More than once on our travels with the Baddest Man On The Planet, he told us he did not expect to live to see his 40th birthday.
On Saturday night, aged 54, Mike Tyson returns to the ring for his first fight in 15 years, against fellow golden oldie Roy Jones Jnr.
Back in those wild rumbustious days, these were among the various fates he foresaw for himself: ‘I will be knifed when I make one of my visits back home to Brownsville, I’ll be shot by police for resisting arrest, kicked to death in prison, executed by a lynch mob, gunned down in the street, found dead drunk in a gutter.’ Always, he added: ‘One way or another I won’t make 40.’
Mike Tyson returns to the ring with a point to prove against fellow golden oldie Roy Jones Jr
Predictions have never been Iron Mike’s strength. Nor has it been easy to make them about the most volatile and combustible of sporting legends.
We were overawed when he mowed down all before him to become the youngest world heavyweight champion. Now we can’t believe his fantasies about beating up Tyson Fury or Anthony Joshua to become the oldest.
Because we cannot forget the dank, steamy night of June 11, 2005 in Washington when the most devastating puncher in the history of the prize-ring failed to rise from his stool for the seventh round against Irish journeyman Kevin McBride.
Shattering our last lingering illusions of his immortality, if not our reverence for the profane magnificence of all the devastation he had wreaked with fists as lightning as they were lethal.
Iron Mike and Roy Jr have both trained to look ripped and ready for Saturday’s showdown
More poignantly, we still recall what he had to say after pulling down upon himself what he assured us would be the final curtain of a career as explosive as it would be self-destructive.
Tyson lisped his explanations: ‘I can’t do this any more. I don’t have the stomach for it. I’ve been fighting for my life, all my life, but I don’t have the desire to hurt people any longer. My reputation has been built on extreme violence. Now I have to deal with not being a violent man. Weird. But I’m not that person any more. I just stopped in there.’
It made sense to us long-time Tyson watchers ringside. After he sank on to his backside and against the ropes — ruled a slip not a knock-down but humiliating for him just the same — we saw the will drift from his mind. The spirit evaporate from his gut. The heart sink. He admitted that, after coming out of his three years of prison purgatory, he had been ‘fighting on the fear in my opponents’.
Three or four of us walked with him through that doorway towards an uncertain future. He stood for a few moments, bare-headed in the teeming rain. Were the skies weeping for an end to his reign as a self-styled monster? Well, there was an element of rejoicing among the giant pugilists he had terrorised. No little gloating across the white America he had terrified.
Tyson has shown off his impressive physique ahead of his return to the ring this weekend
Then, with a resigned shrug, he was gone. To be haunted until now by that capitulation? Perhaps that is one catalyst for this sudden re-emergence from the large and legal cannabis farm in Nevada which has finally stabilised the finances of this hell-raiser who squandered more than $300million during his fighting times.
He said also: ‘I don’t ever want to disgrace this great sport which has taken men like me from troubled beginnings to rubbing shoulders with presidents and kings.’
Instead of the premature, fateful destiny he had envisaged for himself: ‘I am looking to find balance in my life now.’
Not in his bank account, however.
‘This comeback is for charity,’ he says. ‘It has to be an exhibition, not a knockout fight,’ insists the California State Athletic Commission who have sanctioned this throwback by two men totalling 105 years of age between them.
Legendary fighters Tyson and Jones Jr face off in an eight-round exhibition on Saturday night
Really, an exhibition? Tyson teases: ‘Does anyone who’s ever seen me fight think I know how to box an exhibition? No head-guards, please.’
At which the commission regulated 12-ounce cushions for gloves and just eight rounds of two minutes each. ‘I thought it was the females who boxed for two minutes,’ protests Jones.
The original rules stipulated against 10 counts for knockouts and required an instant stoppage in the event of a cut. Nor would a winner have been declared at the end. But now this historic bout has been moved from a suburban sports ground to the fabled Staples Center, with the potential for more revenue, KOs have been approved and there will be a winner if it goes as far as a decision.
All of which has made more vocal the doom-mongers protesting against the risks to two older gentlemen. But since both Iron Mike and Roy Jnr have both trained as of yore to look ripped and ready, who would dare deny them to their faces another night under the arc-lights? Even if it transpires to be more a circus of curiosity than a fight to the finish.
And as Tyson says, ‘I don’t want to kill anyone now. I don’t have any affiliation with that person from back in 1986 and 87.’
Not now. Not on the wrong side of 40, let alone 50.
Tyson celebrates beating Carl Williams to claim the WBA, WBC and IBF titles in 1989
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