Otherwise it's a one-man show, a Tyson appearance, another opportunity to examine his growth in a society he says confines and betrays him. The purity of his effort and desire in the ring is no longer suspect. He really does want to fight and to fight well. He is driven by a historical imperative to join the ranks of the truly great and, maybe more important, to fulfill the hopes and dreams of the people closest to him. The heavyweight championship is something Cus D'Amato, Tyson's late mentor, dreamed of long ago when Tyson was just a ward of the state. And after Saturday's bout, having added the WBA belt to his WBC belt, he looked skyward and said, "Cus, two down and one to go."
As Tyson continues to consolidate his fame and fortune, concern has been voiced over what use he might put them to. The Reverend Jesse Jackson, a Tyson friend who baptized him a religion ago and who was at the Seldon fight, doubts that the fighter has the "penchant for social awareness" that Muhammad Ali had. Still, he seems to gape at the forum Tyson is building. "Mike can defeat anyone. That is an awesome statement among four billion people," said Jackson last Saturday, pointing out Tyson's tremendous potential "to engender a feeling of conquest and heroism."
If Tyson does not have Ali's interest in being a leader, he seems less and less interested in playing the victim. In a confab with a group of writers last week, remarkable in itself, given the furtiveness of his comeback campaign, Tyson seemed less suspicious of others and more at ease with himself. He was his natural contradictory self, at one point boasting of his ability to generate $30 million with one punch, at another saying he might give up his possessions in the near future. But, even as he was proclaiming his misery—"In 30 years of life I have never been happy"—he still seemed to be much more serene than ever before, even pleased with himself. "I didn't think I would make it this far," he said. "I was drinking every day, fighting guys on the street, hanging out with bizarre women. But those days are gone. That guy is dead."
Stewing about the parole conditions that keep him caged only a little less than his $250,000 white tiger, Kenya, he said, "I would like to go to Europe and explore different situations. Before, I'd go and visit dens of inequity, stuff like that. There are places I could explore that are very positive, like the Louvre." Reminded that his very fame is a kind of prison—that a visit to a nightclub makes him vulnerable to all manner of charges—he said, "I got to get me another route now. They are going to have to catch me in the library."
He seems very self-aware, both as a person and as a fighter, but he is skeptical of the game that provides him fame and fortune. "I love a game that doesn't love me," he says. And he knows his Muslim religion prevents him from being boastful, but he is true enough to himself to acknowledge the terror he strikes in his opponents: "I give them reason to feel that way." Yet Tyson also knows he is not the horrifying apparatus he used to be. "I'm a better fighter than I was back then," he told ESPN the week before the fight, "but I couldn't beat that guy back then. That guy was awesome, a wild man."
In this introspection there is a sort of taunting, a reminder that he has been dangerous and can be again. One day he's remarking on the calming influence of religion, the next he's saying he's "dealing with some situations" and wouldn't be surprised to find himself back in prison. "This is not to be taken personally," he told the writers, "but I am just pissed off all the time."
This is purposefully vague, and intriguing. His fascination with rebellious characters like Jack Johnson is not supposed to make us sleep well at night. It's what makes him interesting, this primitive force trying to be true to himself in a society that would like him to be threatening, but at a distance, and with limits. Like a pet tiger, say.
Perhaps the consequences of such a life ought to fall to us, not him. He's a fighter, and that's what we ask him to be, pay him to be. So why be anxious if he refuses to tamp his personality into some little hole but tries instead to find his manhood in orchestrated violence. "I'd rather suffer than tolerate being dictated to," he said the other day, which is something none of his opponents can say.