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Grudge Match—Tyson vs. King

The former heavyweight champion of the world and the world's most notorious boxing promoter are battling in court over millions of dollars.
Geoffrey Gray
From the Print Edition:
Tyson vs. King, Jan/Feb 04

(continued from page 5)

Over the years Tyson has spent money (once more than $400,000 a year on pet supplies) and he has stolen money (often snatching the wallets of his personal chefs for sport) and he has lost money (say, millions in tax penalties). But there are few who can say Tyson has been greedy. He is unusually benevolent, known to hand off the rolls of cash in his pockets to the tune of $20,000 and more to derelict fighters and the homeless. Even as an incorrigible teen, Tyson once walked into an ice cream parlor upstate in Catskill with a friend, ordered a $1 cone and left a $2 tip.

"Why did you tip so much?" his friend asked.

"Cause I could see he was afraid of me," Tyson said. "So I wanted him to know I'm a good guy."

In many ways, wealth has also made Tyson uncomfortable. Even under the $700,000 Russian sable mink quilt he kept in his Ohio manse, a home so big he used custom-made Rolls-Royce golf carts to transport himself to the bathroom, Tyson could never fall asleep in his own bed. When Gonzalez would wake him up in the morning, he says he often found the young heavyweight champ curled up in a corner of his bedroom on the floor in a sleeping bag, or on a couch with his legs dangling off the arms, or in the back of his Mercedes stretch limousine parked in his garage. And when Tyson commissioned designer Gianni Versace to build a $2 million diamond bathtub for then actress wife Robin Givens (a Roman tub shipped to Tyson's New Jersey estate in an armored truck), Tyson was soon spotted chipping away at the tub's encrusted jewels with a kitchen fork. "The shit cuts my ass," he said.

Some say what Tyson wants more than $100 million back from King is simply a bed he can sleep in, a tub he can ease into, a regular life. Others say, amid the mutiny of emotions at war in Tyson's mind, there is no room for tranquility. He's Mike Tyson! A force of raw chaos that novelist Joyce Carol Oates defined as "a prehistoric creature rising from the crevice of our own subconscious," a nihilistic state neither he nor anyone can attempt to govern. His moods swing from rage to tears. He bites ears and gently feeds pigeons. He comes off ill-educated, though commands an accurate, insightful knowledge of boxing history from the woolly days of bare knuckles and tights. It's true. He is a historian minus the tweed.

"Mike secretly thinks he's conning everybody," says one of Tyson's confidants. "In my ear, he once told me he considers himself one of the greatest con men of all time."

Then again, others say Tyson is faking it. Tyson even claiming himself a con man is Tyson's true con. Sure, in the Indiana prison, as inmate No. 922335, Tyson could spout off about the lessons of Machiavelli, Voltaire and Dumas to visiting reporters (and still can), but Tyson's detractors also point out that he failed his general equivalency diploma exam. He knows only what's been told to him, they say, and passes off memorable quotes as his own. He hides not only beneath his contradictory tattoos (on Tyson's torso is mild-mannered tennis star Arthur Ashe; on his right bicep is communist chairman Mao Tse-tung), Tyson hides in history, too.

"Mike doesn't know who he is," says Atlas. "He's a chameleon."

Gonzalez disagrees. After living with Tyson for more than seven years, he says, the fighter doesn't possess the mental tools to adapt in society like a chameleon might. "Mike is a Frankenstein," he says. "A product engineered by others, desperately trying to communicate with the world any way he knows how."

Whoever Tyson is, his predictability is his unpredictability, the ultimate attraction for Pay-Per-View voyeurs and the source of his perennial curiosity. He once confessed to a team of psychiatrists: "I have no self-esteem and the biggest ego in the world!"


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