For all of Mike Tyson's success inside the ring - youngest heavyweight champion in boxing history, more than $300 million in career earnings - it was his antics outside of it that drew equal parts scorn and adoration. From his 1992 conviction for allegedly raping an 18-year-old beauty queen (a charge Tyson vehemently denies to this day) to a rambling interview in which he says (talking about Lennox Lewis), "My style is impetuous, my defense is impregnable, and I'm just ferocious. I want your heart! I want to eat his children!", Tyson's life has been one giant reality show and America is tuned in.
And you can't forget the tribal tattoo that covers half his face.
So is Tyson insane or just misunderstood?
In "Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth," which just wrapped a limited showing at the Pantages Theatre, the legendary boxer makes a convincing case that he is a normal man still trying desperately to escape the shackles of his upbringing. Abandoned by his father, Tyson was raised by a single-mother and was arrested 38 times by age 13.
His mother died when Tyson was only 16, leaving him in the care of Italian trainer Cus D'Amato, who provided the love and discipline Tyson needed. Four years later, Tyson would win the heavyweight championship and the rest is history.
"Undisputed Truth" delves into all of that. Using humor and self-effacing narration, Tyson takes the audience on a 90-minute tour of his life, from the day he was born inside a Brooklyn community hospital to present day.
It was easy to be skeptical heading into the show (I certainly was) but Tyson disarmed critics with brutal honesty. Directed by Spike Lee, "Undisputed Truth" left things uncensored, meaning certain details and certain language was crass and unpolished, but necessarily so. Tyson appeared uncomfortable talking about his marriage and eventual divorce to the actress Robin Givens, but he pushed on.
Tyson became defensive when discussing his upset loss to Buster Douglas in 1990, insisting the referee gave a slow count when Douglas was knocked to the canvas during an earlier round. But the truth remains that Tyson went into the fight unprepared and in the worst shape of his life (to that point anyway) and Douglas won the fight fair and square.
The sports fan in me wished Tyson would have elaborated more on his boxing career rather than the distractions that consumed his life, but I understand that "Undisputed Truth" is about Tyson the man, not necessarily the athlete.
The ironic part of Tyson's life is that he was billed as "one of the most feared men ever to wear the heavyweight crown," but in "Undisputed Truth" he comes across as compassionate, fragile and, perhaps most importantly, relatable.
If I took anything away from "Undisputed Truth," it's that there is a little Mike Tyson in all of us.