Skip to main content

Controversial boxer Mike Tyson faces 'biggest fight' of his life

By Sarah Holt and Rachel Nichols
updated 8:14 PM EST, Fri December 20, 2013
  • Mike Tyson found fame as the youngest heavyweight world champion in 1986
  • The American now says: "I didn't like the person I was back then"
  • Tyson, who spent time in jail, says being responsible is now his biggest fight
  • At 47, Tyson hopes to use his life lessons to help young boxers

Watch Rachel Nichols' interview with Mike Tyson on Unguarded, which airs at 10:30 p.m. ET Fridays on CNN.

(CNN) -- Mike Tyson has always relied on a fighter's instinct -- both in and out of the boxing ring.

The American was once idolized as the youngest heavyweight champion of the world only to be swiped off his pedestal by criminal convictions and drug addictions.

But at the age of 47, and long since retired from the ring, the provocative pugilist told CNN he is only now facing his biggest battle.

"Being responsible - that's going to be the most difficult fight in my life," Tyson told CNN's Rachel Nichols for her Unguarded series.

"I've never been responsible before. Just being a good husband and a good father. This is the biggest fight. This is the fight I'm taking with open arms."

Tyson: Amazing no one killed me
Tyson: There's just some evil people
Mike Tyson tells his 'Undisputed Truth'

Tyson, who is married to Kiki, his third wife, and has fathered eight children, is determined to focus on his family and a new generation of young boxers after a high-profile and controversial career.

Fatherhood for the man dubbed "Iron Mike" is framed against his own experience as a shy kid turned street fighter growing up in the Brownsville area of Brooklyn.

"Drugs, thefts, gang infested, crime infested," Tyson recalled of his childhood neighborhood. "No hope.

"To this day, I can't figure how from there, at that particular time, I made it to where I am now."

A teenage Tyson, by now spending time in a reform school, found an exit when his talents in the ring were spotted by respected trainer Cus D'Amato.

At the age of 18, Tyson turned professional and was soon undefeated in 22 bouts. Two years later, in 1986, the young American knocked out Trevor Berbick to become the youngest heavyweight world champion in history.

Tyson went undefeated for another four years but, with the benefit of hindsight, he now sees that heady era of fame and fortune very differently.

"I don't like that time in my life," Tyson continued. "I didn't like the person I was back then.

"Even with all that money and all that success I had, I didn't get anything done. My kids never saw me. I was a horrible father."

There were more life lessons for Tyson when in 1992 he was found guilty of rape and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

On his release, the Brooklyn boxer returned to the ring but controversy soon followed in the infamous "bite fight" against Evander Holyfield.

During the duo's second heavyweight title bout in 1997, Tyson chewed off a chunk of Holyfield's ear. He was later served with a one-year boxing ban.

Read: Evander Holyfield joins fight for Syrian refugees

But just as Tyson's reflections of the highs have changed over time, the same can be said of these low points.

Commenting on the so-called "bite fight" Tyson said: "Even though I was an undisciplined it was the only way I could get any kind of relief.

Tyson and Morgan fight it out
Mike Tyson: My mom was complex
Tyson: I was a psychological fighter

"I'm sad I bit his ear. I really am sorry because I like Evander, he's a good guy, a really good guy."

Of the rape charges, Tyson contemplated: "That may cause more controversy in my life, but that's not the lowest moment of my life."

In his interview with Nichols, he describes the tragic death of his four-year-old daughter Exodus in 2009 as his nadir.

The highlights for the 47-year-old Tyson, who is tentatively clean from his addictions, remain ahead.

"I'm accomplishing so much and getting so much done now as a human being, than I could've ever done back then in the prime of my fighting career," he explained.

"The best I am, and the best I've ever been, is right now. This is the best I'm going to ever be, compared to who I was before. "

Tyson retired from the ring in 2005 and has been fighting his way out of bankruptcy with a one-man Broadway show, cameos in Hollywood films and now as author of his autobiography "Undisputed Truth."

There is also a new project that may bring his career full circle. Tyson, under the umbrella of Iron Mike Productions, is now working as a promoter for a batch of promising young boxers.

"I'll give them the best advice I possibly can," said Tyson. "I'm just never gonna baby them. This is just what it is, you know.

"They have to be responsible, like I wasn't. I wasn't a responsible fighter."

Out of the ring, Tyson, with his trademark black tattoo arcing over his left eye, is looking for responsibility and perhaps even redemption at last.

Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Wed May 7, 2014
Photography can really pack a punch. Catch up with all the best shots from around the world with our weekly sports gallery.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Wed May 7, 2014
Of course not. But former Fulham owner Mohamed Al Fayed seems to think the removal of Michael Jackson's statue was a very "bad" idea.
updated 12:36 PM EDT, Wed May 7, 2014
Second-tier French side Clermont Foot appoint Helena Costa -- the country's first ever professional female coach of a male team.
updated 11:13 AM EDT, Mon April 28, 2014
San Francisco 49ers owner and co-chairman John York speaks to CNN about Michael Sam and the upcoming NFL Draft.
updated 1:33 PM EDT, Fri April 25, 2014
The All Blacks and their fans are focused on one thing, says Dan Carter: becoming the first rugby nation to win back-to-back World Cups.
updated 9:08 AM EDT, Fri April 4, 2014
The 2002 bomb attacks in Bali had many victims -- including a touring rugby team from Hong Kong.
Photographer Danny Lyon spent three days with Muhammad Ali in 1972 and shares his best photos and memories of the champ.
updated 7:54 AM EST, Tue February 25, 2014
With a growing audience boosted by the drama of ice hockey on show in Sochi at the Winter Olympics, can the sport capitalize on its popularity?
updated 6:25 AM EST, Mon January 20, 2014
Her paintings may sell for thousands of dollars, but she is best known for a modeling shot 50 years ago that helped launch a business empire.
updated 12:01 PM EST, Thu January 9, 2014
When the eye of the storm closes in most people head home -- but for these surfers it's a different story.
updated 9:45 AM EST, Mon January 6, 2014
Gareth Evans is a school teacher in South Africa. In 1983, he attended a "rebel tour" cricket match against the West Indies.
updated 10:07 AM EST, Tue December 17, 2013
In the wake of protests in his native Ukraine, heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko has turned his back on boxing to focus on his political ambitions.
updated 5:20 AM EDT, Fri August 9, 2013
Former pole vaulter Sergei Bubka is running to be president of the International Olympic Committee.
The Olympics must use its global reach and immense popularity to help save a generation, says sporting icon Sergei Bubka.
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Wed August 7, 2013
CNN's Fred Pleitgen exposes a history of German government-funded doping throughout the Cold War.
updated 12:28 PM EDT, Tue April 9, 2013
A competitor crosses the erg Znaigui during the second stage of the 26rd edition of the 'Marathon des Sables', on April 4, 2011, some 300 Kilometers, South of Ouarzazate in Morocco. The marathon is considered one of the hardest in the world, with 900 participants having to walk 250 kms (150 miles) for seven days in the Moroccan Sahara.
A six-day run that covers more than 220 km through the scorching heat of the Sahara desert has been billed as the "World's toughest race."
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Wed April 10, 2013
He plays the only sport approved by the Taliban, a game he learned as a war refugee in Pakistan.