“Why Mike Tyson now? He’s in the midst of what seems like yet another comeback for this guy,” Byron Pitts of ABC News tells EURweb.com exclusively about the special four-hour documentary series on the life of the boxing legend set to air on May 25. “With his involvement in the movie about his life. His business ventures. It seems like, whether they’re real or imagined, that this new incarnation of Mike Tyson, we see a man who may finally be at peace. I say may, right? Because it’s never certain. So I think, as an organization, we just saw an opportunity to tell a story about this complicated American figure,” Pitts explained.
Per press release, “Mike Tyson: The Knockout” will put viewers ringside for the main event that will chronicle the former champion’s climb, crash and comeback, from his difficult childhood to becoming undisputed world champion to his 1992 rape conviction and his personal struggles. Through the lens of his life’s extreme highs and lows, the two-part primetime event will examine some of the most pressing questions about resilience and reinvention.
“Mike Tyson: The Knockout” will feature new interviews with actor and boxing enthusiast Rosie Perez, former President of HBO Sports Ross Greenburg, ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap, those in Tyson’s inner circle and more. It will also include exclusive ABC News archival material and previously unaired interview footage with Tyson, who reflects on what he has learned throughout his boxing career and his new outlook on life.
“I think there are reasons why the world has been curious about Mike Tyson since he was a teenager,” says Pitts. “I think there are a host of reasons. I mean, purely as a sports figure, as a boxer, his gifts, his success are undeniable. As a character, I think for me, as I see it, there’s a little bit of Mike Tyson, perhaps in all of us. All of us know a Mike Tyson. Someone who is, in some aspects of why charismatic, successful, he can dominate. Other aspects of life trouble, done bad things, reckless,” Pitts explains.
“And then finally, I think as human beings, we all, many of us, believe in the potential, if not the power of, redemption. And so I think are we finally now seeing the final redemption of Mike Tyson? So just, I think as storytellers, that’s a compelling story to tell,” he says.
“One of the things I like about the overall project, from my perspective, and our team did, I think, an exceptional job in preparing me with all the research and the thoroughness put into that. So I make the argument, I’ve seen, if not all, the vast majority of interviews Mike Tyson has given. long-form TV things that have been done about him. Books that have been written about him, I read those. And from my perspective, certainly in a broadcast medium, this is the most thorough look and Mike Tyson’s life, I think, given its fullest context as to who this guy is from a child to a 54-year-old man.”
Check out the rest of our Q&A with Byron below about what Tyson fans can expect to see in the 4-hour docuseries. He also shares further insight about the superstar via his one-on-one conversation with the controversial influencer.
How did the team behind this project narrow down which aspects of Tyson’s life and career they wanted to explore for this docu-series?
I think one of the things I really appreciate about this project, this wasn’t a project taken on by boxing fans or lovers of Mike Tyson. This project was taken on by serious journalists who have a history of telling compelling stories. And I remember it because I am a boxing fan. And I remember thinking early on might there be some nuance that we might miss because this isn’t a room full of boxing fans who are putting this together. And then what I found to be true is that, because of their skill just as journalists and storytellers, they weren’t distracted by something that a sports fan might, you know what I mean? Like a road you might go down if you purely come at this as a sports fan. But I think these are people who were accustomed to doing stories about the human condition on all kinds of people.
What’s the attraction to Mike Tyson? Who has he been? And just looking at different moments of his life that may help answer that question? I remember the first question I asked Mike when we sat down, especially it was more a statement than it was a question. I said, “Mike, you were raped by the time you were nine, arrested more than 30 times by the time you were 13. Heavyweight champ of the world by 20. Convicted rapist by your early thirties.”
And his response was, “Yeah. And why am I still here?” Right. I felt like there are these markers in his life that you can examine as opposed to, we don’t spend a lot of time on any particular fight. I mean, there were fights that were significant, that were public, and perhaps significant to the legend of Mike Tyson, but may or may not have been that significant to who he was, who he became.
There was lots of material to work with and lots of material to leave on the edit room floor. But I think the team made conscious decisions, as journalists, as what are the mark posts of his life that say, “Ah, this is why he’s on this.” It’s like when you’re driving on the highway and there are all these road markers like mile 27 mile 35. I think the team looked at these things and said, “These are the mile markers that help one understand why this guy was on the path he was on.”
Do you think viewers will learn anything surprising or new or maybe even be inspired by what we see in this documentary?
I hope all those things are true. Certainly, I know for me there were things that surprised me. I consider myself a sports fan in general. I’m someone who follows boxing and someone who followed Mike Tyson’s career. More his boxing career, than the things that occurred. More of his boxing career and the public things that happened in his life, as opposed to every nuance development in Mike Tyson’s life. But I found some things that were surprising having, been given considerable research on the guy. This is a no particular order. The 30,000 foot narrative of Mike Tyson is that he’s this ferocious competitor.
He had this father figure guru, Cus D’Amato, who shaped him into this force in boxing, all of that’s true. But I didn’t fully appreciate just how hard he worked at his craft. And it reminded me of anyone who we know who is great in any particular field, whether it’s the great Diane Sawyer, she’s a great journalist because she works really hard. Tiger Woods is a great golfer because he works really hard. Tom Brady. In every industry, people who are leaders in their profession, part of the formula is they outwork most people.
And so, in a sport that demands hard work, Mike Tyson took that to a whole different level. So I didn’t fully appreciate that until working on this project, just how hard he worked to get to where he got, with his training and stuff. I recognized this is what I knew, but like how bright he is. He’s a bright man. He’s an intelligent man. I say this without exaggeration, Mike Tyson has probably read at least a thousand books in his lifetime. In preparing to talk to him, and hoping to kind of break the ice in some way, I brought him five books that I read that I thought he might enjoy. He already read three of them.
When we met, what kind of broke the ice and in our conversation, because Mike had done his own homework, I guess about me, and he knew I had been a war correspondent and spent time in Afghanistan. Mike Tyson is very curious about Afghanistan. He’s studied, he’s read about Genghis Khan, he’s read about Alexander The Great. And so he was curious to talk to someone who’s actually stepped foot in the place. And so here I am in an interview with Mike Tyson about his life, and we spent a good bit of time talking about Afghanistan. From its terrain to its politics, to its culture and history. So I think people will get a sense of his intellect. You hear that he had a rough and tumble life, but when you hear the particulars of that, again, it doesn’t justify anything, any choice that he made, but it gives a different context. Like the fact that as a nine-year-old boy he was raped by a man.
Any of us who knew anything about sexual abuse, or trauma, have a sense of the impact that can have on someone’s life. Estranged from his parents, the impact that might have on a child’s life. And how he views relationships, right? To things he did as an athlete, his time in prison, how that shaped who he was. I think that’s what’s so good about the project. If you’re curious about Mike Tyson, you can walk away from these four hours thinking, “Got it. I know this dude.” And to your point about it inspiring, Mike Tyson has accomplished some things in his life few people ever will. And that’s worth acknowledging.
He’s also a convicted criminal. I think it’s possible to believe in both justice and redemption. And I think, with Mike Tyson’s life, you can see that. Another kind of force in a documentary, it isn’t spelled out specifically, but I think observant people will catch this. His wife Tik, what a force she is in his life. As my late mom would say, his wife is a grown-ass woman. And to see the influence she has in his life. If there is order in his life right now, she’s a big part of that. Which again, I think for those of us in a certain stage of life, we sort of recognize, not only the importance of who you are, but who you associate with. I think many of us, if not ourselves, with people who we know, they’ve been shaped by who they’ve been in relationships with. And so it seems like he’s married now to a woman who gets him, who is an accomplished, serious and sober person, and that’s kind of rubbed off on him.
Traumatic brain injury has affected me and many people I care about, including fighters and veterans. I’m proud to be an early investor in @wesanahealth , launching now on the CSE, who are developing new ways to understand and improve brain health, including with psychedelics.
— Mike Tyson (@MikeTyson) May 9, 2021
Does this documentary address, or clear up some of those rumors or speculations that have shrouded Mike’s personal life and career, such as tales about him being violent and abusive?
Fair question. I think the documentary is an accurate documentation of his life. I think people can draw conclusions. I mean, he has a criminal record which speaks to his behavior, right? Or things that he’s done. Sure. So that is absolutely part of his story. I would think, at the end of his life, when you list some of the significant things in Mike Tyson’s life convicted rapist is one of them, right? There’s an interesting exchange in the documentary and it’s the one time in our conversation where you get maybe a glimpse to that part of it, where he seems sort of menacing.
And he says, “Look at me. Most people are afraid of me. What they don’t know is I’m a thousand times more afraid of them. And so I’m going to do whatever I have to do to keep that person from harming me.” What I appreciate about the exchange, it wasn’t like purely bravado. Like, “I’m the baddest man on the planet. I can come over and kick your ass, brother.” It was more like, “Life has scared me in different points and I’m broken and I acknowledge that I’m f*cked up and violent in some way.” But don’t think it necessarily comes out of a space of like arrogance and pure brutality for the sake of brutality. It comes out of space of woundedness. For those who’ve always seen Mike Tyson as an animal, I don’t necessarily say he would disagree with that. But I would think he would say, “I am a wounded animal.” If that makes sense.
I think he illustrates many things just as a person to study. There’s a part of his life that speaks to the racial divide and how, in general terms, how Black and white America can view the same thing, but see it very differently. I think we’ve seen that different times in Mike Tyson’s career. What he symbolized to different communities.
I think one of the things I appreciated about the timing of this documentary, that it comes out as we were all dealing with Covid and how this impact all of our lives. Loss, isolation. I think it’s caused many of us to reevaluate what’s important in life. How are we living our lives? And I think you get to sit back and watch this guy experience those things: loss, isolation, having to reevaluate who he is, mistakes that he’s made.
“Mike Tyson: The Knockout” premieres on back-to-back Tuesdays, May 25 and June 1, (8:00 – 10:00 p.m. ET), on ABC. It can also be viewed the next day on demand and on Hulu.