I’ve just finished reading the biography of Mike Tyson, the former undisputed heavy weight champion of the world. It was a surprisingly good read. With the exception of the infamous night in an Indianapolis, Hotel, he did not spare a single detail in dealing with every aspect of his tumultuous life. The book is written in exactly the same fashion as he speaks. Everyone who is close to him is called a “Nigga” and kicking the crap out of people seems like a natural thing to do. He proudly admits to being a “horrible drunk” who enjoyed cocaine and alcohol at the same time.
What makes Tyson’s story so compelling is that it is full of ups and downs. His relationships, particularly with women are totally dysfunctional. He makes the point that for him “base-line normal” is something close to total destruction. The man climbed his way out of Brownsville in the Bronx. Made an outrageous amount of money from his boxing career. Spent even more of it and got himself bankrupted but is finally living an easy. In a nut shell – Tyson is everything that most sensible parents spend their lives trying to make sure their kids do not become.
Tyson is the man who proudly admits that he wanted to be the “villain” from a very young age. His image as a “beast” was something that he psyched himself into becoming. Eventually the image took over and became the reality of who he was and we get the Tyson that we all know about.
I remember watching Tyson at his best. I was living in the UK at the time and one of the great highlights was his fight with Frank Bruno. Somehow Tyson managed to go through a divorce, a car accident and then he returned to beat the crap out of Bruno. You got to love the guy.
Tyson is special. Here is a character who has done awful things and been a total shit. Yet, somehow he brought us. People who would never watch boxing, would somehow do it when it was him. I suppose we managed to identify with the man because he did all the crappy things that most of us would love to do but always held back on because we had responsibilities and so on.
Say what you like about the man but he made boxing interesting. Seriously, how many of us can name the heavy weight champion of the world today? The only boxer who seems to elicit much interest these days is Manny Paquiao. With all due respect to Mr. Paquiao, one has to ask if he’d get adoration that he does had been born in one of boxings more traditional power houses like the USA or Europe? Paquia has become a hero in a society where there are so few of them.
Tyson gave life to the boxing game. I think what made him so special was the fact that boxing was probably the only thing he knew he was good at and so he put everything into it. While Tyson made money – serious amounts of it, his ultimate purpose in life was to kill anybody he met in the ring. In short – he had the one ingredient for his job that too many of us lack – passion.
I’m probably not one to talk but too many of us these days become obsessed with being sensible. We avoid doing certain things because we are afraid that they may not work out and that we will be thought of in bad way. While there are merits in doing this (a fact my father often reminds me I should have done earlier on in life), there are times when playing it safe is …..dull and the antithesis to success.
I am not advocating that one should start drinking and doing cocaine. However, I do believe that instead of trying to suppress characters, we should be encouraging them. In a world where we focus so much on safety and regulation and sticking to acceptable norms, we sometimes forget that life isn’t exactly safe and sometimes we need to leap of faith and follow our passions regardless of anything else.
I think of Clark Kent, the mild mannered reporter who becomes Superman. Most of us are Clark Kent. We do our jobs and go about life quietly. We try to stay safe and on the right track because we think we need to.
However, in doing only what is expected of us, we lose the opportunity to follow our passions and to unleash the Superman within us. Perhaps that Bad Ass Nigga wasn’t such a bad ass when it came to giving his all fighting in the ring and his life.