Mike Tyson, known as the ‘baddest man on the planet’ for his merciless ring persona, is a striking contrast outside the ropes. Beneath the ferocious exterior lies a surprisingly affable man whose life story blends intimidating power with unexpected warmth.
Tyson, 57, is speaking to Mail Sport at a dimly-lit boxing gym just north of the Las Vegas strip where he is helping train the Cameroonian-French heavyweight Francis Ngannou ahead of his fight with Tyson Fury in Saudi Arabia later this month.
Tyson’s journey has been colourful to say the least. He has been married three times, had seven children with three women.
His mother died when he was a teenager, he bit into the ear of his opponent Evander Holyfield in 1997 and went to prison in his 20’s.
‘My whole life has been a waste – I’ve been a failure,’ he told USA Today in 2005. ‘I just want to escape. I’m really embarrassed with myself and my life.’ But he appears to have found peace now.
WATCH THE EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW ON MAIL SPORT’S BOXING YOUTUBE CHANNEL
Tyson sat down with Mail Sport in a small gym located just off the strip in Las Vegas (above)
Mike Tyson is a family man who has seven children – Milan (left), Morocco (bottom) and Miguel (right) are among them. His daughter Exodus died at the age of four
Rayna (second left), Amir (stood to the left of Mike) and daughter Mikey Lorna (far right) are also among the children of the former heavyweight world champion
Tyson, known as ‘the baddest man on the planet’ for his merciless ring persona, is bad no more
When Tyson arrived at the gym for our interview, his larger-than-life aura and legendary status filled the room – creating a sensation of awe and reverence around the gym.
But, his warm smile and hearty hello to Mail Sport offered a glimpse into the 57-year-old’s amiable personality. He stuck out his hand to greet me and joked about his worst hangover after I asked about his part in the film of that name.
‘It’s not even healthy,’ he says with a soft laugh. ‘It’s not even allowed on tape! So let’s not talk about that!’
We took a seat on two metal chairs, with Tyson’s iconic stature spilling over the edge. Once settled, he began asking me about myself. His friendly banter and warm inquiries eased tensions, making our interaction feel like a casual conversation with a friend. It revealed his genuine desire to connect and create an inviting atmosphere.
Once the ice was broken, we chatted about boxing and how the pressure Ngannou will feel when he walks into the ring as a huge underdog to face Fury could be used to his advantage.
‘The most pressure I ever felt was the first time I fought for the title,’ he says in his soft New York accent.
‘It was against Trevor Berbick in 1986. There was a massive amount of pressure on me for that fight. But, then I realised this. Pressure is a privilege.
Mail Sport asked the 57-year-old about his part in the 2009 hit film The Hangover
Tyson bit into the ear of his opponent Evander Holyfield in June 1997, also in Las Vegas
‘To have that pressure is a privilege. Not many people have that privilege in their life and they may live to be 90. So, I look at it as a privilege to be under that sort of pressure.
‘I am helping Ngannou. I am learning what he is able to do. He’s able to do so much more than I anticipated.
‘He has what it takes to knockout anything or anybody standing in his way. Once he lands a punch on Tyson Fury’s jaw he is going to knock him out too. Nobody can survive that.’
As he speaks Tyson is open, candid and engaging as the rhythmic thud of gloves meeting heavy bags echoes around the gym.
He offered me his undivided attention. He was fully present, his intense gaze and thoughtful responses painted a portrait of a man who, despite his tumultuous journey, values the connection with those who seek to understand his remarkable story.
Additionally, Tyson refused to boast about his achievements; instead, he reflected on his journey with candor. Such humility made him feel accessible and relatable, humanising a figure once perceived as invincible.
‘My philosophy for fighting people and knocking them out was just put as much pressure on them as I could,’ he adds. ‘It was just pressure, pressure, pressure. Make them make mistakes and then counter with a knockout. Simple as that.’
So which knockout brought him his greatest satisfaction? Tyson sits up in his chair. It’s clearly a topic close to his heart.
Tyson’s journey has been colourful to say the least – he still keeps fans posted on social media
Tyson first fought for the title against Trevor Berbick, also in Las Vegas, in November 1986
Tyson came out on top to become the youngest heavyweight world champion in history
‘Larry Holmes,’ he says with no smugness, just pride, referring to their fight in 1988. ‘I wanted to knock him out because he beat up Muhammed Ali eight years earlier in Las Vegas. I was crying about the fight and I told myself I was going to avenge Ali during my career.’
Tyson goes on to discuss the difference between his style and the current generation of heavyweight boxers. And expresses his frustration over the egos and politics that leave fans frustrated.
‘It’s different now,’ he says. ‘Fighters are more athletic. They have great quality fighters in the heavyweight division, but they just need to fight each other. A lot of the time, bouts fall through with these heavyweights. They just need to fight each other!
‘Look at Joe Joyce. He fights anybody. I know he got beaten twice, but he’s fighting them. These other guys don’t even fight anybody to see who they are. They should be fighting each other twice or maybe even three times. Just f***ing fight!’
It’s the only time Tyson’s voice raises. But he has no qualms about fighters taking bouts solely for the cash. He recognises the harsh realities of the sport and understands their desire to support their families.
When asked whether Fury is wrong to prioritise cash, Tyson says: ‘No! He’s taking advantage of his celebrity status. Why does he always have to jump to the boxing administration? Can they give him time to make some money and put some bank roll away.
Tyson says he enjoyed knocking Larry Holmes out the most during his prolific career
Iron Mike says he has a lot of ‘respect’ for Tyson Fury ahead of Ngannou’s fight on October 28
‘He’s making some money for his family. “Let me do what I need to do and then when it’s time to box I will box. Boxing people need to keep out of my personal business.”
‘Fury’s not the all-time great but he’s one of the all-time greats. He’s really high up. He can do greatness right now.
‘He’s always going to bring a good night of boxing, fight hard. You’ve got to try and hit him with a shot to knock him cold out because he always gets back up and fights hard.’
Our time is up and Tyson thanks Mail Sport for the interview. We promise to catch up in Saudi Arabia at Ngannou’s clash with Fury. Another chance to meet the man behind the legend.