The left side of Mike Tyson's face is covered by a large tribal tattoo. The right side is remarkably unblemished after a lifetime in the ring. As Tyson nears his 39th birthday and the end of his once-promising boxing career, he seems to be living two lives as well, one in which he is forced to fight for financial solvency after turning a $400 million fortune into $34 million of debt, and another where he seems to be finding happiness in the most unlikely of places -- suburban America.
It is a place where Tyson reflects on a 20-year career in which he evolved from the biggest box office draw in sports to a social pariah whose transgressions in and out of the boxing ring came to overshadow his considerable achievements.
"I didn't know who the hell I was," Tyson said. "I was 'Iron Mike.' I was who those people told me I was. I was egotistical and thought I was an elitist. I was trying to help people, but I was helping the wrong people."
Tyson still owes more than $20 million to creditors, including more than $12 million in overdue taxes to the Internal Revenue Service, according to records filed last month in U.S. bankruptcy court and obtained by The Washington Post. An ambitious reorganization plan submitted by Tyson's attorneys and accountants and approved by the bankruptcy court calls for him to fight seven times -- including Saturday night at MCI Center against Kevin McBride.
Saturday's bout will earn Tyson $5.5 million and his challenger $150,000. Under the proposed plan, Tyson could pay off $15.2 million in taxes and 80 percent of his total debt and still pocket more than $20 million for retirement.
Tyson probably won't fight six more times, however, and may never completely free himself from his debt. Bankruptcy has forced the fighter once known as "the Baddest Man on the Planet" to trade in his formerly lavish lifestyle -- filled with extravagant cars, jewelry and clothes -- for a more self-effacing existence in the northern suburbs of Phoenix.
The fighter who once shared a 48,000-square-foot estate with his ex-wife, Monica Turner, and owned a pair of multimillion dollar mansions in Las Vegas resides in a dated brick ranch house on a quiet street, surrounded by middle-class neighbors and retirees, with his girlfriend, their two children and his niece. His girlfriend bought the house two years ago for $140,000, according to property records.
"This place is like utopia for me," Tyson said during a recent interview. "When I was younger, life was about acquiring things. But as I get older, I've realized life is about losing. Life is about dealing with loss and accepting loss and becoming a better person. What is it they say? 'You get old too soon and smart too late.' Living recklessly was exciting, but coming down is hard."
During a recent late afternoon, Tyson sat on lawn furniture in his backyard. Tyson worried about getting his youngest son Miguel, 3, into a youth soccer league. When Tyson left his backyard and went into the house, he returned with Miguel, whom he rustled out of bed. The boy was wearing a soccer jersey. "He wants to play soccer so bad," Tyson said. "But they said he's too young."
It's hard to imagine that this is the same Mike Tyson who once ranted, "I want to rip out his heart and feed it to him. I want to eat his children," referring to Lennox Lewis before their 2002 fight.
Some of Tyson's closest friends in boxing, including promoter Rock Newman, say they've never seen the fighter more content. "Whether he realizes the end is coming or he's just enjoying the moment, he seems to be really happy right now," Newman said.
Turner, who divorced Tyson in January 2003, left her job as a pediatric resident at Georgetown University Medical Center to help her ex-husband rebuild his life. They have two children, Rayna, 9, and Amir, 7, and she also cares for Gena, 16, Tyson's daughter from a previous relationship.
"It's the best he's been in a long, long time, both financially and spiritually," Turner said in a telephone interview. "The chaos is gone. There was so much chaos before. He's getting older and is starting to grow up and realizes what's important now. We all do it at different times, and this is his time."
Tyson has largely avoided trouble for much of the past three years, although he was accused of jumping on the hood of a car outside a Phoenix nightclub earlier this year. In his quiet neighborhood, where the houses have well-kept lawns and few are for sale, he was credited with chasing away a would-be robber, whom Tyson confronted in the street. Afterward, Tyson told reporters he was the "neighborhood watch."
"You believe that? I'm Spiderman," he told Newsday.
Tyson, who originally moved to Arizona in 1999 to train for his fight against Francois Botha, said the people in Phoenix have treated him warmly.
"If a guy in the newspaper writes that Mike Tyson is a bad guy or a schmuck, people write in and say, 'No, he's not like that. I've met him. He's a nice guy,' " Tyson said. "That's never happened to me before. That never happened in New York, and they ran me out of Las Vegas. The way I'm treated out here has humbled me."
He built four coops in his backyard to house his 350 world-class pigeons, a hobby that costs thousands of dollars a month. He has imported the birds from England, France, Iran and Russia and hopes to one day become a world-class breeder himself.
"This is the best therapy for anyone," Tyson said. "Pigeons represent peace. . . . But if these birds had claws they'd be killers, they'd rip your eyes out."
He says the birds are still cheaper than the crowded entourage he used to keep.
"I'd give a bum on the street $10,000 for nothing," Tyson said. "If I met a woman and forgot her name 10 minutes later, she'd probably still get a Rolls-Royce and an apartment."
Although Tyson has curtailed much of his lavish spending and faces an uncertain future in the ring, he somehow was able to put a $420,000 down payment on a $2.1 million home in the foothills of the mountains that surround Phoenix. The 7,788-square-foot home reportedly has a guard gate and guest house. According to the Arizona Republic, Tyson will make a monthly mortgage payment of more than $11,000. Tyson owns a BMW sports car, Hummer sport-utility vehicle and a Rolls-Royce.
Turner, who said Tyson had paid off his debt to around $10 million, said her ex-husband will climb out of his financial hole. "He's got a plan in place and it's doable," she said. "Nothing I do for him will matter unless he wants it. He wants to know what's going on now. I can't tell him what to do -- never have, never will. He's running his own life now, opposed to other people running it."
But in the process of buying the new house Tyson was surprised by his credit status. "I thought I had good credit because I never borrowed anything," he said. "But my credit stunk." Tyson said he hasn't yet moved into his new house because it's empty and he can't afford to buy new furniture.
"The money I spend on a mortgage now is what I used to spend at a strip bar in one night," Tyson said.
Tyson said his erratic behavior was the result of his immaturity, caused when he was rushed into the spotlight and professional boxing rings too soon. Tyson's mother died when he was 16, and he still doesn't know the identity of his natural father. He was rescued from the New York State Correctional Facility for Boys in 1979 by famed trainer Cus D'Amato, who had managed heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson during the 1950s. Tyson moved into D'Amato's home in Catskill, N.Y., and D'Amato molded him into one of the top amateur heavyweights in the country. But when Tyson lost in the 1984 Olympic trials, D'Amato told him to turn professional.
In 1986, Tyson knocked out Trevor Berbick in the second round to win the World Boxing Council title belt, becoming the sport's youngest heavyweight champion. He unified the heavyweight title the following year when he won a unanimous, 12-round decision over James "Bonecrusher" Smith. Tyson was perhaps the biggest attraction in sports during much of the next three years, until James "Buster" Douglas swelled the champion's left eye and finally sent him to the canvas with a flurry of punches during the 10th round of a stunning knockout in Tokyo in February 1990, Tyson's first loss in 38 fights.
Tyson's train wreck soon followed. He was sentenced to three years in an Indiana prison on March 26, 1992, for raping a beauty pageant contestant in a hotel room in Indianapolis. Tyson also served four months in the Montgomery County Detention Center in 1999 for assaulting two motorists following a traffic accident in Gaithersburg.
"They shouldn't let someone that young fight for a world championship," Tyson said. "Physically and mentally, I wasn't ready. I wasn't prepared to fight. I wasn't living my life right. It was crazy."
Turner said her ex-husband's past transgressions affected him deeply. "He's been through a lot," she said. "I'm really happy. He's very different. It's hard to live out all your struggles in the public eye and have everyone watch. But he's a warrior and he'll always get back up."
Tyson said he is worried how his six children will view his legacy -- and he thinks often of having to die alone.
"The only thing I ever did when I was younger was prepare for my children's future. I never prepared for my own," Tyson said. "When my mother died in 1981, she died alone in a cardboard box and was decimated financially. I can't go out like that."