The Wisdom of Mike Tyson

MikeTyson_VArticle In a revealing interview with Details magazine, he displays wisdom and perspective about his former boxing life and about what's really important. Excerpt:

How long were you out of prison before you actually felt free?

Never. Not till now, really. This is the freest I ever felt in my life. And I'm still not free. But it's an awesome feeling. I got no money. I'm not a glamour guy anymore. I got friends who've got money, so it looks like I've got money, but I don't. All the money I had, forget it. I never had anything, never had a stitch on me that felt like freedom. But to have somebody by your side, win, lose, or draw. My wife's lived with me in places I wouldn't take a shit in. I wouldn't be a prostitute in some of the places my wife and I have slept.

He also talks about his obsession to win and how this characterizes all great fighters:

Because every fighter has to have that same will, that same need, that same drive . . . to impose their will on another man.

Every fighter in the history of fighting. But none like me. And, believe me, I'm not being immodest. None like me. I studied every fighter in history, at my manager's house up in Catskill, 'cause he had all the greatest fights on film, he had every last one of them, and I watched them all, every night. They were all so vicious, man. Jake LaMotta, Henry Armstrong, Carmen Basilio. Sugar Ray—God, he was vicious. But Jack Dempsey more than anyone. All these guys let you know they wanted to murder you, and they'd take shots from you, over and over and over, get beat senseless, just so they could get theirs in. Sugar Ray maybe most of all. But Jack Dempsey? He wanted to maim you. He didn't want you dead. He wanted you to suffer. He wanted to shatter your eye socket, destroy your cheeks, your chinbone. That's what I learned from Mr. Dempsey, and I believe I learned it well.

(Speaking of crazy people and obsession with winning, in this interview Ron Artest passes along more anecdotes about Kobe Bryant's legendary drive.)

In the Details interview Tyson uses a tornado metaphor, which is apt. He has a knack for metaphors. One of his most famous quotes on fear deploys pitch perfect metaphor effortlessly:

Fear is your best friend or your worst enemy. It's like fire. If you can control it, it can cook for you; it can heat your house. If you can't control it, it will burn everything around you and destroy you. If you can control your fear, it makes you more alert, like a deer coming across the lawn.

(Hat tip to Andy McKenzie.)

9 comments on “The Wisdom of Mike Tyson
  • Well the first two were metaphors, the third simile.

    "Fear is your best friend or your worst enemy." — That's metaphor. Fear IS
    your best friend. IS your worst enemy.

    "It's like fire." – Simile indeed.

  • Terrific interview. I’ve never liked fighting, but I’ve been fascinated by Tyson, and inspired by watching his metamorphosis from fighter to lover.

    The (eponymous) docu is quite good, too; Netflix has it streaming right now. And there’s also a great interview he and Toback (the director) did with Adam Carolla on Carolla’s podcast, early on in 2009.

  • Well, guess what I’m going to say. This looks to me like a narcissist in the midst of reform – fascinating.

    Also, lots of 12 Step language in that interview. It’s really interesting to read or listen to complete strangers talk and before long start hearing the telltale phrases and words that signal where they’ve been. I was able to identify someone last weekend on sight, without having spoken to him, as a 12 Stepper. Once he let me overhear him talking about meetings and “doing the writing” on a call with his sponsor, I turned to him and said, “I knew you were a friend of Bill’s.” We had a great conversation off the back of that. (I mention this because I am interested in the private languages of people from specific peer groups. I wish there was a directory of such things, written in laymen’s terms.)

  • Love the fear quote, something I’ve been thinking about lately. You embrace it and work with it and make it work for you, or else fear makes you its bitch.

    I’ve always been repulsed by Tyson, but I have to admit that the documentary made him more of an actual person for me. What would he have done, or been, if he hadn’t managed to channel so much of himself into fighting? God. Vicious is as vicious does.

  • been an interesting exercise on that,” he says. “I’ve found over and over again that there is no shortage of opportunities for people to misunderstand something that is written. I still get e-mails from people everyday societal realities that push the viewer to examine them with a more probing eye. Playful, yet satirical, Black Box: Superflex is sure to be a viewer’s favorite this Fall!That’s their choice.”

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