Cus D’Amato & Mike Tyson

James Toback’s compelling and heartbreaking biopic/documentary Tyson represents a radical divergence from the traditional film. A singular actor and narrator, Mike Tyson, graces the film for its entirety, providing an hour and a half monologue supplemented only with related photographs and video clips. The viewer is taken on a trip of Tyson’s career as he recounts it, face-to-face, as if sitting next to him having a conversation.

Toback’s lens frequently meet eye-level with Tyson, forcing the viewer to stare into the eyes of the notoriously nefarious boxer. One cannot help but feel sympathy for Tyson as he weaves through a tale of his poverty stricken childhood, in which he frequently participated in robbery, larceny, and street fights from the young age of 11. By the age of 13, Tyson had been arrested 38 times. In jail, presumably a place that he would be frequently inhabiting under his trajectory at the time, Tyson took up an interest in Boxing. Under the watchful eye of Cus D’Amato, Tyson began to develop extreme potential, harnessing his rage that had been previously reserved from crime, and bringing it into the Boxing ring. D’Amato adopted Tyson, and Tyson lived with D’Amato in his Upstate New York home along with his children and wife.

Under D’Amato, Tyson became a student of the sport. He recounts spending countless hours in front of D’Amato’s projector, studying in an attempt to emulate the styles and swagger of Boxing greats Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, and Muhammad Ali. To this day, Tyson credits D’Amato as the driving force behind his Boxing psyche. In my eyes, D’Amato essentially molded Tyson into the undersized yet infinitely talent boxer whom dominated the sport of Boxing between 1986-1990 and provokes serious candidacy amongst the greatest Heavyweights of all time to this day.

Proceeding D’Amato’s death, Tyson’s life was quickly consumed by the women, money, and fame that went along with his dominance. In the film, Tyson concedes that his loss of the heavyweight title to Buster Douglas in 1990 was due to a lack of training: he was too consumed by drugs, women, and alcohol to consider taking Douglas seriously. Tyson quickly spiraled back into the savage and unpredictable child of his youth. Soon thereafter, without D’Amato’s influence, Tyson found himself back in jail. Tyson continued his fall from grace post-jail, disgracing himself through 2 losses to Evandor Holyfield, and finally, an embarrassing defeat to close his career against journeyman Kevin McBride.

The importance of mentorship cannot be understated. Tyson’s example, while extreme, provides a telling example of the fruits of mentorship, and the subsequent perils of the lack of positive influences in one’s life. I am blessed to be surrounding by compassionate and caring mentors who play a significant role in my day-to-day lives. I emulate the redeeming qualities of each of these mentors, and in turn I have contracted empathy, discipline, perseverance, and to this point, a sliver of success. As I progress as an adult, I strive for increased opportunities to take ephebes [1] under my wing and instill the same values my mentors have provided me onto them.

[1] A ancient term modernized by David Foster Wallace (DFW) to mean “teenager”

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