Mike Tyson Enters His Renaissance-Man Period

Mike Tyson on the cusp of fifty-eight is a marvel of self-reinvention: podcast host, thespian, weed dealer. For better or worse, he is also arguably still the most famous fighter in the world, and not merely in an emeritus sense. “Who else could sell out a stadium like that?” he asked recently, referring to AT&T Stadium, the home of the Dallas Cowboys, where Tyson is scheduled to fight Jake Paul, a man three decades his junior, this July. “Name somebody. Please help me.” His scalp was glistening. “I was just working out, so forgive me for perspiring,” he said.

Paul, who gained renown as a YouTube celebrity and has only ten fights to his professional credit, was born in 1997, the same year that an over-the-hill-seeming Tyson was disqualified from a title bout for chomping on Evander Holyfield’s ears. Who, aghast at that spectacle, could have imagined the bizarro world that would follow? Not long ago, Tyson dined at Mar-a-Lago with his old friend Donald, a ringside fixture turned President and potential felon. “Beautiful,” Tyson recalled, of the experience. “I’ve known him since I was nineteen.” He added, “I hope he doesn’t go to prison.” Ask your local dispensary, meanwhile, if they carry Mike Bites: cannabis gummies in the shape of disfigured ears. Holyfield is a partner in the venture. “At first, he thought we were making fun of him, because he’s a very dignified guy,” Tyson said. “He found out the financial part of it, and he said, ‘Hey, I’m down with the program.’ ”

Tyson was speaking about all this, along with his performance in the new movie “Asphalt City,” in a house in Delray Beach, Florida, where his teen-age daughter, Milan, an aspiring tennis pro, is training while the family home in Nevada gets renovated. “We’re not here because we like the neighborhood,” Tyson said. “Trust me. Got to worry about alligators and shit!” He was recently startled by a six-footer. “For real, I thought it was a statue,” he went on. “They don’t move! Then, if you go closer, they take off so damn fast.”

“We’re thinking about getting out of the city and moving to a cute town with creepy people.”

Cartoon by Bruce Eric Kaplan

As an actor, Tyson may be best known for his good-humored cameos in the “Hangover” series, but he has begun branching out ever so slightly to portray characters other than himself. “Boxing is acting,” he said. “We want people to think we’re going to do this, and then we do that. It’s all illusion. Just like the camera business.” Two years ago, he appeared in the Bollywood film “Liger,” playing an M.M.A. fighter who dresses like a cowboy. He doesn’t speak much; he mainly kicks and punches. “Hey, listen, let me tell you this: the movie got smashed,” he said, alluding to its abysmal reviews. “The only one that got great ratings was me. Look it up!” In “Asphalt City,” which stars Sean Penn and Tye Sheridan as a pair of Brooklyn paramedics on the deadly night shift, Tyson plays Chief Burroughs, their unyielding boss. “He don’t take no shit,” Tyson said. “It’s not difficult for me to play a hard-ass.” His scenes are few, but he brings gravitas to them—in addition to a white beard that is jarring to contemplate in light of the upcoming fight, which will be streamed on Netflix. Muhammad Ali was thirty-nine when he hung up the gloves for good. George Foreman was forty-eight. Holyfield was nearly sixty, like Tyson, when he last stepped into a ring, in 2021, against the former U.F.C. light-heavyweight champion Vitor Belfort, with live commentary from Donald Trump. Holyfield didn’t last two minutes.

At the house in Delray Beach, Tyson kept perspiring and philosophizing. “Gratitude is my attitude, pretty much,” he said. “I was at the Miami Open last night. This gentleman was telling me about two heavyweights that I fought, and now they’re bodyguards in this club. And I was saying, ‘Wow, that’s pretty cool, because a guy like me is not supposed to be where I’m at.’ I thought I would be like my friends, working as a bouncer.” Tyson paused to mop his head with his shirt, briefly exposing a tattoo on his chest, of his daughter Exodus, who died at the age of four in a freak accident involving a treadmill. “I do really well,” he continued. “The money from this fight is not going to change my life, but I’m just stuck on the glory aspect of it. I don’t care about getting hurt. I don’t anticipate getting hurt. ‘He transformed boxing.’ ‘He’s smart now.’ That’s bullshit to me. This is what I do: I fight people.” ♦

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