Cap'n Crunch 

The making and unmaking of a champ.

Iron Mike

A Mike Tyson Reader

Edited by Daniel O'Connor

Thunder's Mouth Press, 315 pp., $16.95 (paper)

So, which is it? Which Michael Gerard Tyson are we talking about? The Bad Tyson or the Good Tyson? Depends on who's doing the talking. Let's work our way backward.

"A modern day Frankenstein ... a monster that no one really, really educated." -- Rudy Gonzalez, Tyson's former chauffeur, in a self-interview, March 21, 2002.

"One of history's great screw-ups ... . [Not] an interesting fighter. Hasn't been for more than a decade. ... Anyone paying to watch him fight ... is a sucker." -- King Kaufman, senior writer, Salon.com, February 1, 2002, after the Nevada State Athletic Commission's 4-1 decision to deny Tyson a license to fight.

"One of the worst heavyweight champions ever. That's the legacy he has carved for himself." -- David Steele, staff writer, San Francisco Chronicle, January 30, 2002, after the brawl Tyson appeared to instigate at a press conference announcing an April 6th Las Vegas bout with heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis.

"[A] man who really was putting his life back together." -- John F. Kennedy Jr., quoted by Lloyd Grove, staff writer, The Washington Post, March 13, 1999, after Kennedy's visit with Tyson in jail. (The conviction: road rage.)

"[A] talented, violent fighting engine. ... [B]oxing's biggest draw." -- Barry Meier, investigative reporter, and Timothy W. Smith, boxing columnist, The New York Times, May 24, 1998, in an article detailing Tyson's lawsuit against promoter Don King. Tyson's claim: King had bilked him out of more than $100 million, money Tyson could use: to pay $12 million in back taxes to the IRS; to continue his spending sprees, which, in 1995 alone, included the purchase of "10 BMWs, four Rolls Royces, several Bentleys, and a $3 million Las Vegas home into which [Tyson] poured another $8 million."

"America's bogey man." -- Katherine Dunn, novelist and frequent reporter on boxing, PDXS, July 9, 1997, on the "mountains of misinformation" surrounding Tyson's biting the ear of opponent Evander Holyfield.

"Mike Tyson consistently has been fair to me." -- Rudy Gonzalez, from his book The Inner Ring, 1995.

"I loved Candide." -- Tyson (in jail; the conviction: rape; time served: three years) on Voltaire, speaking to journalist/editor Pete Hamill, Esquire, March 1994. "[Candide] was about the world and how you start out one thing and end up another, 'cause the world don't let you do the right thing most of the time." (Other jailhouse reading: Mao Tse-tung, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Machiavelli, Alexandre Dumas, John Quincy Adams, Ernest Hemingway, Arthur Ashe.)

"A living conduit for the inchoate, demonic will of the crowd." -- Joyce Carol Oates, National Book Award recipient, professor of humanities at Princeton, Newsweek, February 24, 1992, on the sport of boxing in general, Tyson in particular.

"A manic-depressive killer." -- Phil Berger, author of Blood Season: Mike Tyson and the World of Boxing, M Magazine, January 1992. (Berger calls his quip "a joke.")

"A person on the edge, a Psycho Pup acting out, a fearsome yet powerful Powerboy on a crash course." -- Robert Lipsyte, author and journalist, The New York Times, August 4, 1991.

"I like to hurt women when I make love to them. I like to hear them scream with pain, to see them bleed. It gives me pleasure." -- Tyson to former world light heavyweight champion José Torres, in Torres' Fire and Fear: The Inside Story of Mike Tyson, 1989.

"It's been torture. It's been pure hell." -- Robin Givens, then-wife of Tyson, Tyson by her side, speaking to Barbara Walters, 20/20, 1988.

"Mike Tyson is a child, he is also a fully, even uncannily mature man ... a twenty-year-old like no other I have encountered." -- Joyce Carol Oates, Life magazine, March 1987.

"Mike Tyson, at 19, is [Cus D'Amato's] unfinished masterpiece. ... All Tyson has is the power, speech, and character that might constitute ring genius." -- Jack Newfield, journalist and author (Only in America: The Life and Crimes of Don King ), The Village Voice, December 10, 1985.

"This is the one I've been waiting for all my life." -- Cus D'Amato, Tyson's trainer, mentor, and guardian (dead of pneumonia in 1985), quoted by George Plimpton in the foreword to Iron Mike: A Mike Tyson Reader.

"You don't know me, miss. You don't know nothing about me. You only know what you read. You don't know my horror stories." -- Tyson to Nevada State Athletic commissioner Amy Ayoub, quoted by Daniel O'Connor in his introduction to Iron Mike.

Horror stories, indeed, outside the ring to go with Tyson's brilliance inside the ring at a sport, according to Oates, "that people love to hate" -- and that many know little or nothing about. Learn something, then, in these pages -- the breakfast of a champion? Cap'n Crunch, hold the milk -- and especially learn from Rudy Gonzalez, perhaps as good a judge of Tyson's talent and character, Tyson the early champ versus Tyson the later waste, as any writer in this even-handed collection.

"[Tyson] needs to retire," Gonzalez wrote this past March. "I say that loving him and respecting him more than anyone in the world. That will be his salvation. ... There's really no more story to tell." Or is there?

"I don't think he'll fight in June," Gonzalez also wrote in March. Tyson proved him wrong. "[A]nd I think if he does it will be a disaster." Will Tyson prove him right?

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