Mike Tyson is doing great.
So we learned during a widely advertised phone-in press conference with the actor, author, Broadway star, and former heavyweight champ. The call was to drum up hype for Tyson the boxing promoter; his own Iron Mike Productions is behind a night of fighting that will take place June 6 at upstate New York’s Turning Stone Casino and air live on ESPN as part of “Friday Night Fights.” After a few minutes of pre-written introductions and instructions from moderators and various casino officials, Tyson answered a small handful of questions before bowing out because he was “on a plane that's about to take off.” From dial-in to the big band elevator music that began playing after an automated voice informed us that the call was over, the whole thing might have lasted 15 minutes.
Here are some highlights from the action:
JOURNALIST: “Mike, how are you?”
JOURNALIST: “How’s it going, Mike?”
TYSON: “Doing good, buddy.”
JOURNALIST: “Hey, Mike, how are you doing this morning?”
JOURNALIST: “Hey, Mike, how are you doing today?”
TYSON: “I’m doing great.”
JOURNALIST: “Good, good.”
JOURNALIST: “Hi, Mike, how are you doing?”
Yes, he's doing great, and I'm happy these journalists will now be able to tell their grandkids they exchanged pleasantries with Iron Mike himself. Well done, guys.
Other topics covered included what Tyson’s legacy will be, if he’s more comfortable making film and TV appearances now, and how his battle with drugs and alcohol is going. He spent probably 20 seconds addressing each of these issues, and I can’t blame him. The only good question—or at least the only question that elicited a halfway interesting response—was about how today’s boxers are very careful in whom they choose to fight.
“It’s a very interesting dynamic,” Tyson explained. “Today’s fighters are businessmen. We fought for pride and ego and satisfaction that we’re the best fighter on the planet and no one can beat us… Your job is to fight anyone who thinks they’re the greatest fighter in the world. For us, if someone just mentioned they were the best fighter in the world, you’ve got to fight [them]. Fighters nowadays, a lot of times they don’t think of it as personal. Fighters in my era, we took it very personal if someone said they’re the best in the world.”
This, at least partially, is why the sport of boxing is floundering today, in the era of carefully calculated matchups where the business side takes precedence and images are coddled. There’s a certain art, a grace, and rhythmic dance to a boxing match, but the sport is still, at its core, about beating the shit out of someone. It’s a primal thing, really, and when too much calculation encroaches not only into the business side, but into the mentality of the fighters themselves, it inevitably pushes out some of that primal, alpha-male braggadocio that made the sport great when the Alis and Tysons were in their prime. Now the greatest boxer alive is nicknamed “Pretty Boy” and is perfectly content winning by decision and raking in his millions. This is a lot harder for the knockout-thirsty (or, casual) fan to get excited about.
The press conference wrapped up before my name was called. I guess I didn’t press “star, 1” to put myself in the queue fast enough. I was poised to ask the living legend—and noted tiger enthusiast—what kind of pets he's keeping in the house in 2014. Judging by the dreadfully tame and uninspired tone of the call, I wouldn’t have been surprised if the Oneida nation CEO personally asked me to disconnect for asking such a frivolous question. Obviously, I couldn’t have cared less and, honestly, I’m just glad Tyson got to hang up and turn his attention back to the plane he was on that much sooner.