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TYSON THE TIMID, TYSON THE TERRIBLE
Gary Smith
March 21, 1988
WHAT CONSUMES THE HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION OF THE WORLD, WHAT MAKES MIKE TYSON AS IMPOSING AS ANY FIGHTER IN BOXING HISTORY? HIS OWN FEAR, PERHAPS
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March 21, 1988

Tyson The Timid, Tyson The Terrible

WHAT CONSUMES THE HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION OF THE WORLD, WHAT MAKES MIKE TYSON AS IMPOSING AS ANY FIGHTER IN BOXING HISTORY? HIS OWN FEAR, PERHAPS

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Tyson's face darkens, he shakes his head no. His explanation has spilled out of the locker room and into a restaurant. "I'm not an athlete, don't call me an athlete. How can you compare me with Billie Jean King or Magic Johnson? They're athletes. Athletes have careers. Athletes have to prepare. At any moment, I'm ready. I never liked sports. Sports are only social events. I'm a warrior, a missionary. What I do is an obsession. If I wasn't in boxing, I'd be breaking laws, that's my nature."

Abruptly, his face turns, shines as it must have before he knew that a human being could behead a bird, and to the waiter in a restaurant that serves half a dozen Gulf Shrimp Garibaldi for $24.75, he asks, "Do you have ice cream on a stick?"

"Once I was supposed to meet a girl," he says, "but on the way I saw an icecream store. I knew if I went in, I'd miss the girl. I didn't know what to do. I went into the store, and while I was eating the ice cream, I was very happy, I didn't care at all about the girl. It was only when I was done that I wished I'd met the girl."

He laughs and grabs his listener's shoulder, his head nuzzles against it, almost like a puppy. Does anyone understand how painful it is to be this—and in the blink of an eye or the ring of a bell to be its inverse? Opposites rubbing each other, throwing sparks: This is his everyday life.

Tension makes great fistfighters, and it makes great fistfighters' managers gray. Abruptly Mike vanishes on them; he misses a flight or an appointment; and his handlers are calling everyone he knows: Where's Mike, have you seen him?

Yes, there he is, almost a year ago, standing in a Hollywood parking lot on a warm summer night next to a pretty girl who works there. He tries to steal a kiss. Suddenly a man, who also works there, comes between them. Mike slaps the man aside. Assault charges will be filed against him. His managers will pay off the pretty girl and the man rather than undergo the bad publicity of a trial.

A walking time bomb, some boxing people call him. He fights every three months because he needs a release, not just because he needs the experience. "Of course, his people are worried about him," says Jose Torres, a friend of Tyson's and a former D'Amato champion. "I worry, too."

In the big white house where Mike still sometimes stays, 83-year-old Camille looks down from the TV, finds his round rough head lying in her lap. "He's almost purring like a kitten," she says. "He's begging to be stroked. He needs affection very much. Oh, I worry. I worry about the people he goes out with, that only care about having a good time. I worry what could happen if he gets angry in public—I've seen him angry, and I know. He has ring discipline but not life discipline; Cus died before he had time to teach him that. He still can't sit in one place. He'll be sitting here with one girl and go to the phone and call another. But after all, he's still a child...." She pulls out a recent Mother's Day card. "For someone I love," it says, "and wish you was my mother. Happy Mother's day and I love you. By Michael, your black son."

She puts away the card, the imaginary head her hands were stroking vanishes from her lap. The house is quiet; it's the night before a snowfall. Somewhere out there, his Rolls-Royce prowls the streets. Is it time to try the other way to hush the beast, the way more frightening, more dangerous, the biggest risk of all?

On Feb. 7, 1988, he walks up the aisle of a Catholic church in Chicago. The scores of women who said yes to him are nowhere to be seen. The TV actress who turned back his engagement ring, the one he had to conquer, is the one who, on the spur of the moment, he marries.

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