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Tyson: the terrible or the timid?

There's a basking shark in my bath. There's a live bat under the stairs. Something's scraping in the attic. I'm waiting for Mike Tyson to answer my call and every sound is scary. It's 8.30am in Phoenix on Wednesday and Tom Pattie's just gone to wake him up.

Vincent Hogan

There's a basking shark in my bath. There's a live bat under the stairs. Something's scraping in the attic.

I'm waiting for Mike Tyson to answer my call and every sound is scary. It's 8.30am in Phoenix on Wednesday and Tom Pattie's just gone to wake him up. A muffled disturbance filters down the phone-line.

"Who?"

"Irish newspaper guy, remember?"

Huh?

"Rang yesterday."

Small rainstorm of unintelligible muttering ends with the primeval rasp of Tyson at the end of the phone. He had gone for "a nap" when we tried on Tuesday. Now it felt like we were trespassing on private time.

"Hello."

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Am I ringing too early, Mike?

"Well yeah you are. C'mon, what's goin on buddy (laughing)?"

Want me to ring later?

"No, go ahead, let's get it over with my friend."

The advice had been to soft-shoe. To avoid all mention of jail, rape, cannibalism inside the ring and forsaken millions outside. The theory with Tyson is that different days decant different personalities. That he's volatile and unreadable. The advice was to keep within the parameters of boxing. "And mention Cus D'Amato. He loves talking about Cus."

So a little harmless sparring to begin with.

Can you fill me in Mike on what you're doing with yourself now that you've stopped fighting?

"I'm just fine, just taking it easy right now. Just enjoying myself, relaxing, travelling."

Did I hear you give speeches as you travel?

"In some places I give speeches, in other places I'm just enjoying my free time."

Anything you miss about the ring?

"I don't miss it at all."

No?

"No!"!

You mean in terms of the hard work preparing for fights?

"I guess I've been doing it too long, been preparing too long. And it catches up on you."

The voice is barely audible. He sounds like he's just gotten back into bed again. Like he's about to pull the duvet up and close his eyes. It's time for the trump card.

Can I ask you about Cus D'Amato and his influence on you? Given he died so soon after discovering you, do you look back and think your life could have been much different if he had lived longer?

Flailing

Suddenly, the shark in the bath is flailing. Tyson's rasp splashes down the line in angry breaths and I'm taking a standing count.

"Listen, I don't want to talk about my past. I'm just gonna talk about my trip coming to Ireland. Look, my boxing career is over. I don't want to talk about fighting no more. You wanna talk about me coming to Ireland, then that's great. If not, then I'm gonna terminate this call. I don't like talking about boxing no more. If you don't mind."

Gulp. No jail, no rape, no cannibalism, no lost millions, no boxing, no Cus. Mike Tyson's on the end of my phone-line and getting angry. Phoenix feels uncomfortably close.

Em, so why are you coming to Ireland, Mike?

"Well I'm just coming over to do some fishing and meet Joe Egan. We're gonna do this thing and donate some money to charity. We're just gonna have fun over there, we're gonna go to some of the children's hospitals hopefully and have some meet and greets. We're gonna have a good time in Ireland."

You sparred with Joe Egan, is he a good friend of yours?

"Yeah I've known Joe for quite a long time."

Can you explain to people what it's like being so instantly recognisable no matter where you travel on this planet?

"I don't know. I won the title and I became a world-class fighter. But I'm just a pretty ordinary guy. You know I like doing the stuff that most men do. I don't know. I get in trouble some times. I'm just enjoying my life. My life is short. I'm 40-years-old. I just want to live whatever life I have left. I want to live it, em, joyfully."

But is it difficult with everyone always probing, not least journalists like me asking the same questions day in, day out?

"I wouldn't be giving any interviews to journalists unless I was going on these tours and these charitable situations. I stay pretty much out of it, I don't want that life anymore."

Have you kept any friends from boxing. Are there people you stay in touch with? Evander for example? (loaded question).

"No, I don't hang out with no-one." (unloaded).

Your life is completely free of boxing so?

"Yeah, I'm finished with it."

Do you read much these days?

"Not as much as I used to."

Is that something you'd like to get back into now?

"I don't know. I've got to get, basically, focused on my life that's existing at this moment. And then maybe I can work back in degrees. I'm not reading much. And I'm grabbing books, but I'm not reading them. Just storing them away. But when I get the time to read them I'll (yawns) try to enjoy them."

What are the things that make you happiest these days?

"S'cuse me?"

What are the things in your life that make you happiest now?

"Not fighting (laughs)."

Can you give me your opinion of Kevin McBride, who beat you in your last fight?

"Kevin's a good man. He put up a good fight on the night. I just wish him the best in life and hope he doesn't get hurt."

I understand he still works on the building sites of Boston despite beating you, so he hasn't made big money. Is that still the big worry in boxing that a lot of fighters don't ever get what they're due?

Fortunate

"Oh no, I guess I was just one of the fortunate few. Lucky in certain aspects. The thing is we do the best we can. Some of us make it, some of us don't. But the main issue of the situation is that we give our best."

In all the hype, is it sometimes forgotten that boxers are human beings too?

"You know we live in a society where guys like myself maybe might soon be obsolete. People don't care about the guy who gives their heart to the thing, to entertain them. Even die for it. They just care about the people who have the most success, who's in the best position to influence them and improve their circumstances. There's no longer any thinking about the guy who has substance or character. This guy's tough or this guy, he's not an educated guy but he gives you his life as far as his dedication is concerned. Those guys are obsolete nowadays.

"All they're thinking about now is flashing and glittering gold, big cars, big planes. Who has the most money and who can make the biggest fool out of themselves with that money. Showing off how much they have, how big their house is, that's what this world is about now. There's not too much substance going on. If there was, we wouldn't have the ordeals that we have and the catastrophes that we're having in this world."

Too much greed?

"(yawn)..."

Have you been to Ireland before?

"No I'm looking forward to it very much. They've told me about the Blarney Stone."

You're going to visit the

'You wanna talk about me

coming to Ireland, that's

great. If not, I'm gonna

terminate this call . . . If you

don't mind'

Blarney Stone?

"I don't know if I'll visit, but all my friends tell me about it and say it gave them great luck. Most of my Irish friends - not many of them are very lucky (laughing) - but they all said the Blarney Stone was going to bring them a lot of luck. So I said 'Okay, let's check it out.'"

I think it's an old wife's tale Mike.

"Yeah, you didn't get the luck either? (hooting with laughter)."

Do you understand the scale and nature of your profile worldwide and how you might be perceived in a small country like Ireland?

"Hey man that doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is people respect and understand the fact that I'm just a human being. I don't get the star thing. I think that the platform I have will show people that I'm a real person. That I deal with heartbreaks, I deal with anger, I deal with love, I deal with all that stuff, confusion. Just like anybody else. It's just the life that we live. We live an everyday life, but we're under the microscope."

And your own life has embraced just about every human experience imaginable?

"Right now I'm just trying to live my life in a dignified manner. I made a lot of mistakes in the beginning of my life. Which is understandable. Which we all do.

"But I'm just looking forward to the challenge of rebuilding myself as a human being."

Does it feel like you're well on the road to doing that?

"Hey give my best to Kevin and those guys will you. I gotta go."

Thanks for your time Mike.

"The pleasure is mine. Thank you my friend."

The line goes dead with a terminal thump. The house is quiet as a coffin.


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