A reflection on Mike Tyson’s “Undisputed Truth”

This post is a reflection on my recent reading of Mike Tyson’s book, Undisputed Truth.

During this pandemic, I have a lot more time for reading. It’s something I typically do a lot of anyway, but now I can get into some of my books that have been waiting for a time such as this. Last week I read the Undisputed Truth. It’s the autobiography of Mike Tyson.

Mike Tyson is a polarizing dude. From the mean streets of Brownsville in Brooklyn, Tyson rose up to become the youngest ever heavyweight champion of boxing. He also became a convicted rapist (though he maintains his innocence to this day), serial adulterer, a burglar, and an addict.

His life in the spotlight making hundreds of millions of dollars was cast upon him without the wisdom or experience required to truly enjoy it. And though he had an excellent boxing mentor who taught him to have an animalistic mentality toward his opponents in the ring, he did not have the tools to deal with his fame and success and access in a healthy way. He was self-destructive and that self-destruction poured out into the world around him leading to physical and verbal altercations with others.

There was always an innocent side to Tyson. So many people in his life truly took advantage of him. He was robbed out of millions of dollars by Don King, opportunistically accuse by many people concocting bogus lawsuits, and his romantic relationships were often suspect. He was a walking cash machine in the eyes of so many “friends”.

I have been interested in Mike Tyson for a while now. I’ve seen lots of video footage of his fights. He was a tremendous and ferocious fighter. I’ve also been captivated by his press conference and interview statements (be warned, they are not for the faint of heart). I am captivated by how someone can be so bent on violence in every way. Tyson had the reputation to back up his words. A threat was all that was needed because nobody dared step to him.

The thing is, for Tyson, he believed he was a god. He truly did. He talks about it a lot in his book. He really believed he was the greatest fighter of all time and that he was unstoppable. Everything he did, he did with that frame of mind that came with disregard for others, entitlement, and aggression. And while it made for interesting television and even elevated the sport of boxing itself, Undisputed Truth reveals that it was horrible for Mike and everyone involved.

This is why I love Mike Tyson. As a person, he has been deplorable. There’s no getting around it. He himself will say that he was trying to be the bad guy. He succeeded. But he knew all along that he could not fill a void inside him. Whether it was money, sex, drugs, cars, or mansions it still left him feeling empty. A major turning point in his life was the death of his infant daughter, Exodus. She died tragically when she became tangled in a power chord for a treadmill at her home. Tyson was across the country and he got a call from Exodus’ mother. It destroyed him.

To make a long story short, he looked himself in the face and started making small decisions to turn his life around. Now, doing less cocaine today than yesterday might now seem like a huge change but his addiction had him in so deep that any step toward a different reality was a big one.

Tyson credits so much of his recovery journey and his transformation to his therapist. She was someone who could take him to task and challenge him. She was not afraid of him. The baddest man on the planet and she could look him in the eye and challenge him in his heart and soul.

In the past ten years, Tyson has reinvented his public image from that of aggression fuelled warrior and violent offender to a media personality who is downright affable. Tyson has the ability to poke fun at himself and to reflect on who he was and where he came from in a way that is honest and self-probing. He’s now seen as a nice guy.

It took a lot of people telling him a different story than the one he grew up with. One line that stood out in the book was when the movie director Todd Philips told him that when he wasn’t the angry and vicious Iron Mike that he had cultivated, and the light shone through it shone so brightly. He was told there was some good in him. And it wasn’t about being vicious and violent. It was about letting people in and letting the light out.

I love Mike Tyson because his failings have been so public. He’s quick to tell people today who want him to relive those glory years of boxing that he didn’t like that man. Tyson didn’t like himself and so he did everything he could to destroy himself. But today he is seeking freedom from the old man. His flesh is still fighting for his soul. At the end of his book, he shares that he struggles with relapses. He struggles with dark thoughts. But he also talks openly about joining Narcotics Anonymous and going to rehab facilities.

He’s a man who to this day is battling his flesh and looking for the light. In my mind, he is just like us, saint and sinner. I don’t write this as a promotion of anything but rather as a step in my own journey of understanding how God has made each of us for hid purposes but that we are shaped by so much more than that. That can lead to misguided desires, unchecked lusts, and destructive uses of what God has made for good. Through confession, repentance, and a community of love we can all grow more into what God has called us to be.

I know its kind of weird, but if you feel like joining me, I’m going to pray for Mike Tyson today. Maybe there is someone in the world who has caught your attention recently, a politician, a celebrity, someone in the news paper. Pray for them. The Bible instructs us to pray for our leaders and now more than ever influencers come in many stripes. So pray that God would use them for good and they would find freedom in God’s love and even come to know his son Jesus and learn to follow him.

Zach C.