Mike Tyson's weird week on tour in Britain
Bizarre musical tribute acts, punters waiting for hours – and finally, a no-show
Saturday 07 November 2009
I had the dubious pleasure four years ago of being hired to "work the room" with Mike Tyson on his first British after-dinner speaking tour. The crowds were big, but I was told: "No boxing questions. Don't ask his opinion on all those indiscretions both sides of the ropes." I wasn't even allowed to probe for answers to his very real boxing genius, and instead was restricted to asking him questions about Birmingham tumblers (it's a type of pigeon) and Wayne Rooney.
My dinner jacket was covered in phlegm from angry punters at all the venues and my ears rang with insults because I had failed to deliver Tyson the cannibal.
It was supposed to be different this time, in 2009. After all, three weeks ago he gave a remarkable, tearful interview to Oprah Winfrey, admitting he had to change his erratic behaviour or "I'm going to destroy my beautiful family, and I'm going to destroy myself, and I don't want to go down that road any more."
Tyson has been through rehab, prison, drug addictions, two marriages, the accidental death of his four-year-old daughter, and squandered about $400m (£240m) on the way.
He could once command $30m for a night's work, but the limos are less shiny these days and the tigers gone. This week he was earning considerably less for a tour of the Black Country, the backcountry and other off-the-track stops.
In Merthyr Tydfil on Wednesday, Tyson placed flowers at the statue for fallen fighter Johnny Owen. That evening a crowd of 1,300 fans, paying £25 a ticket, and a smattering of local photographers, gathered at the Wolverhampton Civic Centre for An Evening with Mike Tyson.
Where was Mike? They waited and waited at the Civic, scene of legendary Midlands Area title fights. Veteran boxers Alan Minter and Ken Buchanan were respectfully received, but the comedian/MC was booed the longer the star remained out of sight, and it's best not to get on to the Pink tribute act. The restless crowd slow hand-clapped, yelled and whistled.
Tyson finally ambled on stage at 11:04pm, smart and slightly embarrassed. Once he took over he was, many people said, brilliant. But in Wolverhampton people were angry about his late appearance, claiming that local car parks closed at 11:30pm, and the VIP guests, who had paid as much as £300 for their meal and photograph with the boxer, had to wait until after midnight for any grub. Two hundred did eventually leave holding a picture with the boxer.
On Thursday he spoke in Scunthorpe. Then last night, at Belfast's Waterfront Hall – where he was booked to tell a crowd of 2,000 about his fall from grace – came the non-appearance. The venue received a telephone call yesterday afternoon, telling them it was off and Tyson wouldn't be appearing. "At this stage we don't know why it's been cancelled," admitted Waterfront executive Nicholas Sadlier yesterday evening. "We don't have any more details."
He added: "The event was brought in by an external promoter. So we don't know anything further. We're treating it as a cancellation. Not a postponement. We don't expect it to be rescheduled." Those who paid for £25 tickets got refunds at the box office, but the punters with £200 VIP tickets, who had keenly anticipated dinner and a handshake with Iron Mike, were told to contact the external promoter.
Even if the one-time "baddest man on the planet" had turned up, he would still have been outgunned by a local part-time taxi driver, Marty Rogan, who was fighting 200 metres down the road at the Odyssey Arena, trying to win back his Commonwealth title from Norwich's Sam Sexton.
Rogan sold about 8,000 tickets for his fight and will have picked up a far heftier pay packet than Tyson.
That is the brutal reality for so many former sports stars.
There has been a steady chorus of "Mike has changed" for about 10 years, and it might be the case, but the chaos he creates will never leave him. He has his new wife, Kiki, and their nine-month old daughter on this tour for company, but the problem is the low-life that he attracts. There is no other way to describe the desperate hangers-on that clutch at Tyson's shirt once the limos start rolling.
A short trip from Owen's moving monument lies the home of Horace Potts in Bloxwich. Potts and Tyson love their pigeons and the fighter has in the past paid good money for both Birmingham rollers and tumblers from the noted Black Country bird breeder. I've seen Tyson's eyes glaze at the mention of a 100-foot tumble and heard him coo at the thought of a 100-foot roll, and in those moments you could be forgiven for forgetting his ferocious temper.
One hopes that Tyson can find peace in life's quieter pursuits.
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