After watching both parts of the four-hour series there was one overriding question that was never adequately answered.
Why this profile done on this man at this time? Why wait until so late in the series to debut Byron Pitts’ often-compelling interview with Tyson, arguably the only new information in the show? Why spend so much time rehashing the trigger points of Tyson’s career and fail to devote much time to the man that Tyson has become?
Pitts, the co-anchor of “Nightline,” sat down for a one-on-one with Tyson that airs in the end of Part 2. The series airs about a month before Tyson’s 55th birthday on June 24. In one compelling moment, Pitts asks Tyson what he’d say if he could talk to the 20-year-old version of himself.
These are the moments when Tyson shines, when he’s given the opportunity to be introspective and analyze his life.
“It’s going to hurt,” Tyson told Pitts. “It’s going to hurt bad. It’s going to really hurt. It’s going to hurt really bad. But I live fear. I’m from Brownsville Brooklyn. I’m what fear looks like. Look at me.”
There was a brief, but telling pause as Tyson spoke those words, with ominous music playing underneath his sound track.
“If you think anybody’s afraid of me,” Tyson says to Pitts, gesturing with his hands as he spoke, “well, I’m probably a thousand times more afraid of them than they are of me. That’s why I’m more aggressive than they are.”
Pitts, who is known for his extensive work covering the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the war in Afghanistan, was able to drag such nuggets out of Tyson.
It gives the viewer a much better sense of who Tyson is than most of the rest of the four hours, which rehashed the very familiar themes of Tyson’s life and career.
In Part 1, the documentary makes the point that at his peak, he was arguably the most famous man on the planet. The story of the most famous man on the planet is well-known and well-chronicled, but it makes up the bulk of this documentary.
There was the description of Tyson’s violent youth in Brooklyn, of his relationship with Cus D’Amato. It probes his rise to become the youngest heavyweight champion, looks at his marriage to Robin Givens, examines his many excesses, covers his rape conviction and the fight in which he bit rival Evander Holyfield.
If you’ve paid attention to the news even casually over the last 40 years, not much of it is new. It uses interviews with key figures in Tyson’s life to try to add perspective, and New York-based journalist Wallace Matthews probably adds the most.
There are many speakers, some who know Tyson intimately and others who barely knew him at all. There are clips of four American presidents in the series — Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump — as well as a number of journalists.
Pitts’ interview, and particularly his question about what Tyson would say to his 20-year-old self, was the highlight.
“That was like, ‘Wow,’ ” Pitts told Yahoo Sports. “That spoke to a level of trauma and PTSD for any of us who have been harmed in any way and the anger that lives inside of you. That goes beyond, ‘I’m a tough guy. I’m a boxer.’ What we saw was kind of that raw … I’ve seen that level of intensity from other victims of sexual abuse I’ve talked to. I’ve seen it from people who have experienced PTSD in a war zone, that kind of fight or flight mentality.”
Tyson shows Pitts his pigeons that he owns even today, and explains how a bully breaking the neck of one of his pigeons turned him into a fighter.
“Iron Mike was born in that moment,” Pitts said as Tyson recounted the story of the bully killing the bird and throwing its carcass at him, leaving its blood on his shirt.
“Yes,” Tyson replied. “No doubt about it.”
There is nothing inherently wrong with the documentary, but there is little new other than Pitts’ interview and that comprises far too little of the series.
It’s bound to please Tyson fans, but whether it will bring an audience in prime time remains to be seen.
As has anyone who has spent any significant time speaking to Tyson, Pitts saw many different sides of him. He described him at one point as menacing and another as thoughtful and emotional. He said he observed first-hand during breaks in the taping the “sweet interactions he had with his young son.”
In preparing for the interview, Pitts learned Tyson loves to read. He brought him five books as a gift.
Tyson had already read three of them.
Tyson is a complicated man with a complex and rich life and that’s not easy to break down into a two-part series with a maximum of four hours.
Tyson’s words to Pitts were clearly the high point. I suspect the series would have been far better received if there were more of those and less of a rehash of the now familiar themes from Tyson’s life and times.
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