Mike Tyson’s name conjures up a flurry of contradictions: boxing champion, role model, convicted criminal, bird lover, movie star and now Broadway stage actor.
During the prime of his boxing career in the 1980s, “Iron Mike” was the epitome of the brute, exploding in the ring with dazzling and often savage displays, which led to 44 knockouts in 50 bouts.
His career and post-boxing life have been controversial: court cases, bankruptcy and struggles with substance abuse. However, in the last few years, the 47-year-old has begun to fight back. He delivered an intimate portrait in the award-winning 2008 documentary Tyson and had a scene-stealing role in the 2009 comedy The Hangover. He also launched the Mike Tyson Cares youth foundation last year and is now appearing in the critically acclaimed one-man stage show Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth.
With Dubai as the first stop of a planned world tour, Tyson is looking forward to taking the show to new audiences. “I am excited to be coming to Dubai,” he says. “More than that – I have been going through ups and downs in my life so I am just happy to be alive.”
Why did you choose Dubai to start the world tour of your show?
The offer just came and I was surprised that people would be even interested to listen to my story. It makes me happy. I look forward to taking it around and see generally whether they will get the humour. I have been to the Gulf before and visited Abu Dhabi, Riyadh and Mecca. Dubai will be my first time.
Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth has you telling your life story. Are you totally yourself onstage or do you approach it as a performance?
It is all a character. If I was to be truly Mike Tyson onstage I would cry. I would feel sorry for myself and my mother and my life. I look at it as an actor portraying Mike Tyson and what he experienced. If I didn’t have that objectivity I don’t think I would last five minutes on stage. When I am working it’s all objective and never personal.
How do you and the director Spike Lee prepare for the show?
Just like a fight. You prepare yourself to perfection and you just go out there with the same tenacity, thinking, cleverness and intelligence. Spike is also a perfectionist. He is a taskmaster and I am just grateful he wanted to get involved in the show and I believe he took it to another level.
Are the documentary Tyson and the show about you coming to terms with your past?
When I look at these projects sometimes I do get very sad and I may even start feeling sorry for myself. Going back to my past made me realise how bad it was. I realised that there has never been anyone poorer than me in America. I lived in the poorest section in the poorest city in America, it was drug- and crime-infested. No wonder my mother was so helpless because we were so pathetic. I can’t believe that I got out of there. Now that I am older I feel very fortunate and I realise I need more gratitude in my life. So I am working on that and trying to be humble. If I don’t make any more money in my life then I am just grateful to God for giving me such wonderful experiences and children who didn’t have to go through what I went through.
How has your faith helped you?
When I first became Muslim, I didn’t look at it as what it should be. Then when I did that and I believed that God created everything I learnt to love all of God’s creation. Whenever I come to the Middle East, I become more God-conscious because I don’t always make my prayers and here you are reminded with the calls to prayer. I am very aware when I come here.
What has been the biggest change in your life since you left boxing?
Trying to live in the present. If I were to live in the future or in the past, I’d get caught up. I can’t live in two worlds at once. I try to be here, in the present and focused.
• Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth is at Sheikh Rashid Hall at the Dubai World Trade Centre on Thursday and Friday. There are two performances each night, 6pm and 10pm. Tickets begin from Dh195 from www.tixbox.com