Undisputed Truth by Mike Tyson

If ever an athlete was a bona fide force of nature, it was Mike Tyson. Very few boxers ever had the aura of malevolence as Iron Mike, which made him one of the most fascinating athletes in history. Tyson’s autobiography Undisputed Truth, while not providing an undisputed chronicle of his life and career, certainly captures the malevolence and mayhem that seemed to follow Tyson wherever he went.

The mayhem starts the moment he was born. His mother slept with men while Mike shared the same bed. His father was absent. He was raised by the streets, as Tyson tells stories of robberies, fights, and trouble with the justice system. During a stint in reform school, Tyson came into contact with counselor Bobby Stewart, a former fighter. Stewart put Tyson into contact with Cus D’Amato. The course of Tyson’s life changed forever.

Tyson’s boxing career reads as a Greek tragedy. He was a wrecking machine in the amateurs, fighting a pro style early on. Tyson documents the psychological tactics D’Amato taught him, which were used to create a menacing aura that struck terror into the hearts of men. As someone who enjoys reading about boxing, I would have enjoyed more blow-by-blow details of his professional fights (although in fairness, many of them ended rather abruptly). One fight Tyson does detail is his out-of-the-ring scuffle with Mitch “Blood” Green. For comedic value, this is the highlight of the book, as well as the highlight of his stage show. At his peak, Tyson was the most feared athlete in the world and the highest paid. At the end, he suffered losses against mediocre opposition while deep in debt. Part of that bankruptcy is in part due to his business dealings with Don King. According to Tyson, King bilked him for millions. One egregious example includes Tyson paying $52,000 a year to King’s daughter to be president of the Mike Tyson Fan Club. He also claims his business managers from the 1990s were in King’s back pocket. Despite King’s shenanigans, Tyson’s own appetites are largely responsible for his fall from grace.

Does Tyson own up to his shortcomings? Tyson certainly doesn’t sugarcoat his years of drug abuse and sexual promiscuity, providing story after story of his debauchery. An epilogue to the book serves as a confessional, as he fell off the wagon in 2013. Tyson expresses regret for these things, and it comes off as sincere. But he’s not always convincing. Like many boxers, Tyson is quick to spin his defeats in the ring. According to Mike, Buster Douglas should have been counted out in the 8th round, and Holyfield’s constant head-butting triggered his first defeat and his meltdown in their infamous rematch. Probably the biggest source of debate in this memoir, though, will be his take on the events of 1991 that led to his rape conviction. Tyson provides a very graphic description of his encounter with Desiree Washington, something he states is necessary to prove his innocence. I’ll concede he does a better job than his incompetent legal team of creating reasonable doubt, but the behavior described in the book also reinforces the image prosecutors (and his defense) painted as a guy out of control. Ultimately, only two people know for sure what happened.

The book is not perfect. The claim that Frank Bruno knocked out Lennox Lewis is wrong, as Lewis KO’d Bruno in 1993. Thomas Hauser points to other errors in the April 2014 edition of The Ring magazine. Along with this, the stories about drugs and sex got monotonous and could have been trimmed down. Nevertheless, Undisputed Truth should be mandatory reading for any boxing fan. Not too many autobiographies get as raw as this.


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