Book Review: Mike Tyson’s Undisputed Truth

Mike Tyson’s brutally honest autobiography – Undisputed Truth – is one of the best sporting biographies that you will probably ever read, writes Roshan Muhammed Salih.

But Muslims reading the tale of the American convert’s life may find this book rather shocking and disappointing.

This is not the story of a world champion boxer with a hedonistic lifestyle suddenly seeing the light and reforming his life.

It is the story of a man who came from the gutter and has struggled all his life with his demons – even after he found Islam.

Deprived background

Tyson recounts how he was born and brought up in a New York slum surrounded by pimps, prostitutes, criminals and drug dealers. His mother was a drunk who slept around with numerous men and often had a violent relationship with them. His father was never really on the scene.

From an early age Tyson was bullied and robbed on the street and at school. Eventually, he started robbing other people and was subsequently incarcerated in several youth offender institutes. Along the way he saw many of his friends die.

But Tyson’s salvation was the elderly boxing trainer Cus D’Amato who took him under his wing as a teenager and turned him into the disciplined, ferocious ring animal that he would later become.

D’Amato provided the young delinquent with the home and family atmosphere that he never had. And he instilled in him the belief that one day he would be the greatest fighter the boxing world would ever see.

But D’Amato died just before Tyson was ready to challenge for the world title, as did Tyson’s mother. So although he was on the verge of greatness he lost the one anchor that he had in his life.

Boxing greatness

When Tyson exploded on the boxing scene in 1986 at the age of 20 he simply took the breath away. No one had seen such aggression and ferocity in the ring, with seasoned fighters and champions being blown away.

Not only did Tyson pack huge punches in both hands but he was lightening quick and had superb defensive skills. He seemed absolutely unbeatable and even began to see himself this way. He was Alexander the Great, Napoleon and Patton combined.

But without the parental guidance of a Cus D’Amato outside the ring Tyson’s lifestyle soon went off the rails.

Suddenly he had more money than he could handle, tens of millions of dollars. He would fritter it away on wild parties, on drugs, on cars, on prostitutes and women.

On the one hand he was appearing on all the hot TV shows as the most famous man in the world, on the other hand he couldn’t quite escape the slum where he was born and kept going back to hang out with criminals, indulging in casual violence and street fights.

His fame and fortune soon attracted the vultures, hangers-on who would steal his money and take advantage of his lack of education and maturity.

But despite his hedonistic lifestyle outside the ring Tyson reigned supreme in it for four whole years, brutally knocking out a series of challengers who couldn’t deal with his ferocity.

Downward spiral

They say everyone Napoleon meets his Waterloo and for Mike Tyson that was the under-rated challenger Buster Douglas who pulled off one of the greatest shocks in boxing history by knocking out Tyson in 1990.

Tyson hardly trained for the fight and by that stage his ego and his extra-curricular activities were so out of control that he probably thought he didn’t need to.

Tyson is considered one of the heavyweight greats
Tyson is considered one of the heavyweight greats

Buster Douglas, on the other hand, was superbly conditioned and prepared and fought the fight of his life. Tyson too fought like a warrior but eventually his lack of preparation caught up with him and he was counted out in the 10th round.

If that wasn’t humiliation enough worse was to come. Shortly afterwards Tyson was convicted of raping an 18 yr old girl and jailed for an offence which he still denies to this day. Tyson spent the next three years in prison – a far cry from the multi-millionaire playboy lifestyle he was used to leading.

It was in prison that Tyson became a Muslim. He had always read a lot in his life and had always had a deep intellectual curiosity. With the guidance of fellow Muslim prisoners Tyson took his shahada, attracted to Islam’s noble spiritual values and sense of love, compassion and mercy.

But while Tyson had intellectually converted to Islam and started to pray and practise the religion this didn’t seem to impinge on his wider lifestyle and habits.

So for example, even while he was in jail he managed to find ways of having sex with women. And after he was released Muslim Mike Tyson still drank alcohol, snorted cocaine and indulged in many, many sexual orgies.

Drugs and salvation

As Tyson admits himself, he lost his speed and his technique when he was in jail and when he came out he wasn’t the fighter that he once was.

That said, he was still good enough to regain the world title when he defeated Frank Bruno. But he wasn’t good enough to keep hold of it for too long and first Evander Holyfield and then Lennox Lewis humbled him.

Along the way Tyson was showing signs of being completely out of control. Aside from the infamous ear-biting incident against Holyfeld, Tyson would get into numerous street brawls and had law suits pending against him left, right and centre. Meanwhile, his sex addiction was as rampant as ever and he was becoming a serious coke addict. Eventually he would lose virtually all his money.

But Tyson’s salvation seems to have been his third wife, Kiki, who forced him through tough love to confront his demons. He went into rehab, attended AA meetings and eventually managed to kick the drugs, alcohol and extra-marital sex.

He even went to Mecca to perform his hajj which he describes as an amazing experience. But he also describes how the Saudis’ star treatment of him was off-putting. For example, they would push other worshipers out of the way so that he could kiss the black stone in the Kaaba.

And somewhat surprisingly for a boxer of fearsome reputation he also seems to be attracted to the “softer” side of Islam and professes an aversion to a literal understanding of it. But by reading the autobiography it is also apparent that Islam has not penetrated every aspect of Tyson’s life, rather it seems like something that he is still getting to know and which he doesn’t want to consume him.

No happy endings

Undisputed Truth is a brutally frank and expletive-ridden autobiography with Mike Tyson bearing his soul in front of the whole world.

If you are the non-judgmental type, or a boxing fan or are interested in the darker side of human nature then I unhesitatingly recommend it. It is a rip-roaring page turner, often hilarious and jam-packed full of action and self-reflection.

Most of the things Tyson says about himself are entirely critical and shed a very negative light on his own character – the violence, the drugs, the women, the fatherless children.

But despite all that, and if you make it to the end of the 560 pages (which you probably will), then you might end up liking Tyson, even if it is only a little bit. After all this truly is a person who was born in hell and has had vultures surrounding him all his life.

So you’ll like him for his honesty, for his self-deprecation and for his desire to improve himself. That said, I’m sure if you were in a room alone with him, you’d still feel nervous.

@RMSalih

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