Sport on TV: Talk of the devil - Mike Tyson seeks redemption in power of speech
Sunday 12 January 2014
Mike Tyson still packs a punch. He likes to chat these days, and has gone on a speaking tour so he will be chewing people's ears off all over the world. It's like a confession, and the words keep tumbling out as if he is a bad man with an awful lot to own up to. That makes sense – or at least most of it does – because Tyson is seeking redemption.
The stage shows are an unlikely scenario, not just because his "Iron Mike" persona always used to let his fists do the talking but also because he has a pronounced lisp. Being: Mike Tyson (Fox, Thursday), appropriately produced by Asylum Entertainment, is a six-part series showing us how he gets on with "The Undisputed Truth" tour but it's unlikely that anyone will draw attention to the speech impediment. Any hecklers will no doubt be right at the back of the auditorium, near the emergency exit.
There is a bit of a boxer's slur too, and a thick Brooklyn accent, and yet for all that – and the incessant bleeping for the more obscene phraseology – he is a remarkably eloquent talker. The delivery may be rather slow and deliberate but it's compelling stuff.
He is as enthusiastic about his new vocal vocation as he was about getting into the ring: "I'm like a racehorse, I can't wait to get on stage." That's a pantomime horse actually, Mike, but we know what you mean. He wasn't allowed into the UK because of his rape conviction but if we ever do let him in he will have to do a panto season in Purley or somewhere. "He's behind you"… and all the adults start screaming.
His first gig is in Indiana, less than 20 miles from the Plainfield Correctional Facility where he served three years for the rape. It's not likely to be an easy crowd. Even he admits: "Can't I have a couple of other cities first, to warm up a bit?" However, he does flourish in adversity: "If I'm not in conflict with an individual, I have to be in conflict with myself," he says.
In fact he is trying to come to terms with his past, and the tour is part of that process. "Iron Mike is a god," he says. "I look at him different than I look at myself. Now I'm just Mike." And that's why he has picked up the mike.
He knows the road to redemption will be long and hard: he pays a visit to the prison and is reunited with Philip Slavens, one of the screws who used to "babysit" him. And he is brutally honest where once he was just brutal. When asked about his new persona, he says: "I don't know if it's reinvented. It's just part of growing up."
This week he meets Evander Holyfield, the man whose ear he really did take a bite out of – and who has been allowed into this country to take part in the panto that is Celebrity Big Brother (Channel 5).
Holyfield did reinvent himself as a born-again Christian but it hasn't done him much good. While handcuffed to an Apprentice runner-up in bed – yes really; in fact CBB gives panto a bad name, even Christopher Biggins turned them down – the former heavyweight said people are not born gay.
He was prompted by the suggestion that more professional sportsmen should admit they are gay and his comments were poorly timed two days before footballer Thomas Hitzlsperger came out. Holyfield was soon coming out of the Big Brother house after admitting to having punched a pregnant horse. Some people really should just stop talking. From the convicted to the evicted.
* Sylvester Stallone and Robert de Niro were on The Graham Norton Show (BBC1, Friday) to promote their new film Grudge Match, about two old boxers who come out of retirement for one last fight. The Hollywood legends have a rivalry going back to when Rocky pipped Taxi Driver to an Oscar in 1976. Rocky Balboa against Raging Bull's Jake La Motta might be an interesting contest but Rocky against Travis Bickle? Rocky would surely need Rambo in his corner for that one.
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