When Mike Tyson announced last week that he was willing to part with the unabridged, uncensored story of his life for, say, three or four million bucks, you can bet the Pulitzer Prize committee and the people who hand out the Nobels sat up and took notice. Listen. Solzhenitsyn may be able to go the distance wordwise, but his left hook is a little weak. Don DeLillo turns a pretty nice phrase, but he's not worth a damn when it comes to wife-beating. David Halberstam has a hefty new tome out about the origins of the civil-rights movement, but if you're looking for a guy to bite the fat off a full-bodied paragraph, Dave's probably not your man.
As soon as Mike can find a publisher for his eagerly anticipated autobiography, the literary world had better look out. If, for instance, the man at the New York Times Book Review has the gall to point out a dangling participle or two in Tyson's work, he just might find himself digging sentence fragments out of his brain stem. If Oprah Winfrey doesn't recommend Mike's opus on her talk show, the big guy might drag her up to his hotel room and bop her with the TV set.
Not since Ernest Hemingway turned literary muscle-flexing into a high art has a writer struck such awe into the arts establishment. The way we hear it, Tyson secrets himself away nine hours a day in a dim library carrel, where he rereads Plutarch's Lives, Boswell and the memoirs of Winston Churchill. The rest of the time, insiders say, he punches away at a typewriter, fists bared. Think the Buster Douglas fight was a life trial? Just try duking it out with a pageful of angry prepositions.
Is the ex-heavyweight title-holder looking for a book title? How about A Nineties Guy's Guide to Love and Marriage?
Of course, it would help if the budding author could find a publishing house interested in his work. "People hate him," one New York editor said last week. "You're not going to convince anyone to spend $27 for his book."
Hey, Mein Kampf sold a few copies, didn't it?
Meanwhile, as he waits for July in the hope that his boxing license will be reinstated, Tyson has been otherwise expanding his career opportunities. On Sunday night he made his debut, in Boston, with the World Wrestling Federation. He was billed as "special enforcer," and unless we miss our guess, this is the kind of work Iron Mike could grow fond of--if he has a strong stomach. After all, for all but ten minutes of the three-hour "Wrestlemania XIV" program, for which pay-per-view subscribers in almost three countries paid $34.95 apiece, the former heavyweight champion remained backstage (studying adverbs in his dressing room, probably) while his new friends in the pro-wrestling game practiced their art.
In the first of eight "killer matches," the Battle Royale, fifteen tag teams--thirty men--crowded into the ring and fiercely patted each other on the shoulders for six or seven minutes. A team called "The Legion of Doom" was then declared the winner, probably because it had the coolest costumes--spiked plastic armor in a nice shade of mauve. A little later, a substantially constructed blonde woman named Luna, who wore gold tights and a chrome bolt through her tongue, joined battle with a slimmer blonde called Sable, who was clearly the people's choice. If we can believe Sable, she came close to committing murder in there.
In the "Intercontinental Championship" match, a fellow named The Rock crowned another fellow named Shamrock several times with a folding chair, which so infuriated Shamrock that he allegedly broke his opponent's right leg, necessitating the injured gladiator's removal to the nether regions of the Fleet Center on a steel gurney. Still angry, Shamrock then ceremoniously smashed all three referees to the canvas. Alas, he was disqualified. This prompted him to attack The Rock once more, slinging the poor guy off the gurney and into the drum set of a nearby bandstand.
Life in the WWF proved no easier for the New Age Outlaws. After being partially disabled by a pair of vicious "Russian leg sweeps" and banged on the noggin with baking pans, the Outlaws were sent to final doom when their opponents, Chainsaw Charlie and Cactus Jack, scooped them up with a forklift, tossed them into a red garbage dumpster and slammed the lid shut. Not since the Jets upset Baltimore (or the last WWF extravanganza) have you seen anything quite so dramatic.
And make no mistake. The World Wrestling Federation is nothing if not a magnet for top-of-the-line celebrities. Tyson, who has been squeezing by of late on the $130 million he was paid for his last six fights and trying to extract himself from the talons of Don King, earned an undisclosed sum for his brief appearance Sunday night. Originally he was signed for a reported $4 million to wrestle the main event against one "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, aka "the Texas Rattlesnake," a blue-collar hero who prides himself on his ditch-digging skills and invariably asks his legions of fans: "Anybody here gotta cold beer for Steve Austin?"
Instead, Tyson decided on the "special enforcer" role in the bout between "Stone Cold" Steve and WWF champion Shawn Michaels, who favors glitter and pink tights.
Tyson was by no means the only big name in the house. Gennifer Flowers, the famed Little Rock songbird, was on hand in the role of ringside reporter and expert political analyst. Flowers's interview with The Rock would have made Barbara Walters envious: America's homeless, the champion told her, are welcome to sleep in any kind of cardboard boxes they choose, as long as they don't do it on the front lawn of his mansion in Miami Beach.
While Gennifer did journalism, ex-baseball star Pete Rose contributed his best efforts in the name of the national pastime. Assigned to introduce Wrestlemania XIV's semi-main event, pitting The Undertaker against his very own brother, Kane, baseball's all-time hits leader sprung into the ring wearing a tuxedo. Bathed in a sea of boos, Rose sought to turn the hometown crowd his way by recalling some of Boston's glorious baseball history. After pointing out how a miracle home run by Bucky Dent of the Yankees had kept the Red Sox out of the World Series one year, he announced that he'd left Wrestlemania tickets at the box office for ex-Bosox first baseman Bill Buckner but doubted "he'd be able to bend over far enough to pick them up." Then Pete reminded the fans that Babe Ruth had been traded to New York in the prime of his career.
All this earned Rose a special WWF honor. After entering the ring through an archway of flaming torches, Kane stared at the eminent ballplayer, hoisted the much smaller man over his head, and slammed him onto the canvas. Out cold--or something like that--Rose was removed from the arena on the same gurney used earlier to evacuate The Rock. "We'll give you a report on Pete Rose's condition as soon as we know it," the announcer gravely told the crowd. The report never came. Presumably, the ambulance just kept hastening toward Cooperstown, New York.
Only after Kane vanquished The Undertaker (or was it the other way around?) did Mike Tyson make his appearance.
"The Baddest Man on the Planet!" the speakers boomed. "The latest member of Degeneration X!" And suddenly there he was: Mike Tyson, wearing a skintight black muscle shirt, swinging his arms across each other in an "X' shape (for "Degeneration X") and looking astonishingly puny next to the behemoths of the WWF.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
To his credit, Tyson also looked vaguely embarrassed Sunday night. As required, he flashed the double middle-finger salute a couple of times and tried to look tough. As the script demanded, he snarled at "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and stalked around the ring apron like a tiger. But a little grin kept stealing onto Tyson's face that said: What the hell am I doing here when I should be home rewriting chapter six of my autobiography?
Do you want to know the end? Want to know how Sunday Night at Wrestlemania XIV came out? Really? Do you want to know what the Baddest Man on the Planet had to do?
Okay, then. But it's not pretty. Not even by the prevailing, uh, standards.
Pete Rose got himself knocked out. Gennifer Flowers sashayed through the teeming, grabby, beery crowd in a red dress three sizes too small. But Mike Tyson was cast by the master dramatists of the World Wrestling Federation as a turncoat. A traitor. Long before the "World Championship" match between Austin and Michaels, Tyson had been assigned to the Michaels camp. At press conferences, he shoved and taunted Austin and praised Shawn, and he supposedly spent Sunday night in Michaels's dressing room. But at last, the gospel according to the WWF called for Tyson to fill in as referee, count Michaels out in the ring and hold "Stone Cold" Steve's fist aloft.
It then called for Tyson to knock his old pal Shawn Michaels cold with a right hook--or something like that. So he did it. Tyson did it. It was a rather inartistic fake, the punch, but Michaels went down in a heap of pink tights, and when the embarrassed little grin crept again onto the former champ's face, you almost felt sorry for him. The life of a writer is never easy. But here was a chapter that would be especially hard to face whilst writing one's memoirs.