Mike Tyson was known for fierce, lightning, knockout punches that ended a fight before it even started.
So when opening night of his one-man show at MGM Grand paid so little attention to Tyson's legacy as one of the greatest boxers ever, I was left wanting to remember more of why we should cheer for him. I walked out of the Hollywood Theater reminded of a concert by a legendary singer who did not perform his greatest hits.
Although the show has onstage support of a dynamic backup singer and band, it has very little to do with boxing. A multimedia display of photos and videos could have provided more highlights from the champ's heyday. But instead, the show concentrated more on his failings and self-destruction.
Watch the video in the right sidebar. I would have liked to have seen more of that.
The scene in the video in which Tyson stands on the ropes and pumps both fists in the air in triumph is what I hoped to see more of during his Las Vegas show — a former champion who has beaten his weaknesses and returned to claim his legacy. After all, the reason we cared so much about Tyson's failings is the lofty throne from which he fell and the youth that had to bear the burden of fame.
The name of Tyson’s show, “Undisputed Truth,” likely had its producers thinking the former champ would have to deal with his stormy and violent marriage to Robin Givens and his 1992 conviction in the rape of Desiree Washington, which landed him in prison.
Yet during the show, Tyson repeatedly called them "bitches" and blamed them for his failings. Such a cliched reaction from anyone with a history of abuse is more likely to draw resentment than inspire sympathy from an audience.
Adding to the air of misogyny is Tyson's willingness to pardon the men with whom he's most famously clashed. He claims to have made peace with promoter Don King, who Tyson said robbed him of a fortune, and Evander Holyfield, the victim of the ear-biting incident in 1997 that sent the champ into boxing exile. Tyson would come off a little more heroic had he decided to make amends with the women in his life.
The audience in the mostly filled showroom laughed nervously during the show. For his part, Tyson — looking fit in a suit with a shirt unbuttoned at the collar — often apologized for swearing and tried to maintain eye contact with the audience. He made self-deprecating jokes, at one point alternating a picture of him on a poster promoting the New York Police Department with a jail mug shot from Los Angeles. At other times he offered some off-key singing on a couple of the musical numbers that were transitions for his story.
Tyson's story starts poignantly enough, with his story of growing up in the projects in New York City, ignored by his parents and struggling to pull himself out of poverty. You could easily see him as a real-life Terry Malloy, the fictional character played by Marlon Brando in "On the Waterfront." But Tyson got what Malloy never did, the chance not only to be a contender but to rule the world as the youngest heavyweight champion. Tyson squandered his shot.
Still, we want to root for Tyson, as evidenced by the standing ovation on opening night. That reaction may say more about our times than it does about his performance. We may have seen so much suffering through economic catastrophes and war that we're willing to applaud someone we think has lost more.
Friday, I went to the show not knowing what to expect. It's tough to lower expectations for a show whose tickets start at $100 in a city with proven high standards for its showrooms. I would have liked to have seen a script in which Tyson knocks out his personal demons with the same voracity as he once punched opponents in the ring, instead of playing the role of a pathetic figure who bad-mouths women and blames the refs and just about everyone else for what he’s lost.
I want to see Mike Tyson be able to stand on the ropes with his hands once again held high.
Perhaps he isn't able to do that yet.
And that may tell us more of an undisputed truth than anything else.
“Undisputed Truth” runs nightly through Wednesday.