LAS VEGAS, Nevada — Fighting legend Mike Tyson hit the red carpet on Saturday as he swapped the boxing ring for the cabaret stage, in a revealing one-man show about his rollercoaster life.
The 45-year-old pulls few punches in recounting his highs — the fame and fortune he earned as heavyweight world champion — and shaming lows, infamously being jailed for alleged rape, and battling his own temper and drug addiction.
Fellow fighting veteran Sugar Ray Leonard was among those who turned out at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas — scene of some of Tyson’s epic battles in years past — to watch Tyson take the stage.
The transformation of the former “baddest man on the planet” — which Tyson himself ascribes to his third wife and getting himself clean after years of drug abuse — into a cabaret act, is slightly surreal to watch.
“His demeanour is very calm,” Leonard told journalists on the red carpet, describing Tyson’s mood ahead of his stand-up debut. “When he was fighting … Mike was intense, Mike was focused.
“This year Mike is focused in a different way, more positive,” he added.
“Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth, Live on Stage” had a low-key opening on Friday, before a red-carpet debut Saturday. The former heavyweight boxer hopes to take it to Broadway, London’s West End and beyond.
“Welcome to my living room,” Tyson tells the audience in an intimate 740-seater theater in the back of the MGM Grand casino complex in Las Vegas, where the show runs through until Wednesday.
“Many of you are wondering what the hell am I going to do up on the stage tonight,” he jokes at the start of the show, in his trademark lisp. “To be honest I’m wondering the same thing too.”
The answer is a blow-by-blow run through his life story, from his birth in Brooklyn to a mother who was a prostitute and a father he believed was a pimp, although he never knew for sure who his real father was.
He was a hardened criminal by the time his mother died when he was 16. It was then that his boxing mentor, Cus d’Amato, helped him turn his back on crime and detention centers and refocus his life around his awesome fighting talent.
“I had a lot of emotional problems,” he said, evoking a theme of the show, in which Tyson uses an array of expletives — including the “N” word, repeatedly — to describe stupid things he has done over the years.
His bad behavior didn’t prevent him from becoming the youngest ever heavyweight champion of the world at the age of 20, after winning his first 19 professional bouts by knockouts.
But his first marriage to actress Robin Givens unraveled in 1989 — Tyson tells a funny anecdote about Brad Pitt turning up with his estranged wife — and his self-confessed “demons” gradually got the better of him.
In 1992, Tyson was convicted of raping a beauty queen at a pageant in Indianapolis, Indiana. He served three years of a six-year sentence before his release in 1995, steadfastly denying he raped the woman.
“I went to jail for something I didn’t do,” he said Friday.
Tyson reclaimed the heavyweight throne but lost to Evander Holyfield in 1996 and in a 1997 rematch infamously bit Holyfield’s ears twice, serving a year’s banishment in exile for the move.
The boxer filed for bankruptcy in 2003, the same year his second marriage ended. He later married his current wife in 2009, but only shortly after his four-year-old daughter Exodus died in a tragic accident at home.
But he has revived his career in recent years, appearing in cameo in the “Hangover” films (the second set in Vegas) and in reality television shows exploring his love of training pigeons.
The Vegas show — which seems to be another part of Tyson’s showbiz-themed career resurrection — is co-written by Tyson’s third wife Kiki and Hollywood playwright/director Randy Johnson — who claims he could take it worldwide.
“I am hoping to have a run on Broadway and the West End of London. I think we can play every legitimate theater in the world,” said Johnson, calling Tyson a natural entertainer.
“He’s an amazing guy,” said British journalist and CNN talk show host Piers Morgan at Saturday’s show. “He came through very, very tough streets of Brooklyn and he made something of himself, against all the odds.”