Meet the new Mike Tyson, not like the old

Associated Press
FILE - In this Oct. 13, 2010, file photo, Mike Tyson watches an NBA preseason basketball game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings in Las Vegas. Tyson will be heading to China in December to help promote boxing there.  (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, File)
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FILE - In this Oct. 13, 2010, file photo, Mike Tyson watches an NBA preseason basketball game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings in Las Vegas. Tyson will be heading to China in December to help promote boxing there.

One little blond kid was bouncing on Mike Tyson's left leg, while his equally blond toddler brother occupied the other. The former baddest man on the planet once threatened to eat children, but now he was playing with two.

"Me and this baby stuff," Tyson said as he waited patiently for the children's father to take a picture with his cell phone. "You believe I'd be doing this stuff?"

Ah, no. Unfortunately, there were precious few cuddly kid moments I witnessed in the years I spent covering the meteoric rise and fall of the ferocious fighter the world was always so infatuated with.

I did see a lot of other moments, some riveting, others simply disgusting. Tailing along while Tyson tried to break arms, bite ears and knock guys silly wasn't always for the faint of heart, even if you stayed well away from the ring.

He was a brute of a fighter. He was even worse as a man.

"I got intoxicated with myself," Tyson admitted. "I didn't know how empty I was as the champ."

He hasn't been a champ now for 14 years, and hasn't fought for real in five. There will be no return to the ring, he assured me the other day, even if his legions of fans still believe that the Tyson of today could be the Tyson of 20 years ago.

He, more than anyone, knows better. He's known it for longer than you might think, but the money kept coming and he kept fighting even when he was just going through the motions.

Even that was better than his second life as the former Mike Tyson. A freak show when he was fighting, he became even freakier as a bankrupt junkie who ballooned to 351 pounds and seemed headed either to prison or an extra large casket.

But he's given up the drugs, and lost much of the weight. He hasn't stepped foot in a strip club in two years.

And, incredibly, he's now in the middle of the most improbable comeback of all.

Meet the new Mike Tyson. Entertainer, actor, dancer and, yes, comedian extraordinaire.

Watch his latest video. Book him for your next event.

"I took myself way too seriously then, but now I'm a big clown," Tyson said. "I'm fine with that."

So are a lot of other people, who are discovering a side of Tyson that would have been unimaginable in the days he was beating up people for a living. They saw him steal a scene in the hit movie "The Hangover," and watched him dance with Wayne Brady in a hilarious online video remake of the Bobby Brown classic "Every Little Step."

Making fun of himself comes easy these days for Tyson, and he's good at it. But there's more to come in his odd career path.

He's going to be featured on cable TV early next year in a series on raising the pigeons he loves. He's makes appearances, and he's got plans to display his tattooed face on the big screen once again.

"I'm going to do some more acting. We're doing some serious stuff," Tyson said. "I'm talking big budget movie."

That kind of talk would have been absurd even a few years ago when Tyson narrowly escaped a prison term for cocaine possession. Tragedy followed last year when one of his daughters died at her Phoenix home after being caught up in a cord on a treadmill.

He brought up his daughter when we talked, and it's clear he's still pained by her death. But he also spoke with excitement about the Feb. 1 due date for the boy he and his new wife are expecting.

The battle with drugs, Tyson says, is a daily fight that he must wage to stay clean. So far it's working, as is the vegetarian diet that has him weighing in about the same as he did late in his career.

"Not a vegetarian, a Vegan," Tyson corrected me. "I eat stuff like grapes, penne pasta and mushrooms."

New food. New life. New career. Best thing yet, though, in the reinvention of Mike Tyson, though, might be his new attitude.

"You reach a point in your life where you find out all you believed in life was a lie and you want to start life all over again," Tyson said. "I want to be a good person, not just be known as a great person."

This was about the time I began wondering just how many acting lessons Tyson had been taking. If this was an act, though, he will do well in movies.

Is Tyson really rehabilitated? Who knows, but he does seem at peace with himself after long tortured years of trying to figure out why everyone wanted to be around him and why nearly everyone wanted a piece of him.

"From the day I was born to 18 months ago I was some crazy tough guy," Tyson said. "I had an interesting ride, but I'm not bitter. I'm just grateful with my life and what it now is."

Our talk was about over, and it was time for Tyson to go to work. On this day it would be making an appearance with two Chinese businessmen who are paying him good money to go to China in December to promote boxing there.

First there was a photo with the kids, who seemed to enjoy their time on his lap. Picture finally taken, their mother gathered them up with a few words of comfort.

"See, he's not so tough after all," she said.

Not anymore he's not. The new Iron Mike wasn't even tempted to nibble at her kids.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org

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