Mike Tyson's raw truth

BIG EGO: Tyson is Tyson and won't change, be it with drugs, celebrity or women.
BIG EGO: Tyson is Tyson and won't change, be it with drugs, celebrity or women.

To look at Mike Tyson, former world heavyweight boxing champion, is to view a caricature in full motion.

From the snarling Maori-inspired tattoo on his face to the knuckles that have seen many a boxer spill to the canvas, every inch of him is an exaggeration.

Every word he says, or has said.

To search inside that caricature, inside the deep, deep darkness of the champion's shadow, and attempt to find the real Mike Tyson seems a near impossible challenge.

Yet the man himself, and celebrated biography writer Larry "Ratso" Sloman have attempted it with Undisputed Truth. The result is the best you'll find in any autobiography, sports or otherwise, as brutally raw and honest as any hiding Tyson ever dished out in the ring.

His upbringing and time spent in upstate New York with boxing mentor, and father figure, Cus d'Amato is fascinating. It was d'Amato, a well-read devotee of the legends of boxing - Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Henry Armstrong and Roberto Duran - who inspired Tyson to cultivate that snarling, horrible Iron Mike person. The boxer who wanted to utterly destroy his opponents - to emasculate them.

Yet the book really gains its momentum after Tyson beats Spinks for the heavyweight crown in 1988. From there, Tyson becomes "a slave addicted to the chaos of celebrity".

Training for fights would come second to orgies, drugs and celebrity life for Tyson. Yet in a true tribute to his boxing gifts, Tyson manages to still win. The level of sex, drug-taking and pure opulence is frightening, almost sickening. "My baseline normal was sex, alcohol, drugs, violence, more sex, more alcohol, more violence and chaos," he says.

Keeping pace with Tyson the entire book is a tangled series of court cases - from manipulative ex-wife Robin Givens, famed boxing promoter Don King "a wretched, slimy reptilian mutherf--ker", and a cast of crooked individuals trying to lever money out of the champ.

Sometimes they succeeded, sometimes they failed. Every time, Tyson would just go out partying, sleep with more women, take more drugs and dig himself another hole elsewhere.

Such is the arc of Iron Mike's celebrity - indeed of any celebrity in the modern age - win it all, and then lose it all. The rape case of Desiree Washington looms as a central part in the tale, as does Tyson's ensuing three years in an Indiana jail. The skill of Sloman as a writer makes Tyson almost endearing at times. Almost, but not quite.

He will make an honest assessment of himself as a man, and his place in the world - and attempt to do some good. Then he'll blow it. He'll punch a fan attempting to get his autograph, stay high on coke for a week, or have an orgy with prostitutes in some Vegas hotel room while his wife waits diligently at home.

You will feel contempt for Tyson. You will feel spite. And like Sloman's other great subject, Rod Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis, he creates the sense of inevitability.

Tyson is Tyson and won't change, be it with drugs, celebrity or women. "I was a smuck with no self-esteem, but everyone in the world was telling me how great I was. So now I was a narcissistic smuck with no self-esteem, and a big ego," he said.

Tyson's story finishes well beyond the closing pages of the book, which, like Kiedis, sees the heavyweight using drugs again. Despite all the talk about wanting to reform towards the end of the book, you get a sense that it is impossible. Iron Mike is Iron Mike.

His fight has certainly got a few more rounds in it yet, and while you know that stinging left hook is in the arsenal, a knockout, at some point, feels likely.

Undisputed Truth: My Autobiography Mike Tyson,  Harper Sports $35

Sunday Star Times