He was once known as the “Baddest Man on the Planet.”
But despite the rage he exhibited inside — and sometimes outside — of the boxing ring, there was a little boy deep within “Iron” Mike Tyson who was crying out.
The former heavyweight champion admitted in a recent interview that he was sexually molested as a youth.
Tyson told ESPN that at the age of 7, he was grabbed by a man who attempted to pull him into a building. Tyson did not disclose further details of the assault.
“Well I don’t like to talk about that, I like to keep that where it was in the past, but I was molested as a child.”
ESPN’s Jeremy Schapp then asked how the experience affected him.
“It made me have to be tough for the world I lived in,’ Tyson said.
Schapp has interviewed the boxing legend several times over the past 25 years, but this is the first time he has discussed this particular topic with him.
“It was no one’s business to know, people just don’t talk about it because to some people they believe it’s emasculating them,” Tyson said.
Despite “probably” feeling shame due to what happened to him, Tyson said he’s grown to understand how it has affected his life.
“I learned that it doesn’t make you any less of a man because it happened,” he said.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, on June 30, 1966, Tyson became the youngest heavyweight boxing champion of the world in 1986, but lost the title in 1990 and later served three years in prison for a rape conviction.
The rest of his career was marked by several odd incidents, most notably his biting Evander Holyfield’s ear during a title fight in 1997.
Tyson has gone on to appear in several films, including a documentary and Broadway show on his life.
His youth was one of hardship. Small and shy, Tyson was often the target of bullying, according to biography.com.
To combat this, he began developing his own style of street fighting, which ultimately devolved into criminal activity.
His gang, known as the Jolly Stompers, assigned him to clean out cash registers while older members held victims at gunpoint, though he was only 11 years old at the time.
He frequently ran into trouble with police over his petty criminal activities, and by the age of 13, he had been arrested more than 30 times. His behavior eventually landed him in the Tryon School for Boys, a reform school in upstate New York.
At Tryon, he met counselor Bob Stewart, who had been an amateur boxing champion. Tyson wanted Stewart to teach him how to use his fists. Stewart reluctantly agreed, on the condition that he would stay out of trouble and work harder in school.
Previously diagnosed having a learning disability, Tyson managed to raise his reading abilities to the seventh-grade level in a matter of months. He also became determined to learn everything he could about boxing, often slipping out of bed after curfew to practice in the dark.
In 1980, Stewart felt he had taught Tyson all he knew. He introduced the aspiring boxer to legendary boxing manager Constantine “Cus” D’Amato, who had a gym in Catskill, New York.
D’Amato was known for taking personal interest in promising fighters, even providing them room and board in the home he shared with companion Camille Ewald. He had handled the careers of several successful boxers, including Floyd Patterson and Jose Torres, and he immediately recognized Tyson’s promise as a heavyweight contender, telling him, “If you want to stay here, and if you want to listen, you could be the world heavyweight champion someday.”
Tyson agreed to stay.
D’Amato served as a paternal figure as well, and when the 14-year-old was paroled from Tryon in September 1980, he entered into the trainer’s full-time custody.
D’Amato set a rigorous schedule for the young athlete, sending him to Catskill High School during the day and training in the ring every evening.
D’Amato also entered Tyson in amateur boxing matches and “smokers,” or non-sanctioned fights, in order to teach the teen how to deal with older opponents.
Tyson’s life seemed to be looking up, but in 1982, he suffered several personal losses, beginning with the death of his mother from cancer.
“I never saw my mother happy with me and proud of me for doing something,” he later told reporters. “She only knew of me as being a wild kid running the streets, coming home with new clothes that she knew I didn’t pay for. I never got a chance to talk to her or know about her. Professionally, it has no effect, but it’s crushing emotionally and personally.”
Around that time, Tyson was expelled from Catskill High for his erratic, often violent behavior. He continued his schooling through private tutors while he trained for the 1984 Olympic trials.
Tyson didn’t show great promise in the trials, however, losing to eventual gold medalist Henry Tillman. After failing to make the Olympic team, his trainer D’Amato decided that it was time for him to turn professional, a fateful decision that resulted in Tyson becoming the youngest heavyweight champion ever.