The Undisputed Foof

By Joe Masterleo on November 20, 2013
The Undisputed Foof
Tyson was boxing's most feared anti-hero, a mutant fugitive from its gruesome laboratory.


In “Undisputed Truth,” Mike Tyson’s new tell-all memoir and HBO stage show, the ex-heavyweight champ reveals sordid dimensions of himself heretofore undisclosed, combined with a surprising intelligence, fund of knowledge and refreshing wit that borders on hilarity. Tyson, with an assist from producer Spike Lee, manages to hold his live audience captive by making the dramatic futility of his topsy-turvy life entertaining. Among other things, such theater again underscores the mysterious relationship between apparent opposites—comedy and tragedy—the former being the sleeping but active partner of the latter. In “Undisputed Truth,” Lee and Tyson play on them both with pitifully masterful aplomb.

Iron Mike, the self-proclaimed “baddest man on the planet” with the evil countenance of a crazed gargoyle, and whose aggressive style once intimidated opponents with the forceful rat-a-tat of a jack-hammer, in reality was a boyish clown on the inside—a confused, enraged, isolated and hurting little boy, fearful of getting picked-on and bullied by the gang. The child, after all, is father to the man. A child all right, a lost father-less urchin, who, left to his own counter-phobic and street-wise devices made himself into the ring’s most feared anti-hero, a mutant fugitive from boxing’s gruesome laboratory. If Muhammad Ali was the impish face of boxing in America during the 60’s and 70’s, Mike Tyson bears within his soul the multiple demons of contemporary America; narcissistic, impulsive, tattooed, violent, filthy rich, woefully impoverished, flashy, wasteful, vulgar, undisciplined, loud, overindulged and addictive, to name but a few.

History left it for Buster Douglas to discover Tyson’s innermost frailties in Tokyo, exposing before the world his soft personal underbelly; that Mike’s fiercely intimidating offense was merely his best (fear-based) defense. Douglas was Tyson’s Waterloo, his 911, the David to his invincible Goliath facade. And as we all learned with Sonny Liston, a bully once exposed, quits. Douglas showed that the intense, hyper-aggressive (and unconditioned) Tyson could not fight backing-up. Lest we forget, following the deaths of handlers Cus D’Amato and Jimmy Jacobs, Tyson lacked the emotional stability to lend the kind of self-imposed structure to his life without such prudent mentors to keep him in line. And Don King? Puh-leeze. King was the proverbial fox guarding the Tyson hen house, the opportunistic vulture who picked Tyson clean, catalyzing Mike’s inevitable unraveling. 

Muhammad Ali, the once proud and handsome face of boxing’s franchise now resides behind a frozen Parkinsonian mask, his once glib tongue now thick and all but silenced. And Tyson? Tragically, now an Undisputed Foof, Spike Lee’s dramatic production having done little for Tyson’s image or reputation, save in the eyes of a few avid hangers-on. For Tyson, as his recent performance demonstrates, remains woefully schizoidal; at the same time grandiose and self-loathing, arrogant and vulnerable, self-absorbed and naïve, needy and isolated, tearful and rageful, articulate and vulgar, disciplined and addictive. Says here, a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways, as a nation divided against itself will sooner topple—each mirroring the other. Sure, Mike has matured as a man, husband and father. Uh huh, and global-warming will sooner be flooding our coastlines. 

Nonetheless, such realities are of little consequence to a competitively-based, sports-crazed nation bent on idolizing its athletic heroes in proportion to their short-lived entertainment value. After all, as to his current value on the stage (circus sideshow?) as evidenced in “Undisputed Truth,” isn’t that how Spike Lee has packaged and presented this tragic-comic figure to us? Shades of a broke and washed-up Joe Louis, no longer in boxing’s limelight, passing himself off as a professional wrestler. Shameful, is what it is. At root, a travesty. How we like to see our heroes rise, then stumble and fall. It’s the oldest motif in Greek and Shakespearean theater, and we never seem to tire of its re-play, often paying handsomely for same.

Expecting otherwise from a consumerist populace hell-bent on entertainment worshipping its next celebrity-athlete, is like expecting pitiable Tyson to sooner be whole without further owning, confronting and defeating his own inner demons.

You might better expect Ali to dance again, or playfully recite his poetry.

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Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth (HBO Sports)



Mike Tyson VS James Buster Douglas 1990-02-11



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  1. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 11:27am, 11/23/2013

    Joe Masterleo-Yank them chains….rattle them cages….tweak them noses….truth is a bitch! Which reminds me….years ago my friend painted his house what he described as “dog vomit green”.....of course he was bat shit crazy…otherwise a really great American…...God rest his eternal soul.

  2. Joe Masterleo 07:05am, 11/23/2013

    Thanks for your observation, Nicolas.  However, it says here Tyson has done for boxing what Jesse James did for rail travel, what Bernie Madoff did for investing, what the mafia has done for law, order and decency in America.  Boxing has long-since needed a regulatory body to clean it up. Until such time, the sport will continues to attract, develop, promote and perpetuate its low-life reputation.  By history, such unsavory elements have become so normalized in the sport, that they are now an ingrained part of its character—irreversibly so.  And the reason?  It sells, appealing to the basest in human nature.  In Tyson and others like him, boxing gets what it deserves.  A dog, after all, always returns to its vomit, and a pig to the mire it prefers to wallow in.

  3. nicolas 03:29am, 11/23/2013

    Joe, with all due respect, I think it is wrong to say that Mike Tyson did nothing for boxing. I think he became a very popular fighter at the time, and his defenses of his title I thought were at least against legitimate challengers, which I did not always feel that Larry Holmes, of even Muhammad ALi in his second career as champion always exemplified. While he was fighting, I was not rooting for him to win, but I do root for him now to succeed, and find some peace. Tyson has been a man we have seen at his worst, but occasionally I have seen a man who is polite, and I suppose that is what we would like to see at the end. At the same time, I do think his show is a little silly.

  4. Mike Casey 07:34am, 11/22/2013

    Very good article, Joe - and a very good response below.

  5. Joe Masterleo 04:29am, 11/22/2013

    Mr. Gallender:

    I can think of better people in history, and boxing history, to be an advocate for.  Apparently, Sonny is your man.  So be it.  Writing a book, like writing a column, entitles a man to nothing, save an opinion, and yours has been made.  Enough already.  However, I do suspect that you’d be among those in the Tyson audience who’d have applauded his performance, and life, much as you have Liston’s.  I’m not threatened by that.  In today’s word, its become very avante-garde for social misfits to be paraded before the public as downtrodden and misunderstood souls, their anti-social ways and criminal records rendered as excuses for their deplorable ways.  Count me as not among them.  Truth be told, like Tyson, Liston and only Liston is responsible for the public image that he created.  Is there ‘good’ in such creatures?  Sure, but one must look real hard for it.  After all, even rotten apples have streaks of healthy pulp in them, as do cancer riddled bodies a few wholesome cells.  But not enough to make the redeemable or declare them noteworthy, not to mention exemplary.  Like Tyson, Sonny has done little for boxing, save to enhance the dark-side of its long and sordid history.  Certainly, such folk have their place in history, as do evils of all kinds.  By contrast, darkness does make light appear all the more brilliant in its appearance.  Other than that, darkness has no useful purpose.  Unless, of course, for some peculiar reason, one succumbs to, identifies with, or is fascinated by it.  As for Tyson and Liston-types, the best of what boxing and the world are all about can surely do without them.

  6. beaujack 09:30pm, 11/21/2013

    Irish Frankie, I was enjoying this thread very much, until you posted
    the vile name of Martin Bashir of NBC…Scum pond as you describe him
    isn’t adequate to describe this pig. I no longer watch NBC for not firing this filthy mouthed animal. Thanks Irish, now I don’t feel so alone…

  7. Paul Gallender 08:39pm, 11/21/2013

    Yes, Joe, I noticed that was an article on Mike Tyson. But, to make a point, you reduced the life and career of Sonny Liston to 13 words - 13 misinformed words. Touchy? Sonny never had anybody who had his back, but now he does and it’s a job I obviously take very seriously. I gather that you think Liston was legitimately knocked down and beaten in Lewiston. Is that correct? What’s my excuse for him in that fight? I don’t need an excuse because I know the reason why Sonny threw that fight. It’s in my biography of Liston, approximately half of which is devoted to the two Ali fights. I know you haven’t read my book and I don’t expect you to. But you know very little about what happened in either of those two fights and I know more about those two fights than anyone because I took the time and effort to research them. You say Sonny threw punches with both hands with great force and because he didn’t wince, that is your evidence that there was nothing wrong with his left shoulder in Miami? His left was useless for most of the first fight. His arm was basically broken and if I were in the corner of any fighter in such a condition, I wouldn’t have let him fight on. The sport is barbaric enough without sending a one-armed fighter out to fight. I’m not looking for sympathy for Sonny, nor did he ever seek it. The only thing I’m interested in, in relation to Sonny or anything or anyone else, is the truth. And I will not let people continue to unfairly badmouth this man without responding. Oh, and Sonny did fight most of his first bout with Marty Marshall with a broken jaw and I never read anything about him wincing. You have no idea how tough this man was. He was a person and he could be a thug when he wanted to be. The fact is, he had to be a thug to survive for as long as he did.

  8. Joe Masterleo, column author 06:29pm, 11/21/2013

    To Pete the Shark:  Says here Mike Tyson has always been a circus side-show act in boxing, punching power notwithstanding.  That he was not barred from boxing following the ear-biting episode with Evander Holyfield is a disgrace to himself, the sport and those who oversee it. 

    To Mr. Crawford:  No, the word “foof” is no misprint.  Its description(s) fit Tyson perfectly.  I suggest that you look it up, as ‘foofs’ of various sorts are not unknown to boxing.

    To Mr. Gallender:  Thanks for enlightening me on Liston’s shoulder.  Apologies for stepping on Sonny’s toes, and apparently, your very informed, factual (and touchy) boxing ego.  However, if you hadn’t noticed, the column is on Tyson, not Liston, a thug of an altogether different variety.  As for the so-called “phantom-punch” that dropped Sonny in Lewiston Me. in the 2nd Ali fight, Rocky Marciano was at ringside calling the fight on radio.  Upon witnessing the controversial punch (jab), both Marciano and co-announcer Howard Cosell observed that its force “couldn’t have crushed a grape.”  Now, what’s your excuse for Sonny on that one?  Sorry, when you’re the heavyweight champion of the world, you don’t quit on your stool, no matter what.  Liston was being humiliated in that fight, had no problem missing punches that he threw with great force (both arms/shoulders) and without a single wince.  He quit in the same way that ‘no mas’ Duran quit, and for the same reasons.  Lesser fighters have continued with far worse injuries, like broken jaws and hands, and vision all but obscured.  Therefore, like Tyson, he gets no sympathy here.

  9. Paul Gallender 11:40am, 11/21/2013

    “And as we all learned with Sonny Liston, a bully once exposed, quits.” I never learned that. So, Joe, how did you learn that? Did David Remnick teach you that about Sonny, or was it Thomas Hauser? How much research have you done into Sonny’s career and, specifically, on that first Ali fight? You apparently don’t know or choose to not believe that it was Sonny’s corner that stopped the fight. Do you know that Liston’s shoulder was injured so badly before the fight that he sought a postponement and that after the fight, the eight examining physicians unanimously concluded that the fight should have been stopped because the injury would have prevented Sonny from defending himself? Fights are stopped on cuts which are far less debilitating injuries than being unable to use one’s left hand. You’re a good writer, Joe, but stick to what you know. And you don’t know Sonny Liston, so go insult somebody else.

  10. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 08:07am, 11/20/2013

    Joe Masterleo-Was that a misprint….“foof”....I’m not even going to bother googling it….not to worry….. I still am very much in awe of your worldly wordliness. When you referred to death as “leaving the field of time” in your previous article, this ancient sturgeon gobbled it up hook, line, and sinker. Which reminds me…we all like KOs on this site….just wondering…...how any of us would like to have this misunderstood, disadvantaged youth (even at age twelve for that matter) walking up to you in Crown Heights or anywhere else for that matter,  juiced to the gills with adrenaline and primed to unload on you with a world class blind side, sucker punch (it’s the punch you don’t see that gets you.) Which reminds me….since pond scum like Martin Bashir certainly won’t give you a head’s up…I’ll do it….be super vigilant of your surroundings when out and about especially if you you preferredr head cover is a yarmulke or you suffer from a deficiency of melanin.

  11. Pete The Sneak 06:43am, 11/20/2013

    Mike Tyson is a drug addict as well as a mentally and emotionally unstable individual who can both relapse and/or go off at any time. He has repeatedly stated this and admits it makes it difficult for him to be the ‘mature husband, person and father’ he would like to be as a result. I’m no Tyson apologist nor excuse maker and I’m a firm believer in you make your bed, you sleep in it. However, being around and growing up amid drug addicts my whole life, the few individuals I’ve seen try to rehab and make it back to some type of normalcy in their lives need a strong outlet to keep their minds away from the thoughts of shooting up, snorting or popping. It can be working in a community center, teaching and counseling young kids, sports, or anything that you feel may be worthwhile to just get you through another day without walking to the corner to cop some dope. I believe Tyson is doing the same thing, only obviously on a much grander scale. Sure he needs the money and has all types of Tax issues with the government, but I disagree with your assessment of Tyson being a ‘Circus Side Show’ for Spike Lee. I don’t care who you are, rich or poor, If you’re a recovering addict, it takes a lot of cojones to get up in front of total strangers and bare your soul, up to and including having to discuss the death of your young child. Heck, psychiatrists will charge you a grip just to talk about such things. We may very well all be discussing next week that Tyson has indeed relapsed, or was arrested or involved in something criminal. But such is the life of an addict. They will never be ‘whole’ for the rest of their lives. I only wish other recovering addicts were able to receive the same type of ‘Undisputed Truth’ therapy Tyson is getting at this point. Imagine talking and sharing your life experiences with others and getting paid for it…Peace.

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