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Friday, 25 January, 2002, 15:17 GMT
Mike Tyson: Playing the monster
Mike Tyson
After biting off part of Evander Holyfield's ear, Mike Tyson has now, it seems, sunk his teeth into Lennox Lewis's foot during another shambolic press conference. As his antics drag the image of heavyweight boxing even lower, Bob Chaundy, of the BBC's News Profiles Unit, looks at the troubled mind of Iron Mike.

"I'm an animal in the ring," Mike Tyson declared after he had spat out a mouthful of Evander Holyfield's ear on to the canvas in the most infamous heavyweight title fight in modern history.

Animal, beast, ogre... there have been as many such names hurled at the man as there have been punches. A pity for him that they are not directed at his art but at the grotesque behaviour he seems so anxious to display outside the ring.

Mike Tyson taunting the media at the recent Lennox Lewis press conference
The "Tyson Taunt", at the recent press conference with Lennox Lewis
Yet, to many, this foul-mouthed, violent, convicted rapist remains a hero. Few will forget how he was mobbed on a visit to Brixton before his fight with Julius Francis two years ago.

Here was a champion of the underclass, a fellow man of the streets sticking two fingers up at authority. "I've never done nothing to the Establishment but make money for them", he has said, "yet they treat me like a whore."

This combination of aggression and self-pity has marked out Mike Tyson's life. His childhood was a sorry business and, if boxing is the sport that saves "bad" men from themselves, Tyson's background is almost a cliché.

His father was a pimp called Kirkpatrick whom he never knew. He never really knew his mother either. She died when he was 16. His sister, whom he loved, was dead by the age of 24.

Holyfield grimacing after Tyson has bitten off part of his ear
Holyfield in pain after Tyson has bitten off part of his ear
The young Tyson had no-one to keep him on the straight and narrow. By the age of 12, he had become a brawling, thieving, house-breaking member of a street gang whose members called him Fairy Boy because of his lisp.

Fighting was the one thing he was good at, and he found a legal guardian in the shape of boxing trainer, Cus d'Amato, who saw Tyson's huge potential and is regarded by many as the only man who ever knew how to control him.

D'Amato moulded his adopted son into one of the world's most feared boxers. Tyson's passion was not confined to its practice. He assiduously studied all his great fight-game heroes from the 20th Century, learning from their techniques.

At 21, Mike Tyson became the youngest ever heavyweight champion. But d'Amato never lived to see it, dying a few months earlier. Tyson found himself under the guidance of boxing promoter, Don King.

Cus d'Amato
Cus d'Amato, said to be the only man who could control Mike Tyson
It was not long before the wheels began to fall off his private life. His first marriage to actress Robin Givens ended in bitter recriminations over wife-beating.

He ran his car into a tree in what appeared to be a suicide attempt. He smashed up his family home. And all this while his career was blooming.

When, sensationally, he lost his heavyweight crown to Buster Douglas in 1990, his life hit the canvas with him. He was convicted of raping Desiree Washington, an 18-year-old beauty queen, for which he served half of a three-year sentence.

He claimed to have become a reformed character in jail; a student of Islam and Mao, Voltaire and Tolstoy. But it was not to be his last stay behind bars. He was sentenced to another year for assaulting two motorists in a road rage incident in 1998.

Beauty Queen, Desiree Washington
Desiree Washington, whom Tyson was convicted of raping
Accusations of further rapes emerged, and are still present today. And yet, there was a hint of stability amidst the shambles. He married a doctor, Monica Turner, who bore him two children. Now, we hear, she is suing for divorce over claims he has fathered a child by someone else.

By the time of his release, his money had all but gone, some owed to the taxman, a lot of it given away to charity, most of it drained into the pockets of those that surround him.

He needed more fights. They became less fights, more freak shows. The sound of the Marquis of Queensbury turning in his grave has only been drowned out by the roar of those salivating at what the sports writer Hugh McIlvanney described as "the biggest animal act since the Colosseum went out of business".

Apart from his cannibalistic inclinations towards Evander Holyfield, he tried to break South African boxer Francois Botha's arm even after knocking him out, and he floored Orlin Norris after the bell had sounded.

Orlin Norris floored by Tyson after the bell
Orlin Norris floored by Tyson after the bell
A heavily-medicated manic depressive, he taunts his opponents, threatening them with all manner of atrocities, wanting to make them "cry like a woman". Mike Tyson, it seems, is meting out revenge for the terrible damage done to him as a child.

If Lennox Lewis does step into the ring with him, (and, in a business in which money doesn't talk but swears, one would not bet against it), the time the combatants spend boxing may just turn out, once again, to be the side-show.

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