- "fuck them bitches," the pres allegedly stated.

After the divorce, Tyson took his man-ho exploits to dizzying new heights. Waxing poetically, he said his excesses were borne of a broken heart -- "love leaves a black mark " on it, he said. He hooks up with fight promoter Don King, whom he calls "a reptilian motherfucker" who hates whites and an individual guilty of "contaminating his barometer." Mike visits Mexico, and he's upset that there are people in the world that actually live in conditions worse than his as a child. "That shame of being poor gave me more pain in life than anything," he said.

As a PR stunt, he was baptized in an event which featured Reverend Jesse Jackson. Immediately afterwards, Tyson said he went back to his hotel and nailed a choir girl. He then recounts tales of punking out Kennan Ivory Wayans, Brad Pitt and Wesley Snipes, and this one time he showed Frank Bruno his pubic hair.

Prior to a bout against Carl Williams, Tyson experiences his first of MANY HIV scares, and talks about being so upset with Don King this one time, he ended up kicking him in the head. That actually becomes something of a recurring motif throughout the book -- every time Don gets the shit beat out of him, feel free to do a shot, kids.

Then we come to Tyson's 1990 bout against James "Buster" Douglas in Japan. He says that he lost because he was too busy banging Japanese maids and that Douglas got a slow count on a previous knockdown. Following his first pro loss, he returns to the Catskills, and spends some time with D'amato's widowed wife, Camille. His sister dies, his first son is born, and he trains for a bout against Razor Ruddock. Tyson accuses King of placing Thorazine in his food, and making him watch Nazi documentaries when all he wanted to do was watch cartoons.

Then we come to a lengthy passage about the Desiree Washington rape trial. All you need to know there is that Tyson had arguably the shittiest defense team anyone has ever had, and most likely, ever will have.

Before going to Indiana for a five year prison stay, we're introduced to Daddy Tyson, an absolutely impossible deacon-pimp who once drove all the way from New York to North Carolina and back to retrieve a shotgun to shot a dude that pissed him off once. His pa, whom said "all I know is pimping and the bible," dies shortly thereafter, and Tyson recounts his years behind bars.

Alongside another inmate, Tyson said he cooked up a grandiose commissary scheme using fan-sent money. He reads the work of Che, Mao and Arthur Ashe while having furtive sex with visitors sporting crotchless undergarments, and other inmates pay Mike to listen to his friends on the West Coast have sex over a phone line. He ends up having an affair with an in-house drug counselor (even getting her knocked up), while receiving visits from the likes of James Brown and Tupac -- whom once tried to start an impromptu concert during one of his visitation stays. In a lot of ways, the book does seem to read like a Bizarro version of "Forrest Gump" at times.

And so, Tyson is released early, and one of the first things he does is buy some lion cubs, whom proceed to piss and shit all over Don King's townhouse. By now, keeping up with all of Tyson's out-of-wedlock kids is sort of like following the Dewey Cox life story; after chalking up some easy wins over the likes of Buster Mathis and Frank Bruno, the first Tyson/Holyfield bout is arranged, and Mike blames that particular loss on the following things: Evander kept headbutting him, his opponent was probably on steroids and the referee was most likely drunk.

Mike remarries, and he continues to ho it up, anyway. Holyfield/Tyson II goes down -- the infamous "ear biting" fiasco -- and Tyson claims referee Mills Lane was biased and didn't call a couple of pre-chew headbutts on Holyfield's behalf. Riots ensue, and Tyson gets banned by the NSAC for an entire year.

Shortly after the bout, Tyson gets in a motorcycle wreck, tries to stab Don King with a fork and is diagnosed with dysthymic disorder. He makes a mint off an appearance at WrestleMania, claiming that his erroneous promos about "Cold Stone" Steve Austin could simply be attributed to the fact that he had munchies at the time of the interviews.

Owing $13 million in back taxes, Tyson ultimately winds up with a 2-year prison sentence in Maryland. He receives visits from JFK, Jr., whom he said was largely responsible for his early release. After doing some community service at Tent City, Tyson is reinstated, and he beats up a less-than-impressive gallery of tomato cans, like Orlin Norris (whom he said used to stare at him from the crowd at press conferences, Clubber Lang style) and Julius Francis, whom was actually paid by a U.K. newspaper to place an ad on the bottom of the boxing shoes he wore heading into the bout.

More lawsuits follow, and after reading a book about Alexander the Great, Tyson starts walking around in the desert while high. He threatens to eat the children of Lennox Lewis, beats up some more cans, and talks about using the Whizzinator to cheat on pre-fight drug screenings. Apparently, he forgot to do that for his Andrew Golota bout, though.

From there, he starts incorporating the terms "convicted rapist" and "Zoloft" into his fight promos, and he gets accused of raping a K-Mart employee. After 9/11, his Las Vegas compound is raided -- Tyson alleges that a well-known, yet curiously unnamed, boxer was trying to set him up by sending his girlfriend over to claim to be kidnapped. Despite the incident, Tyson says that he would later go on to smoke weed with the mysterious fighter, as something of an peace offering.

He hangs out in Europe for awhile, stating that sex clubs in Germany are too much, even for himself. Then, he travels to Jamaica and fears that he contracts AIDS from a Cuban prostitute. That last one kinda' resulted in his divorce, surprisingly.

In the build-up to his 2002 Lennox Lewis bout, he said that he did numerous promotional stops -- including the one that predicated the infamous "leg-biting" brawl" -- while high on coke. Referring to his infamous "Until you love me" post-scrap statements, he said he was simply channeling his mother, and her colorful way with terms such as "punk white boy." He said that he did at least one interview with Rita Cosby while completely strung out on Maui Wowie.

After his loss to Lenox, Tyson pretty much bottoms out. He said he started hanging out drug dens, with 20 girlfriends at a time. It was around this time that he got his Maori-inspired face tattoo; he said he wanted to cover up his own face, which he hated, with anything. His original idea, he recalled, involved hearts.

After a facile bout against Clifford Etienne (who is quite possibly the only athlete in the world to ever have a life story more gloriously fucked up than Mike's), Tyson talks about getting into a fight with Don King in Florida, in which he chased him across I-95 while carrying a half pound brick of weed in his pocket. He beats up some Puerto Rican fans, declares bankruptcy (he said his staffers had to Google what "Chapter 11" meant) and said he had to start eating Frosted Flakes and Twizzlers for dinner...while still having lavish shopping sprees at Rodeo Drive retailers.

After flirting with never-to-transpire K1 bouts against Bob Sapp and Jerome Le Banner, Tyson recalled visiting Michael Jackson, whom he said was hanging out with some straight up "thug kids." He then loses fights to Danny Williams and Kevin McBride, pretty much spelling the end of his boxing career.

Post-retirement, Tyson starts doing drugs and alcohol like crazy, while hanging out with a lot of rich Jewish people. He starts seeing a counselor named Marilyn Murray in 2005, who explains to him how he's "an egomaniac addicted to chaos." Tyson likes her so much, he said he wanted her to move to Russia with him.

He then takes a Eurasian tour, where he claims to have turned the Romanian mafia onto cocaine. He talks about how smart the call girls in Chechnya are, and recalls taking several arduous "cocaine dumps" in Portugal and Amsterdam. He soon starts passing out at strip clubs (where he said dancers hopped up on"sissy drugs" like MDMA stole his fried chicken) and begins experimenting with both morphine drips and Cialis.

In 2006, he gets busted for coke in Phoenix, and gets sent to a rehab facility in L.A. for sex addiction and drug use. He works on his "mother issues" and stars in a 2008 documentary (which he said opened his eyes to the "Greek tragedy" of his own existence) and balloons all the way up to 360 pounds. At the time, he meets a new lover named Kiki, who gets sent to jail while pregnant with Tyson's child.

Shortly thereafter, Tyson said he falls back into "cocaine hell," where he gorges himself on coke, hookers and cookies nonstop. At the time, he recalled having just $7,000 in his bank account, when he owed at least $8,000 a month in child support payments. His child Exodus dies, and he has to bury his own kid using fan-sent contributions. He winds up marrying Kiki in Vegas, noting that their pastor looked like one-time WWF manager Slick.

He gets sent to an extremely shitty rehab center, where patients live in a glorified trailer park and he accuses his counselor of stealing his eight ball. As lackluster as it was, you can't argue with its results, though; he said he spent half a day there, and has only had one cocaine relapse since.

Tyson converts to veganism shortly thereafter, and makes appearances on Oprah and the Italian version of "Dancing with the Stars." At one point, he was scheduled to star in a satirical HBO program called "Da Brick," but sadly, it never really came together. Between the filming of "The Hangover" and its sequel, he said he lost nearly 100 pounds.

On a trip to Mecca, Tyson has some profound thoughts about the afterlife, stating that he would much rather burn in hell with his friends than commingle with strangers in heaven. He gets inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, makes guest appearances on "How I Met Your Mother" and "Law and Order," and starts doing a one-man show in Vegas, from which the title of the book is derived. Ironically, his first stop on a 2013 national tour of "Undisputed Truth" was in Indianapolis, the same city where he was imprisoned for nearly half a decade. He revisits the facility and reflecting upon his current lot in life, makes the following observation: "I won't make much money, but I can do what I love to do. And just by doing what you love to do, out of love, good things happen."

Towards the tail end of the book, Tyson discusses starting his charitable organization, and heckling Mitt Romney at the Pac/Marquez IV bout with some street kids. Stating that self-destruction is in his genetic code (he compares his parents to two deep roller pigeons -- as Hannibal Lector told us all those years ago, the offspring of such pairings have an unfortunate tendency to splatter themselves on pavement), he now goes to bed at 7 pm, constantly assailed by the fear that his wife and children will leave him. "Dying on your shield," he concludes, "is a sucker's game."

Of all things, Tyson elects to close the book by talking about famous love letters throughout history. He compares Robin Givens to Napoleon's distant lover, and said that a suicide pact letter sent by Heinrich von Kleist to Henriette Vogel always makes Kiki cry. His life, he said, has been "one foot in heaven" and "one foot in hell." It's a fitting closing simile, no doubt, for a man whose entire life has been a mad swing between polar extremes; from untold wealth to unfathomable poverty, from international glory to virtual bankruptcy, from disciplined asceticism to maddening excess.

I've read a lot of books from 2013, and I'd have to say that this one has probably been my favorite. Like the bleakest epic poem you could ever read or the most dizzying near-crash experience once could imagine, "Undisputed Truth" is a traumatic, no-holds-barred descent into the pit of one's greatest fears, a tome that not only confronts a platoon of personal demons, but actually revels in the one-by-one admission of past sins.

Mike Tyson's life story is about the quest for greatness, the individual will to survive and the fallibility of our desires. As such, "Undisputed Truth"is really about a different kind of fighter; not the multimillionaire celebrity that boxes on Pay-Per-View, but the guilt-ridden, conscience burdened brawler that, whether we'd like to admit it or not, resides in all of our souls. Mike's story is so distressing, and exhilarating then, for obvious reasons; it's because his story, for better or worse, just so happens to be our story, as well.


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