From Knockouts to Biting Ears: Mike Tyson’s Unusual Life

When we think about Mike Tyson, a few things come to mind: ear-biting, face tattoos, and his pet tigers. However, boxing fans know him as one of the greatest heavyweights of all time. Tyson was the youngest boxer to win a heavyweight title, and he had to overcome many obstacles to reach success.

Mike Tyson / Kiki Tyson, Mike Tyson / Mike Tyson, Exodus Tyson / Mike Tyson.
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Tyson ruled the ‘80s, but whatever you think you know about him is probably not the whole story. He survived growing up in an abusive household and put his focus on becoming a world boxing champion. Still, Tyson’s controversial career has been filled with defeat, triumph, and mistakes.

Where Is Mike Tyson From?

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1966, Mike Tyson had a rough childhood that set the tone for most of his life. His father abandoned the family when Tyson was two, leaving his mother, Lorna Smith Tyson, to raise her three children alone. She did what she could to provide for her kids.

Mike Tyson attends an event.
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His mom made money as a sex worker, but she couldn’t keep up with their financial burdens. Tyson and his family were forced to move to a rougher area when he was ten. The high-crime neighborhood influenced Tyson to run wild on the streets and steal things because he couldn’t afford them.

Eat or Be Eaten

Fights were a common occurrence in Tyson’s neighborhood. There was a lot of violence, and death was always around the corner. Self-defense became necessary, so Tyson learned to fight instead of getting beat up all the time. He showed boxing talent early on, which helped him in street fights.

A dated photo of Mike Tyson after a fight.
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Tyson got into trouble often and was arrested 38 times by age 13. Petty crime was a regular part of his life because he didn’t know better. He didn’t have a strong role model in his life to set him straight, and there weren’t many rules at home because his mom wasn’t around.

Someone Saw His Potential

He was a skilled fighter, but his talents were only used to fight those who mocked his high-pitched voice and lisp. As a result of his bad behavior, Tyson ended up at the Tryon School for Boys in Johnstown, New York. It was there that former boxer Bobby Stewart discovered Tyson.

A photo of a young Mike Tyson talking to his boxing coach.
Photo by Lori Grinker

Stewart worked as a juvenile detention center counselor and saw Tyson’s potential. He trained him for a few months before introducing Tyson to Cus D’Amato. The two knew that Tyson could do great things if he had the right training and guidance. Stewart hoped it would help Tyson learn discipline.

Tragedy Struck

D’Amato started training Tyson, and he became an important figure in the young boxer’s life. Their bond was deep because D’Amato was one of the only people around when Tyson’s mom died. He was only 16 and had no family to turn to. D’Amato then became his legal guardian.

A photo of Tyson and D’Amato during training.
Source: Pinterest

The loss impacted Tyson in many ways. He recalled that his mom was never happy or proud of him. She only saw him as the wild kid causing trouble on the streets. Tyson said, “I never got a chance to talk to her or know about her. It’s crushing emotionally and personally.”

He Showed Promise

In his first few matches, Tyson won Junior Olympic gold medals against Joe Cortez in 1981 and Kelton Brown in 1982. Tyson decided to drop out of high school to focus on his promising boxing career. It wasn’t long before he had a real professional break.

A dated photo of Tyson after a fight.
Source: Pinterest

On March 6, 1985, Tyson knocked out Hector Mercedes in the first round. He was just 18, and the fight led him on to a path of continued success and media interest. D’Amato and Kevin Rooney helped him become a rising star, which he never forgot.

He Kept Improving

The more Tyson fought, the more his speed and accuracy increased. His name alone intimidated opponents because he was compared to greats like Mouhammad Ali and Jack Dempsey. Although D’Amato’s death in 1985 hit Tyson hard, his career didn’t slow down.

A dated studio portrait of Tyson.
Photo by The Ring Magazine/Getty Images

Tyson used a “peek-a-boo” style to move in and out of his opponents’ punches while shortening the distance between his punches and the opponent. This unique style led to him delivering crushing defeats to many prominent boxers. He won 26 of his first 28 fights by KO or TKO.

An Easy Knockout

The high point of Tyson’s career came in 1988 when he fought former world title challenger Marvis Frazier. Tyson knocked the previously undefeated boxer unconscious 30 seconds into the fight. His triumph earned him his first title fight the following year against Trevor Berbick.

A picture of Tyson on a magazine cover.
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On November 22, 1986, Tyson won the World Boxing Council heavyweight championship by TKO in the second round. At just 20 years old, he became the youngest boxer to win the title. He then added the World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation titles to his list of wins.

“Tyson-Mania”

The expectations for Tyson were extremely high. He was the favorite to win the heavyweight unification series and defended his title against James Smith in 1987. Tyson’s win only increased his popularity, with the media dubbing the craze “Tyson-mania.” He ruled the decade.

A picture of Tyson in the boxing ring.
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Tyson kept winning, and he gained the attention of Nintendo. After watching one of his fights, Nintendo executives decided to include him in their new game Punch-Out because of his impressive fighting powers. The game was well-received and sold over a million copies.

Problems Outside the Ring

Although his success brought him fame and fortune, Tyson’s problems outside the ring started to emerge by the late ‘80s. In 1988, Tyson married actress Robin Givens, and their relationship was nothing short of dramatic. There were reports of spousal abuse and mental instability.

A portrait of Robin Givens and Tyson at home.
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During a joint interview with Barbara Walters, Givens described life with Tyson as “torture, pure h*ll, and worse than anything I could possibly imagine.” Tyson was sitting right next to her when she told the world that he was “manic depressive.” Givens filed for divorce a month later.

It Affected His Career

Amid his personal turmoil, Tyson parted ways with his manager Bill Cayton and fired Rooney as his trainer. Many credited Rooney for honing Tyson’s craft after D’Amato’s death. Firing Rooney was a poor decision because Tyson’s technique became sloppy, and he only had two fights in 1989.

A picture of Roberto Duran, Mike Tyson, Robin Givens, Kevin Rooney, and Don King at a press conference at the time.
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Tyson lost direction, and his life was in disarray. He started training less, and fans could tell he had lost his shine. Leading up to his fight against Buster Douglas, Tyson was the undefeated champion and the favorite to win, but he made mistakes.

A Big Defeat

When Tyson faced off against Douglas in February 1990, everyone was betting on him. In the eighth round, it looked like Tyson was going to win, but Douglas recovered. Unfortunately, he couldn’t find a way to get past Douglas’s 12-inch reach.

Tyson is holding his nose at a press conference.
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In the tenth round, his opponent unleashed a heavy beating, and Tyson was knocked down for the first time in his career. The defeat became known as the fight that brought down the “baddest man on the planet.” It was one of the most shocking upsets in modern sports history.

Another Great Loss

Just a few days after his defeat, Tyson’s older sister, Denise, was found dead by her husband at just 24-years-old. She reportedly died of cardiac arrest because she was severely overweight. Tyson stopped thinking about the fight and had to make arrangements for his sister.

A dated portrait of Denise.
Source: Pinterest

The tragic loss sent him on a downward spiral. Although he recovered by winning his next two fights, it didn’t make up for everything going on in his personal life. He was in the news for crashing his car into a tree and attacking a news crew during his morning run.

Partying Hard

When Tyson first started to make money, he returned to his neighborhood to help out those less fortunate. However, by 1990, Tyson was making upwards of $20 million per year. He started spending his money like crazy on cars, houses, jewelry, and clothes.

A photo of Tyson during a party.
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Instead of training, Tyson spent most nights partying until the sun came up. It affected his fights because he didn’t rest like his opponents. It seemed that Tyson cared more about spending than earning money. He didn’t handle his fame very well.

He Was Arrested

While the ‘80s were a time of triumph for Tyson, the ‘90s weren’t. In September 1991, Tyson was arrested for sexually assaulting 18-year-old Desiree Washington in an Indianapolis hotel room. He was there for the Black Expo, and the women went crazy for him.

Tyson’s mugshot.
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Jackie Boatwright-Daus, a 1991 Miss Black America pageant contestant, remembered seeing a woman take off her underwear and throw it at Tyson. He flirted with many of the pageant contestants at the expo. They were impressed because he was a big celebrity.

She Thought It Was an Innocent Date

Another pageant contestant, Parquita Nassau, said Tyson was Washington’s father’s hero. Nassau overheard that Washington was going on a double date with Tyson even though she was only 18. After the date, they went back to his hotel room, but Washington didn’t know what to expect.

A picture of Tyson and female guests during a party.
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Tyson was a strong man and could easily overpower a young woman. When he was arrested, Tyson was scared and claimed he didn’t hurt anyone or do anything. However, there were people who verified Washington’s story, and the police had enough evidence to take Tyson to trial.

Highly Publicized Trial

Before it began, everyone knew it would be a landmark trial. Everyone had different opinions, with some taking Tyson’s side and others believing Washington. The trial started on January 26, 1992 and lasted nearly a month. Everyone watched to find out Tyson’s fate.

A picture from the trial.
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Tyson’s chauffeur testified at the trial, confirming Washington was in a state of shock after the incident. Further testimony came from the emergency room doctor who examined Washington. They said her physical condition was consistent with sexual assault.

His Side of the Story

During the trial, Tyson claimed that everything that took place between him and Washington that night was consensual. He denied that he misled Washington and insisted that she wanted to sleep with him. Tyson added that he would never hurt a woman.

A portrait of Tyson during the trial.
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There was past evidence of Tyson being violent towards women, and his ex-wife had already made those rumors public. On February 10, 1992, Tyson was found guilty by the jury after they deliberated for ten hours. He was sentenced to six years in prison.

Trying for an Appeal

Tyson’s lawyer, Vince Fuller, did not help him at all. During the trial, Fuller basically said that Washington should have known better than going up to Tyson’s room. When Tyson was convicted, Tyson got a new lawyer to file an appeal.

An image of one of the witnesses in court.
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Alan Dershowitz claimed that the court excluded three potential defense witnesses, and the jury lacked instruction on honest and reasonable mistake of fact. The court of appeals ruled against Tyson’s appeal. However, he only served three years before being paroled.

Back to Business

After being paroled, Tyson jumped right back into the ring. His first comeback fight grossed over $96 million worldwide. The 89-second match against Peter McNeeley was seen as an easy win for the boxer. Tyson quickly earned back one of his titles.

A photo of Tyson during a press conference.
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While he was pulling in a lot of money for his fights, everyone still had a bad opinion about Tyson. Despite his talents in the ring, it didn’t change what he did in his personal life. In 1996, he lost to Evander Holyfield, when the latter was given no chance of winning.

An Ear-Biting Moment

On June 28, 1997, Tyson and Holyfield faced off again in a rematch. Tyson’s camp accused Holyfield of headbutting during their first fight, but the referee ruled them accidental. Therefore, the tensions were high as they stepped into the ring to fight again.

Tyson reacts after being disqualified.
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The fight started like any other boxing match, but it was cut short in the third round. Tyson was disqualified for biting Holyfield’s ears. His first bite was severe enough to remove a piece of Holyfield’s ear, which was later found on the ring floor.

It Ended in Controversy

The Tyson-Holyfield fight was highly anticipated, grossing $100 million. It was also the first heavyweight title fight in over 50 years to end in a disqualification. It went down as one of the most controversial events in modern sports and nearly caused a riot at the arena.

A picture from the ring.
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Nevada withheld $3 million from Tyson’s $30 million payouts, and he issued an apology two days after the fight. The Nevada State Athletic Commission also rescinded Tyson’s boxing license, preventing him from boxing in the US, and ordered him to pay the legal costs of the hearing.

A Dark Period

The negative aftermath of the Tyson-Holyfield fight took a toll on Tyson. People close to him said it seemed like he was battling his inner demons. He was in a dark place and dealt with it incorrectly. Tyson was accused of assaulting a man at a nightclub and a woman in Baltimore.

A photo of Tyson during a press conference.
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Tyson stopped drawing attention for being the champion boxer who came from the streets because people were more interested in the chaos that came with his presence. When he returned to the ring, his skills were weak, and he had lost his flair.

A Whole New Look

Most people forget that Tyson didn’t always have his recognizable face tattoo. Just a week before his fight against Clifford Etienne in 2003, Tyson decided to get a bold face tattoo. People said he chose to party and get a tattoo rather than train for the fight.

A portrait of Tyson at the time.
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He told his friend he got the tattoo because he hated himself and was sick of looking at himself in the mirror. The fight against Etienne turned out to be Tyson’s last professional victory. Tyson retired in 2005 after a string of defeats.

More Money, More Problems

Despite his massive earnings from his boxing career, Tyson filed for bankruptcy in 2003. He blew through nearly $300 million in ring earnings because he relied on others to manage his affairs. No one thought to tell him he was spending too much.

A photo of Tyson sitting on top of a car.
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He spent extravagantly on mansions, luxury cars, jewelry, and a few Bengal tigers. He also agreed to pay his second ex-wife, Monica Turner, $6.5 million in their divorce settlement. Unfortunately, he didn’t have that much to spend as he was reportedly $23 million in debt.

He Hit a Low

Tyson really wanted to be someone that others could respect. He struggled with his image and didn’t like who he had turned into. Tyson wanted to change, but he continued on his destructive path. In 2007, he pled guilty to drug possession and driving under the influence.

A photo of Tyson riding a car with friends at night.
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He had a long history of legal problems and admitted to using cocaine and being addicted to drugs. Tyson had been arrested after being spotted driving erratically upon leaving a nightclub, nearly colliding with a cop car. He also checked himself into rehab.

He Lost His Daughter

Tyson had seven children between his three marriages, and he tragically lost one of his daughters in 2009. His four-year-old daughter, Exodus, died in an accident on a treadmill in her home. He was completely devastated and filled with grief.

A video still of Tyson crying during an interview / A portrait of Exodus.
Source: Oprah

His friends rallied around him, and Tyson told someone he wished he had died in the past so he wouldn’t have to deal with the death of his daughter. While it was a tragic experience, the loss triggered a change in Tyson. It made him realize the importance of being a father.

He Lied

While Tyson had been telling many people that he was living a sober life, he revealed that he had been lying for two years. He shared that he was a “vicious alcoholic on the verge of death.” Tyson confessed that he had only been off drugs and alcohol for six days in an interview.

A photo of Tyson and his wife at the time.
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Tyson decided that it was time to apologize. He started making amends with people he hurt in the past, which couldn’t have been easy. Tyson wanted to make things better and put in a real effort after admitting to his lies.

Fear of Going Too Far

Throughout his life, Tyson has battled many demons. When he first rose to fame in the ‘80s, he feared his punches might kill his opponents. He had a unique ritual to combat that before each fight. According to his chauffeur, Tyson had to have sex before entering the ring.

Tyson speaks on stage during a conference.
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He would make his chauffeur find a girl, saying, “If I do not get laid, I will kill this guy right now.” Tyson knew his strength and knew he could kill someone, but we don’t know how sleeping with a groupie stopped him from doing that.

Another Pre-Fight Occurrence

While Tyson had rituals to prepare for fights, he also suffered from pre-fight anxiety. While waiting backstage, Tyson would break down in tears because his anxiety was overwhelming. He was afraid he wasn’t good enough and didn’t want to mess up.

A portrait of Tyson.
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Tyson wanted to be the best boxer in the world, and everyone put him on a pedestal. He was so afraid to lose and disappoint everyone rooting for him. He struggled before each fight and didn’t know how to cope well with those emotions.

Pigeon Boy

Tyson’s love of pigeons is almost so bizarre that it makes sense. He developed a love for the birds as a child when he felt disliked by his peers. Tyson found acceptance from the birds whom he fed and spent time with.

Tyson is kissing a pigeon.
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His first fight in childhood occurred because a bully killed one of Tyson’s pigeons. When he had a home in Phoenix, Arizona, Tyson kept 350 pigeons in the coop he built in his backyard. It seems Tyson loves to keep wild animals as pets.

He Really Owned a Tiger

Although it seemed like a funny gag in The Hangover, Tyson actually owned three Bengal tigers as pets. The 550-pound tiger named Kenya was Tyson’s pet for 16 years, and he slept with her and kept her in his room. However, he had to give her up.

Tyson poses with his white tiger for a portrait at home.
Photo by The Ring Magazine/Getty Images

Tyson revealed that Kenya lost her sight and strength in her hips, so he gave her to a wild cat sanctuary where she could receive proper care. Oh, and she also ripped off someone’s arm, so Tyson had to get her out of his house.

He Gives Back

Despite many of his past transgressions, Tyson still has a heart. In 2012, he launched the Mike Tyson Cares Foundation to give kids a “fighting chance” by providing innovative centers for children from broken homes. It was aimed at children who grew up as he had.

Tyson attends the launch party for
Photo by Marcel Thomas/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Tyson said, “I am a product of poverty, so I identify with the struggles that plague communities that feel hopeless and despair. I want my foundation to support community-based programs and turn hopelessness into hope.” He wants to change people’s lives.

How Tall Is Mike Tyson?

To help pay off his debts in 2006, Tyson announced that he would be doing a series of exhibition fights. He returned to the ring for the first time after his retirement for a fight against heavyweight Cory Sanders. Tyson was not the favorite to win.

Tyson attends an event.
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Standing at 5’10” and 216 pounds, Tyson was in quality shape but far from his prime, whereas Sanders was 6’6”. Tyson appeared to be “holding back” to prevent the fight from ending early. He wanted to make money and didn’t want the fight to end in a few seconds.

Hall of Famer

On June 12, 2011, Tyson was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame alongside Julio Chavez, Kostya Tszyu, and Sylvester Stallone. However, the Bleacher Report left him off its list of the top ten heavyweights. They didn’t believe he deserved a spot.

Tyson claps at the Boxing Hall of Fame event.
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The Bleacher Report said Tyson beat people who weren’t on his level but lost against elite fighters. While they didn’t believe he was a great boxer, the rest of the world had a different opinion. Tyson wouldn’t be a hall of famer if he didn’t deserve it.

Doctor Mike Tyson

As we said earlier, Tyson dropped out of high school before graduation and never continued his education. However, Central State University in Ohio awarded him with an honorary doctorate in 1989. The school’s president thought very highly of Tyson and his rags to riches story.

Tyson poses for the press.
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Tyson was also great for advertising to boost their application numbers. In 1989, Tyson was the king of the world, so who wouldn’t want to go to a school where he got a degree? While he may have shown that hard work and determination can help you overcome anything, it was more for marketing.

Iron Mike

After retiring from boxing, Tyson wanted to stay involved in the sport, so he started Iron Mike Productions in 2013. Its main motive is to promote boxing and feature championship fights. As someone who was a fighter, he had a lot of knowledge about the industry.

A photo of Tyson and his wife.
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The production company has put on many notable events and started featuring a music performer after the matches. Singers like Flo Rida, Waka Flocka, DMA, Travis Porter, and Fat Joe have all been a part of Tyson’s boxing events.

How Much Is Mike Tyson Worth?

Today, Tyson is worth about $10 million. Although he once made more than Michael Jordan in a year, the boxer blew through most of his money by the early 2000s. He had to sell most of his real estate and lavish items like his 50,000-square foot Connecticut home.

A dated picture of Tyson driving his Ferrari on the road.
Photo by The Ring Magazine/Getty Images

Over the years, Tyson worked hard to pay off his debts and earned money from television appearances, movie cameos, writing two books and competing in WWE events. He never wants to go back to being bankrupt because it was embarrassing for him to lose everything.

Legends Only League

In July 2020, Tyson announced the creation of Mike Tyson’s Legends Only League. The league provides retired professional athletes the opportunity to compete in their respective sports again. In November of that year, Tyson got back in the ring to fight Roy Jones Jr.

Mike Tyson enters the ring.
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The event was the highest-selling pay-per-view event of 2020, and Tyson made money as a fighter and event producer. He partnered with Sophie Watts and her company, Eros Innovations, to bring his idea to life. It has given him another chance to fight.

He Was a Vegan

For about four years of his life, Tyson ate a vegan diet. He started it when he claimed to be sober, but he wasn’t lying about being a vegan. However, he stopped being a vegan in 2013 and started eating chicken again, but he still doesn’t touch red meat.

A dated image of Tyson after winning a fight.
Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Tyson said, “I should be a vegan. I would be very sick if I ate red meat. That’s probably why I was so crazy before.” We never heard anyone say that red meat makes you crazy, but maybe that’s what helps him feel better about his muddy past.

Mid-Air Fight

Tyson is known for fighting in the ring, but he can also punch 30,000 feet in the air. In April 2022, Tyson allegedly punched a fellow passenger on a JetBlue flight because the man was harassing him. The boxer threw several punches at the back of the man’s seat.

A portrait of Tyson.
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According to Tyson, the passenger threw a water bottle at him while he was in his seat. The passenger, George Townsend III, was reportedly a “big fan” and “became overly excited when the former boxer boarded the plane.”

He Didn’t Get Charged

Luckily for Tyson, he won’t be charged for punching Townsend on the JetBlue flight. The San Mateo County District Attorney’s office decided to dismiss the case because of “the conduct of the victim leading up to the incident.” He provoked Tyson.

A photo of Tyson and his wife at the airport.
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Tyson’s lawyers thanked the DA and all the law-enforcement agencies involved for dealing with the case professionally. Townsend also refused to cooperate with investigators, so they didn’t have much evidence from his side.

Compared to Dennis Rodman

Recently, comedian Aries Spears, a well-known Shaquille O’Neal impersonator, compared Tyson to Dennis Rodman. Spears said, “They were out front and center in terms of who they were and what they were.” He meant the two never hid their personalities, good or bad.

A picture of Tyson.
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Spears might be on to something. Both Rodman and Tyson were in the news on and off the field during their careers. The two had larger-than-life images and were in the news for controversial reasons. However, the two aren’t friends, and Tyson isn’t a Rodman fan.

Tyson Doesn’t Like Dennis Rodman

Speaking of Rodman, Tyson has not said nice things about the former NBA star. He accused Rodman of treason and getting involved in anti-American activities, referring to his involvement in North Korea. He thought Rodman’s trip to the country was “politically incarnate.”

A portrait of Dennis Rodman.
Photo by Johnny Louis/Getty Images

Tyson went on to say, “He’s in another land, that’s an enemy of our land, and he’s talking on us.” The boxer believed Rodman spoke poorly about America to the North Korean dictator. It’s safe to say Tyson and Rodman won’t be friends anytime soon.

He Was Friends With Tupac

In the ‘90s, Tyson had a close relationship with the late rapper Tupac. He recently opened up about their friendship, sharing that Tupac visited him in prison when he was locked up for his 1992 assault conviction. Tyson said he met Tupac before he became famous.

A portrait of Tupac.
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When he started to make a name for himself in the boxing world, Tyson reconnected with Tupac through his mom. Tupac’s mom wrote him a letter when he was in jail, asking if her son could visit him. Tyson has also expressed that he feels responsible for the rapper’s death.

He Thinks He Got Tupac Killed

While many of us know that Tupac’s death was most likely gang-related, Tyson shared that he felt responsible for it. He said he invited the rapper to his fight, where Tupac got into an altercation with Orlando Anderson, a Crip, in the lobby of the MGM Grand.

A photo of Kiki Tyson and Mike Tyson during an event.
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Tyson believes if he hadn’t invited Tupac, the rapper would still be alive. Since Tupac’s death has never been solved, we can never know if the shooters were related to Anderson. That is a heavy weight for someone to carry, but we don’t blame Tyson for Tupac’s untimely death.