Note to the reader: This review was written before the terrible accident that ended the life of Mike Tyson’s young daughter. I’m letting the piece stand as written, and I trust that nothing in it shows any insolence to a man who must currently be undergoing the greatest agony of his life.
One day in the late 1980s, I invited my father out for dinner or a movie, but he turned me down. “I have to catch a fight on TV. There’s this kid who’s supposed to be, uh...really something.” As I recall, that fight was the one in which heavyweight champion Michael Spinks was knocked out ninety seconds after the opening bell. The “really something” kid who did it was “Iron Mike” Tyson, twenty-two years old and already the most fearsome boxer on the face of the earth.
About a decade later, I was telling some Halloween stories to a bunch of fifth-graders. When I related how Rotten Jack (a character so obnoxious that Satan forbade him entrance into hell) once bit off a man’s ear in a barroom brawl and then ate it, a boy cried out, “Mike Tyson!” This was after the second Tyson-Holyfield fight, when a real ear had been chomped, making Tyson an ogre not only to children but also to sportswriters and most of the public.
Surely it is this reputation, not just for fierceness but for out-and-out monstrousness, that inspired James Toback to make a documentary about...