Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to interview Mike Tyson at length for the first time in probably 10 years for a story on the 30th anniversary of his historic title-winning performance against Trevor Berbick, which made the 20-year-old Tyson the youngest heavyweight champion in history.
We spoke for more than a half-hour — Tyson was on Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands at a tennis camp for his seven-year-old daughter, Milan — and naturally, I wound up with much more than I needed or possibly could fit within the space constraints of the story I was doing.
At one point I asked Tyson what his biggest regret regarding his boxing career was. The man who once said he wanted to eat Lennox Lewis’ children said this: “I wish I didn’t eat so many animals.”
Before your mind conjures up some gory scene of Tyson partaking of raw animal flesh, it should be noted that Tyson recently went through a period of veganism, which he has since given up, although he remains a vegetarian.
The point is, an interview with Mike Tyson is always surprising and takes some interesting turns. My experience has told me that you try to steer the conversation with him as best you can, but you inevitably wind up going where Mike wants to take you. And it’s almost always a worthwhile trip.
Among the topics we hit were:
— His physical condition before the Berbick fight: “I just remember I had the clap before that fight. I had just started having sex, really, and I had never had a sexual disease before. I saw some nasty stuff in my underwear and I said, ‘That’s not good, is it?’ I had to go get a shot and two days later I went and fought Berbick. I don’t think it affected me.”
— His admiration for Kevin Rooney, the trainer with whom he parted ways after his fight with Michael Spinks: “Kevin’s such a diehard guy, such a hardcore guy. He’ll defend you against everybody. That’s what people don’t know about him. He’ll fight a whole army right in the middle of the street, by himself. Especially if somebody said something about his fighter. Kevin ain’t scared of nobody, black, white, nobody. Kevin ain’t scared of shit.”
— His disillusionment with today’s heavyweights: “I can only name one heavyweight champion: Tyson Fury. I don’t know any of these other champions. When (Wladimir) Klitschko fought him, he didn’t throw one effective punch at Tyson Fury. They didn’t throw one punch with bad intentions. I can’t watch these guys.”
— His opinion of Floyd Mayweather: “In our time he never would have made a dollar. When I fought, you had to be exciting to make any money. ”
— His pride in being a father (Tyson has six children, four daughters and two sons): “I know I don’t deserve my kids. I’m just so grateful to have them. Their father never went to school a day in his life and all my kids are academics. I got one who graduated from American University, one who graduated from NYU, one who graduated from Drexel. My 14-year-old, Miguel, wants to be an astronaut. My daughter (Milan) is a two-time girls tennis champion. My youngest is my son Morocco (5). I did good, didn’t I?”
— And one of the items on his Bucket List: “I always wanted to meet Mike Tyson, the famous baseball player from the St. Louis Cardinals. He was always my hero because somebody famous was named Mike Tyson. I was always proud of that. I always felt special because of that. I knew I was going to be somebody some day because there was already a famous Mike Tyson out there. Isn’t that crazy? Somebody else has your name and they’re famous? I always wanted to tell him that. To meet him, that would be awesome. That’s on my bucket list.”