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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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"Turn right at the corner. Look at this place. This is why I have the desire to win dramatically and brutally. That's Bristol Park. I saw people shot here, stabbed, beaten with baseball bats. That building over there: I ran inside it and hid; the cops were chasing me. Sure I used a gun. I'd walk in a store with a .22 and hold it in front of the man's face."

"Oh my God...."

"The last time I robbed someone I was 15. They were a couple, they had on those big sheepskin coats and hats like Russians wear. We tore them off."

"Mike, that wasn't long ago. You lived here not long ago...."

"But I don't feel the urge to steal anymore. I don't need to, I'm established. God, I hate that word, established. People who call themselves established—put them on these streets for five minutes, let's see how established they are. There's Lincoln Terrace Park. We'd see dead whores there in the morning. What memories. Good memories. Beautiful memories. I was happier then. I had pure fun here. Every day I was living on the edge. I was wild and free. I love coming back. Do you understand? When I'm here, I feel like a warrior."

He enters the ring with no socks, no robe, no dancing, no music, just the black shoes and trunks, the hard, massive body, the refrigerated anger in his eyes. There was never any choice, the violence about to occur had to be—this is what his face and body say. The bell rings, and the photographs of him in the next morning's papers will show that same terrible lust in his face, the same wrinkled-up nose and drawn-back lips, the same urgency to hit something.

People say he is an instinctive fighter. People are wrong. His first instinct was to run. Driver, slow down: Yes, in front of that gutted-out building—up there, on the roof—that's where Mike Tyson stopped running and finally fought back. Yes, it was 12 years ago. No, it was just now.

Can you see him? He's shorter than the other boys his age. His left eye crosses when he's nervous. His face is one of those big, round ones old women like to squeeze. He lisps and talks softly, like a little girl. Other kids recognize him immediately—a victim. Everyone beats him up, even girls. They make fun of him, take his money and clothes; they hit him and laugh and hit him again as he runs home in tears.

Home is not always better. His older brother beats him up when his mother's not there; he cowers behind the refrigerator, sometimes even eats meals there. His father—he left when Mike was inside his mother's belly. Lorna Tyson and her three children survive on public assistance. She bounces Mike on her knee when he comes home crying, until, at last, the funny sound of his own jiggling sobs makes him stop.

She is one of the sweet innocents of Brownsville, one of the generation of big, round women whose families migrated from the South believing in God, the ones who still look to the sky for justice. Her children have never seen a cornstalk ripen or watched a newborn lamb grow old; they can't see what she sees in the sky. All around them are those empty lots, those abandoned houses, those skulls. The last tenement they lived in had no water or heat. They slept with their clothes on and their eyes open. Neighbors, hoping the city would move them to a public shelter, kept setting fire to the place.

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