Sylvester Stallone, Mike Tyson

Star billing: Sylvester Stallone and Mike Tyson at the International Boxing Hall of Fame ceremony in New York.
Source: The Daily Telegraph

FOR my generation, he was The Generation.

Mike Tyson lit up the sky like no fighter had before.

Not better, not even brighter. But Tyson suited his generation as perfectly as a humble Joe Louis did segregated America or Muhammad Ali did when it came time for integration.

Tyson was the MTV generation, pop culture royalty.

The original Baddest Man On The Planet.

Somehow he survived this, and his reward came yesterday in New York when he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

“I’ve got to be goofy about this,” he began his induction speech, “or I’ll get emotional up here.”

Then he began to tell the story we know so well.

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There was the juvenile delinquent sent away: “I was in reform school because I was always robbing people.”

And the home’s social worker who discovered him, Bobby Stewart, and his decision to take him to the old fox, Cus D’Amato, because he believed D’Amato was the only one who would know how to handle the young Tyson.

We knew all this.

We knew D’Amato promised him that if he stayed focused he would become the youngest heavyweight ever, and he did … a year after D’Amato died.

“All this stuff started when I met Cus, and Bobby Stewart,” Tyson said.

Despite his promise to be goofy, the moment caught him. And so at times Tyson paused, and then the crowd encouraged him, and he went on again, until finally he was overcome. “Hey guys, I can’t even finish this stuff. Thank you. Thank you,” he said.

Also inducted were Kostya Tszyu, Julio Cesar Chavez, Sylvester Stallone, referee Joe Cortez and Mexican trainer Nacho Beristain.

And Tyson, now having travelled full circle.

Now 44, yesterday’s Tyson was the original Tyson, the fighter filled with respect and an encyclopedic knowledge of boxing folklore, who sat in a darkened room at D’Amato’s home in the Catskills in upstate New York watching old 8mm film of Jack Dempsey and Benny Leonard and Louis.

Between then and now he has lived a dozen lives. Wealthy and bankrupt, ferocious and fragile, he has been revealed as an idol, a rapist, a thug, a spokesman, a cult figure. He has been loved and hated and adored and pitied.

He has been all that, because he was all that.

What else do you expect from a man whose career launched in, really, the only way possible for a man of his generation.

Tired of all those heavyweight champions wearing all those belts, an American television network promoted a round-robin tournament in the mid-1980s with the champions and leading contenders involved, the plan being to finish with one legitimate world heavyweight champion.

Originally, Tyson, not ranked in the top 10, wasn’t part of it.

But when a fighter starts his career with 19 straight knockouts, 12 in the first round, television executives take note.

Boxing was dying as the generations turned away, disillusioned. Then came Tyson, his left hook falling Trevor Berbick three times, to win the heavyweight title in 1986.

He quickly went beyond boxing, beyond even sport.

It was not just the knockouts, which packaged perfectly for the highlight reels.

Tyson had a menace that spoke to a generation of fractured youths, their voices being heard in the music born for their generation, rap music.

Tyson, who took apart his opponents’ masculinity in the ring, suited this new world perfectly.

He has lived a dozen lives in the years since – his latest incarnation being the comedy figure for his appearances in The Hangover franchise – and together they add up to what he was all along, a pop culture icon. But at the heart is a fighter and, yesterday, he was acknowledged for that in the only way fitting.

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