Mike Tyson wears New Balance shoes. The blazingly white kind, accessorized with white socks and jeans. The man who famously went to work wearing only black trunks, black shoes and a gap-toothed sneer now dresses like, well, the 50-year-old suburban husband and dad that he is. He gets the symbolism—really, he does—but it’s all about comfort. “You move around the house, you pick up your kids, you run errands,” he says, “wouldn’t you want your feet to feel good?”
This now is Mike Tyson—and it’s Mike; he doesn’t answer to Champ or Iron Mike any more than he does to Carl, Bruce or Skippy. He couldn’t name you the best pound-for-pound fighters today, but he knows the roster of his two kids’ Kumon instructors. His six-bedroom home high above Las Vegas is tasteful by any definition, but hardly the Doge’s Palace befitting a man who, during a particularly sybaritic stretch, spent $1,500 a day on food for his pet tigers. Once the most fearsome man on the planet, the heavyweight champ for more than three years, Tyson, by his own reckoning, has been rendered “a weak schmuck” by his kids. “They ask for popsicles,” he says with a sigh of resignation, “and I drive to the store and say, ‘What flavor?’ ”
When not in the freezer aisle, Tyson spends his days preparing for the one-man show, Undisputed Truth, a cross between a confessional and a TED Talk that he performs four nights a week at the MGM Grand and has taken everywhere from Buenos Aires to Bangkok. His wife of eight years, Kiki, and their kids travel with him. So much so that his five-year-old son, Morocco, and seven-year-old daughter, Milan, recently needed more blank pages inserted into their passports. You declare someone a “changed man” at your peril, but consider Mike Tyson 2016—the former street thug and notorious ear-biter who served three years in prison after being convicted for raping an 18-year beauty contestant in 1991 rape conviction—and you’d be hard-pressed to find a figure so comprehensively reinvented.
Yet in other ways Tyson is thoroughly, instantly recognizable—and not simply because nothing resists anonymity quite like a face tattoo. He’s still extraordinarily fit, veins bursting from his skin, that thickly built physique within a few pounds of his fighting weight. And he remains, blessedly, a fire hose of candor, humor and brutal self-assessment. On a late summer afternoon in Vegas, Tyson went a few rounds with SI.
I got a prop here.
A prop? Whoa!
[Holds up a copy of the Jan. 6, 1986 issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, Tyson’s first SI cover.] What would you tell this guy if you could talk to him right now? What advice would you have for him?
I don’t know. This guy wouldn’t listen. But that’s pretty awesome, the picture.
Who is this guy? How would you describe him?
I have no idea who this guy is. It’s a young kid that wants glamour and glory.
Does it feel like you’re talking about a different person?
Like a blur. Don’t even remember that person.
It was 30 years ago.
Oh, don’t remind me. Why are you reminding me? You came here to torture me, didn’t you?
You were 19 years old. Were you enjoying any of this? You were on the cover of Sports Illustrated, you had attention. Or were you still so focused on becoming champion?
I enjoyed some of it. But every time I got a little bit, I wanted more. It was never enough. Even the champ, we want more. Alter ego says, This is all I worked for? This is what I worked for from 12? I want more.
I guess with the alter ego, we have to be honest with ourselves, appreciate ourselves. I never appreciated my hard work. Never thought I wouldn’t be strong like that again.
How did you do with age 50?
I’m happy to be 50. There’s a lot of people that didn’t make 50. So 50’s cool. Regardless of what I think, what I want to happen, I’m here.
What’s it like to be Mike Tyson in 2016?
A lot of traveling. And, you know, do my share taking care of the kids, house-sitting, all that crap.
“I want to do great all the time, every day. And that’s not going to happen.”
In 1986, you fought 13 times.
God, you’re talking about fights now...
Wait for the question. It’s not about boxing. Thirteen times. That’s an awful lot of fighting. But that seems like nothing compared to doing a one-man show four nights a week. What takes more out of you?
I would do [the show] every day. I don’t do it enough. I used to do it twice a day, once in the afternoon and once at night.
What’s that like?
Same adrenaline. It’s awesome. It’s hard to even express. It’s just what I’m born to do.
How did this come about?
Me and my wife were watching Chazz Palminteri, A Bronx Tale, and it just blew us away. I said, ‘Oh, God, I want to make people feel the way he made us feel.’ I said, ‘Baby, I think I could do this.’
So she started writing. And it was really corny at first. Then she wrote again. Then she hit it. Then we started memorizing it. Then went to the stage.
What takes more out of you, fighting or a performance like that?
It’s the same. It’s the psychological anguish more so than the physical.
You get beat up?
I want to do great all the time, every day. And that’s not going to happen.
There’s one word that comes up again and again in reviews. You want to guess what it is?
I’m going to tell you.
Well, everybody knows the story. They just never knew the details.
I feel like people don’t even always know you as a boxer now.
Different generations. You run into some kid, this is a real humbling experience. I went to this high school. Six hundred kids in the room, 700 kids, maybe 1,000. They had this big screen, giant, 10-by-10. They were showing the kids some of my fights because they didn’t know who I was. They just thought I was an actor from The Hangover. This one little Mexican kid said, ‘I think my grandfather told me about you.’ [Laughs.] Never in my life am I going to forget that. You talk about a humbling experience.
Was that the plan, to pivot out of being Mike Tyson, former fighter?
You know what? I don’t know what it was. Once we got to the stage, everything seemed to take a transformation. The stage is something that is transcendent. No one else matters. You’re in your own little Zen sort of comfort. It’s just amazing.
There are the obvious parallels between the one-man show and the one-man show of boxing. It’s only you. There’s preparation, no teammate, no coach. Is that how you feel when you go out and perform?
Yes. But it’s all for a cause. You know, suffering psychologically, physically, emotionally. It’s all about the suffering for that grand moment, success. Then you say, ‘That wasn’t my best performance. I really didn’t deserve this for that performance.’ You know, I’m always trying to push myself and not get too carried away and get obsessed.
“We did Paleo for a while. We went from vegan to not vegan to Paleo, to eating anything. Now we’re eating oatmeal. Periodically the little pieces of beef.”
What is your relationship with boxing right now?
I don’t go to many fights. Periodically my wife likes to go to the UFC. It’s like a party there, so that’s awesome. It’s like a real safe party with your parents there.
You can’t get too bombed. Everybody is laughing, having fun.
You go to more MMA than boxing?
Absolutely, yeah. Because boxing, everybody’s out for themselves, go for it. MMA, it’s pretty controlled.
You dream about your fights?
No, no. Old fighters. Maybe Roberto Duran, Joe Gans, those kind of guys, Kid Chocolate, Benny Leonard. I think of the old-time fighters.
Don King walks through this door this afternoon, how is that going to go?
I don’t think he’ll be walking through this door. I guess I’m a pessimistic pacifist.
What do you mean by that?
I don’t know. I just don’t want no trouble. I like that phrase, pessimistic pacifist. I like that.
You’re not a pessimist, though, are you?
Kind of. No, I’m just busting your chops.
“[Young Tyson] could never have a family like this. That guy would destroy this family. That makes me hate that guy, what he would do to this family. That guy couldn’t handle a family.”
When you [fought], was there ever sympathy or empathy?
No. Everything’s black. No feelings, nothing.
You’ve done that to a guy, you’re standing over him.
Obviously if you see them incapacitated, you can be merciful. But if he’s breathing, it’s not tough.
Is it weird to see [photos of yourself in the ring]?
Yeah, it’s weird still. This is all good. But that guy could never have a family like this. That guy would destroy this family. That makes me hate that guy, what he would do to this family. That guy couldn’t handle a family.
That guy is not sitting on the bleachers watching forehands and backhands?
No, not at all.
Your daughter is a tennis player?
Your kids aren’t going to be boxers?
Rocco started hitting the tennis ball yesterday. First time last night; he was hitting for like 30 minutes. We were so excited.
You don’t think the fact that his sister plays...
Maybe a little jealousy, yeah. Very competitive. He said, ‘Mike, do you think I could go pro too? Think I could go pro?’ Oh, gosh.
What do you tell kids who want to go in an individual sport?
You have to be comfortable being alone a lot. Just because we travel, this is really lonely stuff. Especially when we took [Milan] to the training camp in Orlando. She’s the youngest girl there.
I always explain, If you really want to do this—you talk about [Novak] Djokovic, Serena Williams—this is what you have to do. You can’t complain. You have to love it. That’s what discipline is. You hate to do it, but do it like you love it.
How do you do as a sports parent?
Not as bad as my wife. She’s very anal about this. This is my wife’s journey, taking her to these tennis places, drive her here, drive her there.
How do you rate yourself as a dad?
Know what, I don’t think I’m too good. Know why?
Because my kids kind of walk over us. I should be more, ‘Hey, listen, do you hear me?’ If I have to discipline my kids, it’s not like my parents: ‘Hey, Mike?’ Boom! Run down the stairs. ‘Yes, mom?’ [My kids] just walk over me and my wife.
You were the baddest man on the planet, but now you’re gum on the bottom of a five-year-old’s foot?
Not going to find love anywhere else.
Seriously, what is it like to you raising kids?
Are you a parent?
So you know it’s a very predatorial world out here. Very predatorial. I’m very ultra, ultra protective. That’s the only thing that’s changed about me. With my wife, my kids, won’t sign an autograph. I’m very frightened. I just know what’s happening, what’s going on out here. It’s crazy. I’m very protective in that sense.
Other than that, when I’m by myself, it’s all gravy. I never had this experience with my kids before. We’re just together every day, we going to the tennis, we going to school. This is what they know they have to do.
You look like you’re in fighting shape.
Thanks. I do these movies now. Me and my wife go on these commercial diets. We’ve been eating a little bit too much lately
How are you staying in shape?
Just running, treadmill, light weights. Eating. We did Paleo for a while. We went from vegan to not vegan to Paleo, to eating anything.
What are you doing now?
Oatmeal. The oatmeal. Periodically the little pieces of beef. More greens than anything, spinach and salads. Asparagus. My wife got it down pat.
Are you spiritual right now?
Yeah. But spiritual is just actions. The world is not spiritual right now. There’s a lot of bad energy out here. All the craziness that’s going on out here, it’s really bad stuff. It’s really bad.
You think it’s worse than when you were a kid?
Life in general?
Yeah. All my life, I’ve never been this worried. Like, Wow, what is life coming to? The country going to be torn apart. These guys are really going to drop a bomb on me. Excuse me, but that’s just sometimes what parents think. I don’t know. That’s how my mind thinks.
World tour, is that coming up ...
God willing, yeah. When I do these shows now—like I did Argentina, and I did Uruguay—they do it with the subtitles. Most of them understand English anyway. I don’t understand why they do the subtitles anyway, but they do. I guess we going to India now. They’re going to do the subtitles.
"A lot of stuff happened out of this tattoo, a lot of good stuff. Other young athletes come to me and say, It’s because of you they call it the Mike Tyson."
So Olympic boxing is going on now. You’re not watching?
I know there’s one tennis player, a Puerto Rican girl, the first Puerto Rican to win the gold medal.
Yeah. My wife and my mother, they’re crying. My daughter got us into this stuff.
I just want to be clear. Mike Tyson doesn’t watch Olympic boxing, but he knows all about Monica Puig?
Yeah. She beat No. 2, German player.... Yeah. That’s my life now. I’m a tennis parent.
Someone said you Google Mike Tyson, first thing comes up, face tattoo.
Regret it or no?
No. A lot of stuff happened out of this tattoo, a lot of good stuff. Other young athletes come to me and say, It’s because of you they call it the Mike Tyson.
Here’s my overarching question: If you’re on the outside, you see Mike Tyson today, you see the way he’s living, you see what he’s doing with his mind, he’s traveling. For all the things that could have gone wrong, for all the places you’d been in your 20s, 30s, to see where you are now, this is a great story. Do you see it that way?
I don’t know. I look at it from a perspective of gratitude. I learned about gratitude as I got older. That’s a pretty strong stimulant. My whole family . . . [Tyson’s father-in-law walks in.]
You appreciate the ...
Very much so. I appreciate the journey. And I appreciate the fact that my father-in-law is right here. Come on in, Dad. I’m so happy. This is a different kind of living for me. I’m used to being a bachelor. Even when I was married before, I would have a house here, and there would be a house in D.C. or New York. The fact that I have a family base, my father-in-law comes in, my kids run up and down, this is their playroom. They come in to me and my wife’s room. This is my life now.
What are your goals in the next 10 years? What are some things you want to do?
Live. Just be alive first, and healthy. Just want to cultivate a relationship with my family, my friends. Ten years, 60. How is everything going? Probably be going too fast for me to do that at 60. That’s what I’m afraid of. If it’s going to be fast like this. I think I’m 50, my life is still going fast.
Your life now, it works for you?
It works. It’s complicated as hell, but it works.