(clip was removed but you can start @ 14:30 here)
1) This is an excerpt from James Toback’s incredible 2008 film Tyson. Saw this in the theater but I’ve been re-watching parts of it recently. In this excerpt Mike Tyson talks about his relationship with his manager and trainer Cus D’Amato. Tyson grew up in Brooklyn very poor and surrounded by violence. His father was not in the picture. His mother had a troubled life and died young, when Tyson was still a teenager. Tyson was a criminal and was arrested frequently and was sent to a sort of reform school when he was 13. There he started boxing and eventually started working with D’Amato, a highly respected trainer who years before had worked with Muhammad Ali, among others. Tyson eventually lived with D’Amato and D’Amato became his legal guardian after Tyson’s mother died.
2) Tyson is a convicted rapist and served three years in prison for the crime. He’s done a lot of terrible things in his life. So some, understandably, might have a hard time mustering any sympathy for him here. But I find his description of his relationship with D’Amato very moving. There is an almost mystical power that comes from having someone you love and respect believe in you. And as he describes it here, the sheer force of D’Amato’s belief in Tyson transformed him from a street criminal with no future into someone with a purpose in life. This is difficult and rare.
3) Father’s Day is this weekend. This thing I’m thinking about, the power of having someone you respect believe in you, is for me wrapped in the idea of the father/son relationship. Somewhere along the line they became entwined, possibly because as a kid I wanted that sort of exchange and it never really happened. Maybe that’s why seeing it play out on the screen in this movie is extra powerful.
4) I also look at this and think of the Jerry Sandusky trial. A hopelessly damaged and delusional man exploited this exact dynamic for his own gain and caused an unimaginable amount of pain.
5) Beyond the emotional bond between Tyson and D’Amato, I love watching this just to see Tyson as a young boxer working out in the ring. The speed and power he had in his physical prime are awe-inspiring, but I’m particularly fixated on how he moves his torso, shifting back and forth rapidly in order to evade punches. D’Amato taught him to fight in a distinctive style he developed called peek-a-boo. This involves the boxer holding his arms almost perpendicular to the floor in order to protect his face and body, and relies on that quick torso movement for defense and also to get into the right position for a punch. It’s especially good for shorter fighters, which Tyson was for his weight class. Not sure what this video of D’Amato and Ali is from, but when they’re messing around and pretending to spar, you can see D’Amato in a stance exactly like the one Tyson would eventually adopt.
6) Tyson’s voice is a hugely important part of his myth. This guy who is so tough and mean and intimidating speaks in a high voice with a lisp. The minute you discover this, you imagine him as a kid, getting teased and eventually beating the shit out of the people who were teasing him. And that’s what happened. Stick around for the end, where he talks about how what D’Amato taught him meant that no one would ever fuck with him again.
7) “He’s my boy. He’s with me.”