Mike Tyson's New Book Is A Memorial To The Man Who Made Him A Champion Tyson says trainer Cus D'Amato is the reason he had such a legendary career. "We had a lot of dreams, hopes. ... Being champ of the world, that's all that we ever thought about."
NPR logo

Mike Tyson's New Book Is A Memorial To The Man Who Made Him A Champion

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/530254337/530677989" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Mike Tyson's New Book Is A Memorial To The Man Who Made Him A Champion

Mike Tyson's New Book Is A Memorial To The Man Who Made Him A Champion

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/530254337/530677989" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

On a November night back in 1986, a crowd was gathered in Las Vegas for an event that was hyped as Judgment Day. Muhammad Ali was there, celebrities too like Sylvester Stallone, Eddie Murphy, Rob Lowe. I mean, hey, it was the '80s, right? And at the center of all of this whistling, shouting activity was a boxing ring. In it, a referee pulled two men close.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REFEREE: Now listen. If you get in close and I tell you to break, just stop punching and step back clean. All right. Let's get it on. Come on.

GREENE: Mike Tyson was in that ring, 20 years old, hoping to become the youngest heavyweight champion.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER #1: And let's watch how quick Tyson will jump on Trevor Berbick. His whole life has been for this night.

GREENE: But Tyson says he never would have been in that ring if it weren't for this guy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CUS D'AMATO: I'm not a creator. What I do is discover and uncover.

GREENE: That's the man Ali called the bible of boxing. Constantine D'Amato, the trainer everybody called Cus. Mike Tyson says D'Amato is the reason that he had such a legendary career. He's also the reason we have come to Las Vegas to Mike Tyson's home.

And no, it is nothing like you might be picturing it if you know the movie "The Hangover." Sure, we went through a couple of gates to get in here, but his wife Kiki welcomed us and showed us to a casita near the pool. Mike Tyson, no entourage. She came in slowly and stiffly. Maybe it was all those years in the ring.

MIKE TYSON: OK. Let's do this.

GREENE: Tyson is smaller than you might think, trim with delicate hands. He was wearing tight - OK, hipster-like jeans I'd say. And what we're doing here is talking about his new book about his former trainer, Cus D'Amato. It's called "Iron Ambition."

When Mike Tyson and Cus first met, the trainer was considered washed up. Tyson hadn't even begun yet, a bad kid he calls himself, in and out of reform schools, stealing, fighting. It was 1980, a reform school guard took Tyson to Cus's gym in Catskill, N.Y. After a few minutes in the ring, Cus proclaimed this kid would be a champ.

What do you think he saw in you? Because you...

TYSON: Hey, listen. I have no idea. I think about that myself. What did - how did he know? Of all the kids he's been around all his life, how he know I'm the guy that's going to do it?

GREENE: That must feel good for a kid like you, who...

TYSON: Well, I didn't believe it because this didn't know me. This guy is weird. He doesn't know what he's talking about. And I guess he was right.

GREENE: Well, so you start training with him, and now you're in upstate New York with this old white guy. Tell me about that experience. What are some of your memories?

TYSON: It was good because we had a lot of dreams, hopes.

GREENE: Like what? What were you thinking about?

TYSON: Being champ of the world. That's all that we ever thought about.

GREENE: It almost sounds like he was putting on to you his own dreams somehow, like it...

TYSON: Yeah, maybe. Well, look. You have a father, right? So when your father tells you to do something, you did it, right? That's what it was like.

GREENE: My father never told me I was going to be champion of the world.

TYSON: Well, whatever it was, it was different. You'll have to excuse me sometimes. I get choked up.

GREENE: No, take your time.

TYSON: I'm fine.

GREENE: What is the emotion? Is it missing him, or?

TYSON: Yes.

GREENE: Their relationship, though, was complicated.

You wrote that you - in order to not disappoint him, you threw yourself into the role of arrogant sociopath. Those are strong words.

TYSON: Yeah. You have to look at it this way. I was a smaller guy. I wasn't going to intimidate these fighters. I really wasn't. All I...

GREENE: An arrogant...

TYSON: You understand what I said? I went all out on people. I was arrogant. I looked down on people, the other fighters. I said no one's going to ever beat me. I'm the greatest fighter in the world.

GREENE: And so did you like the man he was making you become?

TYSON: Hey, I like the image of fighting, and it took me a long way.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER #2: Tyson is everything that people could have hoped for in that round. There's another big shot by Tyson. Berbick in a heap of trouble. Down he goes.

GREENE: When Mike Tyson won that first championship back in 1986, Cus D'Amato was no longer by his side.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TYSON: I'd like to dedicate my fight to my great guardian, Cus D'Amato. And I'm sure he's up there. He's looking. And he's talking to all the great fighters, saying his boy did it.

GREENE: But after Cus's death, it seemed like Mike Tyson's life took a turn. There were more boxing victories, of course, but there was also drinking, drugs and a 1992 rape conviction. And you wonder about some of the lessons his old trainer taught him. As Tyson wrote in his book, quote, "Cus made me feel that hurting people was noble."

When I read that he made you feel like hurting people was noble, I realized I had to do something that I really didn't want to do because I don't feel like I'd be doing my job if you and I were sitting here and I didn't bring up the rape conviction. Was that an instance where you regret how you treated someone?

TYSON: I didn't never rape that woman. That's just something I got arrested for, but I ain't never rape that woman.

GREENE: And I know you've maintained your innocence, but what do you tell people who - that's the first thing that comes to mind when they think of Mike Tyson?

TYSON: You know, it's funny, nobody tell me anything but you. Do you feel you're being a man or you're being tough telling me that, or do you feel like you're being a reporter? How you - just let me know how do you feel that you're doing - where you're coming from doing this.

GREENE: I feel like I'm doing my job. Like, I...

TYSON: This happened 25 years ago, if not more, and you still convicting me?

GREENE: I'm not convicting you.

TYSON: Yeah, 'cause you're still bringing it up.

GREENE: You have the right to answer any way you want. I guess I just - you reflecting on your life, it felt like I had to give you the chance to address this.

TYSON: Thank you for doing that. And I never did rape that person. They gave me opportunities to just admit that I raped this person and let me go, but I would never do that. I couldn't live with myself doing that.

GREENE: As we're sitting here today, it's so tranquil here, you know, meeting your wife and knowing how much you love your kids and seeing this place. What drives you today, like, what inspires you?

TYSON: It's living my life healthy, respectable, staying away from most people. I don't do much of anything. My life is my family life. I don't have no life outside of that. I have no nightlife. That's over.

GREENE: What do you think about when you look at boxers today? Like is your relationship with Cus something that you would tell a young boxer? Like, this is the trainer. This is the man you should be looking for. This is the relationship you should be looking for.

TYSON: No, 'cause it's just - it's some - I don't know. Some people are not as fortunate as I was. I was fortunate to meet that guy. Like, we were two guys who were, quote, unquote, "nothing" who became something.

GREENE: You said that rise is a once in a lifetime thing.

TYSON: I don't know but for me it is.

GREENE: Mike Tyson. Iron Mike. His new book is called "Iron Ambition: My Life With Cus D'Amato."

Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.