THE TAO OF TYSON
“What is it like to have the most famous tattoo on the planet?” I ask, referring to the tattoo framing his left eye.
“I think it’s pretty cool…” Tyson says as he contemplates whether or not the answer is accurate. “Listen, my family and my friends started crying [when they saw it]. ‘What did you do to your fucking face?’ Now look [laughs]. Without knowing it, this was the best thing that ever happened to me. I had a really menacing attitude back then, I was pretty rambunctious back then, so I went and did it.”
The tattoo was inked mere days before Tyson got in the ring to fight Clifford Etienne. Calling the fight forgettable is probably too kind—Etienne was knocked out in under a minute in what would end up being the final victory of Tyson’s professional career. The tattoo, on the other hand, was instantly iconic.
If Tyson had gotten a tattoo of what he had originally imagined there is no doubt that it too would have become the subject of lore, but with a completely different tone. “I went to [the tattoo artist], some little white guy, and said, ‘Why don’t you put hearts on my face?” he recalls. “He’s like, ‘I’m not putting that on your face.’”
The artist, S. Victor Whitmill, came up with a design that suited Tyson far better than a bunch of hearts would have. It was a foregone conclusion that he’d be leaving the shop with a tattoo, but it was through some quick thinking that he walked out with a piece destined for infamy. And despite those tears from his family and the scrutiny in the media, Tyson never wavered in his conviction to get the piece. “When I do something, it’s because I want to do it,” Tyson says. “It’s my face, this is what I always wanted people to know. I know people care about me, but they have to know this is my life. It may not be the right life, but it’s my life to live the way I want to live it. That’s who I am.” This opened up an interesting line of questioning. In his retirement, Tyson has done a lot of work to let people into his inner world and show them who he really is as a person. As we listened to the soft-spoken middle-aged version of Tyson discuss Nietzche and Bible scripture, the level of ferocity that once defined him seems unfathomable. “You know, if I was a happy, jolly guy when I was fighting, we wouldn’t be having this interview,” he laughs. “I had to be that guy for that job. For this job, I don’t have to be that guy. That guy back then would have never been able to do this, he wouldn’t have had the desire to do it.” If those two versions of himself ever met, what words of wisdom would he pass on to his younger self? “I would tell him that in the end you’re going to be OK,” he says. “You’re going to go through ups and downs in life, that’s what life is. But at the end of the day you’re going to be OK.”
It was in this spirit that Tyson 2.0, his cannabis brand, was born. A lot of celebrities get into the cannabis space in order to have their own strain and look cool, but Tyson was inspired by the personal growth he had experienced using cannabis. Is he an entrepreneur marketing a successful business with Tyson 2.0? Without a doubt. But money or clout is not the driving force behind the venture.
“I really think I can help people,” he explains. “I want cannabis to have a different kind of image. I don’t want to hear, ‘Hey, I want a drug.’ Cannabis is not a drug, it’s a medicine. That’s what it is.”
That being said, Tyson 2.0 is a business in a market that has suddenly become flooded as attitudes, and laws, toward cannabis use change. In a brilliant stroke of marketing they came up with the Mike Bites—edibles in the shape of an ear with a bite out of it. While Evander Holyfield might not be so enthused, customers have been.
“I can’t handle them,” Tyson laughs. “I’m just not programmed to handle the gummies yet. I don’t want to take this stuff and then go into a meeting and start crying. I can’t believe in a billion years that I’m talking to you about this stuff. I’m a neophyte in this business, I can’t believe we’re doing this and that the country has made it legal in most of the states. I’m glad I got involved.”
As we talk, Tyson is always quick to acknowledge the people who have helped him build Tyson 2.0 and the rest of his business ventures. It’s clear that he loves his team and that his team returns the same adoration. As they explore new opportunities, his team isn’t going to be pushing him to do things just to make a quick buck; everything he’s involved with makes sense. For example, Tyson is an outspoken advocate for holistic medicine, hence the line of nootropic supplements he collaborated with Jones Soda to produce. Money, while nice, is never the end-all-be-all of these endeavors.
One can speculate where this attitude originated within Tyson. It may have stemmed from the teachings of his late trainer, Cus D’Amato. “He was pretty socialist…” But more likely it comes from the life experience he has had, particularly when he was fighting addiction.
Over the course of an hour, our conversation veered in a variety of unexpected directions, which was the one expected outcome I had walking in. And while we had spent some time discussing Tyson’s tattoos and how they reveal truths about his story, we hadn’t yet brought up tattoos other people get of him.
“What is it like when you see your face on another person’s skin?”
Thirty seconds pass as he silently gives the question thought.
“I have great respect for their perception of me without even knowing me.”
“Do you wish they understood who you really were as opposed to just the perception?”
“Some days I have really low self-esteem and when I see tattoos on people, making me more than I think I am, I don’t feel good,” he explains.
“I don’t know why God made me this way. I should really absorb this stuff… maybe I feel like I don’t deserve it.”
“I think those people are doing it because they’re trying to identify with that ferocity from your career and they find it inspiring.”
“But they never knew that I was afraid,” he says. “If they knew I was afraid I would respect that tattoo. But they don’t know that, they think I’m an animal. They can’t wait to see me beat somebody again. That’s how the tickets were sold, the great fighter had to be a great entertainer and make the people feel in awe.”
It’s a hard thing to hear him say. People know he was afraid—fear is the most relatable of all emotions, most of us are scared multiple times every single day. Tyson is just one of the few willing to admit it. It’s not Tyson’s ferocity that inspires people; it’s his unabashed humanity.
Mike Tyson certainly doesn’t have all the answers, but he does possess a wealth of wisdom, as well as curiosity, empathy, intelligence and humor. He’s a man trying to do his best for himself, his loved ones and others, grateful for the opportunity to wake up each morning. That’s the perception people have of Mike Tyson in 2022. Perhaps someday he’ll see it in himself.