Tyson's towering talent was built on shaky emotional foundation

February 11, 1992|By Alan Goldstein

Last September, five months before facing an Indianapolis jury on charges of raping a teen-aged beauty pageant contestant, Mike Tyson boasted, "There is nothing on this planet Earth that can keep me from living my life or intimidate me. Unless I have a car accident or die, I'll get my heavyweight title back from Evander Holyfield."

But there is little bluster or braggadocio left in the former heavyweight king, once considered unbeatable and indestructible.

Late last night, Tyson, 25, was found guilty on one charge of rape and two counts of deviate sexual conduct.

He could face a sentence of up to 60 years in jail, but an appeal by his legal team is almost certain.

Ironically, it came on the second anniversary of the shocking loss of his heavyweight title to Buster Douglas in Tokyo.

Within the ropes, Tyson's killer instinct in finishing off a vulnerable rival was rewarded with million-dollar purses and worshiping boxing fans.

But his violent past outside the ring finally caught up with the one-time Brooklyn street bully who earned his way into reform school at11 as a self-described mugger, pickpocket and thief.

"I did evil things, but my heart was always pure," said Tyson, who learned self-denial at an early age.

But the trouble signs were always there, and both past acquaintances and boxing associates wondered how long it would be before he faced a criminal charge that his arrogance and fists could not resolve.

Tyson had a history of "womanizing" and had extricated himself from of a number of alleged assaults in recent years.

Computer operator Sandra Miller Reese was awarded $100 in compensatory damages for an incident at a New York dance club in December 1988.

Jurors found Tyson had committed battery but not assault by grabbing the woman by the breasts and buttocks after she refused his advances.

Tyson was accused of hitting a male parking attendant after he allegedly tried to kiss a female parking attendant in Los Angeles on June 27, 1987. The case was settled out of court for $105,000.

His ex-wife, actress Robin Givens, once described him as "the devil." In a television interview with Barbara Walters, Ms. Givens said Tyson was a manic-depressive.

In 1986, Teamer Lazure, a one-time boxer and trainer who lived in the Catskill, N.Y., area where Tyson first came under the tutelage of the late Cus D'Amato, whom he rescued from reform school by becoming his legal guardian, already characterized the young heavyweight as a walking time bomb.

"He can be heavyweight champion of the world if they don't wait too long," Mr. Lazure told the Glens Falls (N.Y.) Post Star.

Mr. Lazure told of unseemly incidents involving Tyson, then 19. His trainer, Kevin Rooney, was summoned several times to rescue Tyson from "female problems.

"The only thing to do is what Cus did," advised Mr. Lazure. "Cus wouldn't let him out of his sight."

According to "Blood Season", a biography of Tyson, his first trainer,Teddy Atlas, once threatened Tyson with a gun after Tyson allegedly tried to put his hands on Mr. Atlas' 15-year-old sister-in-law.

"Cus had him in a time capsule in Catskill," said Mr. Atlas, still training pros. "There were compromises being made as far as his guidance as a human being. Put up a house too fast, and it comes back to haunt you when a strong wind comes along."

When Mr. D'Amato died in 1985, Jimmy Jacobs and Bill Cayton took over as co-managers and guided him to the title at 21, the youngest heavyweight champion in history.

"From 1985 to 1988, Mike had a few minor problems that any young man might get involved in," said Mr. Cayton, whose contract with Tyson expires tomorrow.

"But he had begun to develop character, and he was making commercials for the IRS, Kodak and even helping police recruitment in New York."

But Mr. Cayton said that the dark side of Tyson took over when Don King began a calculated campaign to become his manager and sole promoter.

"King poisoned his mind against me," Mr. Cayton said. "It was almost like the Patty Hearst syndrome, where Tyson became loyal to his captor. King might not have led Mike to the court room, but he certainly paved the way. But I truly feel sorry for Mike. We still regard him as the son we inherited from Cus D'Amato."

Last fall, Mr. King was already working to absolve himself of any blame for Tyson's hellbent rush to oblivion.

"I'm not his keeper," Mr. King told the Washington Post. "I'm not going to allow you to put the burden of Mike Tyson on my shoulders. That ain't my responsibility. My responsibility is to do the best I can with him."

But Tyson's once-awesome boxing skills seemed to quickly erode under Mr. King's guidance, and, despite winning all his fights after being dethroned by Mr. Douglas, he was no longer held in mortal fear by his opponents.

"The Tyson who destroyed Michael Spinks in one round in 1988, I rank second only to Muhammad Ali among the all-time heavyweights," said Mr. Cayton.

"But he was never the same after that fight. He lost his discipline. People always looked at his power. But it was the boxing ability D'Amato gave him that made him a champion. In the past two years, he fought like a club fighter, getting hit all the time by inferior opponents."

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