Video Credit: The World of Boxing

WWJD #46: Iron Will: How Mike Tyson Overcame Adversity to Reach Greatness

Franchise Sports Media


Mike Tyson is one of the greatest heavyweight champions in boxing history. He was the baddest man on the planet, an icon, but he also embodied a generation.


WWJD | Franchise Sports Media Mike Tyson
Photo Credit: Getty Images

For most of us growing up in the late-1980s and early-90s, we had one hell of a childhood. There was no social media, and snitching wasn’t something we had to tell anyone not to do; you just didn’t do it. You knew better.

There were no cell phones that did everything we could imagine. We drank from water hoses & played football in the middle of the street and would have to move for cars driving up the street. We would make mix tape CDs to play at parties, and you could make the case that the music was at its peak.

We also had iconic sports figures like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Deion Sanders. But one could argue that none was bigger than Mike Tyson.

Iron Mike Tyson. The name still gives me chills up my spine when I hear it. He was a zenith. He was the most feared man in the world. Anyone alive during his reign as the undisputed, undefeated heavyweight champion of the world knows the feeling and probably also still gets the feeling they had when they hear it. Mike Tyson was the baddest man on the planet. He was a must-see TV and was my generation’s most iconic champion.

But in all honesty, he was more than that to my generation.

Like every generation before and after me, they have people who represent their voice. They don’t choose to be in that role, nor do they ask for it, but it falls in their laps, and they are viewed that way publicly. For me (and I am talking STRICLY and ONLY about his music, not what he was convicted of doing, nor am I condoning what he did), R. Kelly was our generation’s Marvin Gaye. Tupac was the voice of our generation, and Mike Tyson represented our attitude and mentality.

Tyson was a mix of power, speed, ferociousness, and viciousness. He had a hunger for greatness and a desire to be the best. Going back to the hood was not an option. Through the TV, you could feel the pain and anger he felt growing up with each bone-crushing punch he landed on his opponents. He spoke his truth and was unapologetic about what he said about any subject that he was speaking about. He was from the hood, unpolished, rough around the edges, and people underestimated him (outside the ring) and his intelligence. He was THE alpha amongst the alphas.

Simply put, Mike Tyson was that dude.

Mike Tyson was the most iconic public figure in the 1980s and 1990s. 

“Cus was a father to me. He loved me and I loved him. I would do anything for him.”

Mike Tyson was must-see TV every time he fought.

WWJD | Franchise Sports Media Mike Tyson and Cus D'Amato
Photo Credit: Ken Regan/Camera 5 /Courtesy of Blue Rider Press & Plume

Growing up, my grandfather was a boxing fan. Rumor has it he was a Golden Gloves fighter in New York and at 16 years old, the manager of the only undefeated heavyweight champion in boxing history, Rocky Marciano, Al Weill, got chased out of my great-grandmother’s tenement on the lower East Side of Manhattan with a broom.

A few months earlier, my grandfather’s cousin died in the ring from a brain aneurysm after putting down his opponent five times in the first two rounds and with a title fight on his horizon. After Weill left, my grandfather got upset and joined the Navy and went to fight in WWII.

He started my love affair with boxing. Growing up, we would sit together and watch Tuesday Night Fights on USA Network every week. We would also watch ABC Wide World of Sports when they would have the fights on. Through both viewing experiences, I watched a young Mike Tyson and became one of his biggest fans, as did my grandfather, who was also a massive fan of his trainer and mentor, Cus D’Amato.

D’Amato was a legendary boxing trainer and manager who played a significant role in the early career of Tyson. He is known for his expertise in developing young talent and is often credited with shaping Tyson into the boxer he became. D’Amato was known for his technical boxing knowledge and psychological approach to training fighters. He believed boxing was as much a mental sport as it was physical, and he instilled a great deal of discipline, strategy, and confidence in Tyson.

D’Amato was Tyson’s mentor and trainer from a young age, and he guided Tyson through his early amateur career and into his professional career. Sadly, D’Amato passed away before Tyson won the heavyweight championship, but his impact on Tyson’s life and career was immeasurable. Tyson has often spoken fondly of D’Amato and credits him with shaping him both as a boxer and a person.

Cus was like a god to me. He was a great man. He was my mentor, my friend, my father. He was everything to me,” Tyson said.

When Tyson fought, it was on in my household. My grandfather would order it and invite family and close friends over to watch it. He wouldn’t care if it lasted a round or a few rounds. We would watch it, and he would break it all down during and after the fight. He loved watching Mike Tyson in the boxing ring, and so did I.

As he continued to win, Mike Tyson became the king of the sport, if not all sports. But we often wondered what drove him to punish any who entered the ring against him. Why was he looking to unleash his fury on opponents so viciously? What type of pain was he living with that made him so damn dangerous?

Mike Tyson was my generation’s favorite fighter. 

“I knew I was a different breed of child. I didn’t want to be seen as weak.”

 Mike Tyson had to overcome a lot to find success in the ring. 

WWJD | Franchise Sports Media Mike Tyson
Photo Credit: AP/Picture Alliance

Besides his prowess in the ring, I loved how Tyson overcame the obstacles in his life to reach the pinnacle of the sports universe while remaining true to himself and where he came from. He was unapologetically himself at all times, and if you didn’t like it, oh well, he was going to keep being him.

But I would wonder how he got that way.

Tyson grew up in a high-crime neighborhood in Brownsville, New York, known for its tough streets and impoverished conditions. Tyson had a difficult upbringing. His father abandoned the family when Tyson was just two years old, leaving his mother, Lorna Tyson, to raise him and his two siblings on her own.

Tyson’s turbulent environment led him to engage in fights and criminal activities from a young age. He was often involved in petty crimes and found himself in trouble with the law. At 13, Tyson was sent to the Tryon School for Boys, a reform school in upstate New York, after being caught with a group of kids robbing a store. At Tryon, he met boxing trainer Bobby Stewart, who recognized Tyson’s potential as a fighter and became his mentor.

While at Tryon, Tyson’s interest in boxing began to take shape. He started training seriously and displayed natural talent and power as a fighter. When Mike Tyson was released from Tryon at 18, he was taken under the wing of Cus D’Amato, who became his legal guardian and trainer. D’Amato provided Tyson structure, discipline, and guidance inside and outside the ring. He also provided a family environment that Tyson wanted and needed.

Mike Tyson once said, “I don’t react to a tragic happening any more. I took so many bad things as a kid and some people think I don’t care about anything. It’s just too hard for me to get emotional. I can’t cry no more.

Tyson was what every young person in the 80s and 90s wanted to be. He was brash, successful, tough, a winner who loved to have a good time but was unyielding in the face of any provocation. When he spoke about things happening in the ghetto or to people of color, he was brutally honest and blunt. People didn’t like that or take him seriously, but he didn’t care. He stayed true to himself. He gave those like him a sense of pride and hope and lifted their spirits when he took the ring and battered his opponents to a pulp.

Who could forget his famous quote, “I’m in trouble because I’m normal and slightly arrogant. A lot of people don’t like themselves and I happen to be totally in love with myself.

Much like his close friend Tupac, Mike Tyson was a voice for those historically downtrodden and disenfranchised and beloved by his people.

Mike Tyson found his purpose in the ring and with an unlikely friend. 

“Everyone you meet has something to teach you.”

Mike Tyson is one of the most iconic figures in the history of sports

WWJD | Franchise Sports Media Tupac and Mike Tyson
Photo Credit: Revolt TV

It’s no secret that Tyson and Tupac were close. In the 90s, there may not have been two people who were more lightning rods for controversy. Both had legal trouble and were beloved for their outspokenness about societal issues, but their communities respected and loved them.

The two became friends through their mutual music and entertainment industry associations. Their friendship blossomed during the early to mid-1990s when both were at the height of their careers.

They had overlapping social circles that brought them together. Tupac was well-connected in the music and entertainment scene, while Tyson was in the sports and entertainment world. They often attended the same events, parties, and award shows, which allowed them to interact and get to know each other. They were both fixtures in the celebrity scene during that time.

“Me and one of the guys [running the event were] talking to us [outside],” Tyson recalled when asked about his relationship with Tupac. “There was this little guy [trying to get in the club]… I was like, ‘What’s up, shorty? Hey yo, let him in.’ He said, ‘Mike that’s cool, don’t worry about it.’ But then he came back with 50 people. He went around the back. I’m still talking to the guy. I go in the club, this is 30-45 minutes later, Tupac is on the mic rocking. The club is off the hook and then [the guy trying to get in earlier] said come over here, ’cause I didn’t see the guy. I just saw when he had the crew. He said, ‘Thanks for letting us in.’” Tyson said in an interview with DJ Whoo Kid.

Both Tyson and Tupac had a deep admiration for each other’s talents and achievements. Tyson appreciated Tupac’s music and artistry, while Tupac admired Tyson’s boxing skills and his intimidating presence in the ring. When Tupac faced legal troubles, including his incarceration in 1995, Tyson expressed support for him. Tyson visited Tupac in prison, and their friendship deepened during this period.

Tyson explained their next meeting when Tupac wanted to visit him in prison in 1992.

The next time I saw [Tupac], I didn’t even know who he was,” Tyson said. “I knew he was ‘2Pac.’ But his mother had written me a letter in prison … I remembered that night. He came to prison to see me. We spoke. He was so much more confident than when I had met him the other time, probably a year or two prior to that. He had gone from being a shy guy to very strong-willed, confident, and independent. He was tremendously feeling himself. He had so much confidence. He was bursting off the air.

He came to the prison. He was standing on the table, started talking. All the people in the prison started going crazy. I said, ‘Sit. Sit down. Sit, brother, sit,’” Tyson recalled. “The white prisoners, the guards, everybody went crazy in this redneck prison. They went nuts when he came in there.

I didn’t know he was [famous] like that. I didn’t know he was like that! I thought he was some young brother. But when he came in, I didn’t know people was feeling him like that too. I was like, ‘Yo man. Chill, brother.’ He was wilding, sweating, talking, being very gregarious. He was prolific. He was talking, having a ball. … He was very territorial. He was an interesting guy. He was different than any other rapper I had ever met from a philosophical perspective.”

Tyson appeared on the nationally syndicated radio program Big Boy’s Neighborhood and was asked about his relationship with Tupac. “It’s very difficult to talk about,” Tyson said about his memories of their friendship. “He was just a young kid, and he wanted to be great – and then that happened.”

Tupac was fatally shot after the boxing match where Tyson destroyed Bruce Seldon on September 7, 1996, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Tyson won via a first-round knockout, one that remains one of the shortest heavyweight championship fights in boxing history, only lasting 1:49. Tupac was Tyson’s VIP guest at the highly-anticipated fight and celebrated with him once Tyson went backstage and prior to the postfight press conference.

The voice of our generation, Tupac, was gone way too soon, and Tyson was heartbroken by it. “I wish I had 5 seconds in the ring with Tupac’s killer,Tyson said.

Tupac’s untimely death also likely made Tyson reflect on his own mortality and the fleeting nature of life. The loss of his close friend was a sobering experience, causing him to reevaluate his priorities and choices. It influenced Tyson’s perspective on his own life and the need to distance himself from potentially dangerous situations.

Mike Tyson grew from the death of Tupac and learned from his passing. 

“I’m not Mother Teresa, but I’m not Charles Manson, either.”

Mike Tyson was the epidemy of what the 90s was.

WWJD | Franchise Sports Media Mike Tyson
Photo Credit: Getty Images

So, let’s get to the brass tax. In his prime, Mike Tyson was what every young man wanted to be. On the outside, it looked like he had it all. Money, women, fame, success, a video game named after him, and he was mentioned in the same breath as the giants of his sport. But he would tell you a different story.

He has spoken publicly about his battles with depression and substance abuse. These struggles have contributed to his feelings of unhappiness even during the peak of his career. It also contributed to Tyson’s legal problems, turbulent personal life, and financial difficulties. But Tyson again showed bravery in his struggles and broke the mold that men shouldn’t talk about their feelings.

Even at the height of his career, one of the greatest champions in boxing history wasn’t happy. Tyson spoke openly about his struggles with depression and how he attempted suicide in the past. In his memoir “Undisputed Truth,” published in 2013, Tyson revealed that he had hit rock bottom during a particularly dark period of his life, leading him to attempt suicide. He described the incident and the emotional turmoil he faced at the time.

I was just (overdosing) every night. I was just going full-blown,” he said on a promotional tour for his book. “I was just, Wow! I can’t believe I was waking up.

Tyson felt the pain and despair that many felt during that time. He was relatable and always has been; just no one realized it until after he retired.

As he got older and faced more adversity, he persevered, showing the toughness and grit that made him the youngest heavyweight champion in boxing history. He allowed the public to see his personality, the funny, self-deprecating humor that no one knew he had. He starred in his cartoon series and had cameo’s in numerous movies, most notably The Hangover and The Hangover 2.

He has also been a savvy businessman. Tyson launched his own cannabis company called “Tyson Ranch,” which is involved in cultivating, distributing, and selling cannabis products. “Tyson Ranch” is located in Desert Hot Springs, California, on a 40-acre property north of Palm Springs. It was reported back in August of 2022 that he earns around $620,000 a month from this business.

Like many of us who grew up in the 90s, Mike Tyson has reinvented himself. He is a father, husband, and businessman. But he is also still one of the baddest men on the planet. He broke the mold and didn’t allow himself to be trapped in a corner. Instead, he fought his way out of it and attacked the business world with the same ferocity he had inside the ring.

Tyson once said, “I’m a dreamer. I have to dream and reach for the stars, and if I miss a star, then I grab a handful of clouds.”

Mike Tyson keeps reinventing himself while staying true to himself. He continues to defy the odds and come out on top. He was a champion outside the ring, just as he was inside it. He continues to prove those who doubted him wrong and make his mentor proud.

UNLV offensive coordinator Brennan Marion is one of the brightest young minds in all of college football.

Greatness is not guarding yourself from the people; greatness is being accepted by the people.” – Mike Tyson


-Joe Arrigo   Franchise Sports Media

Follow Joe on Twitter and Instagram: @JoeArrigoFSM

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