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Mike Tyson’s “Undisputed Truth”

As much as you want to root for Mike Tyson – to hope that he’s done with drugs, violence, and public spectacles, the future is far from certain and his “truth” is not undisputed.

Tyson’s one-man show, which just hit Washington, D.C., is by turns tragic, funny, revealing and introspective. A lot we already knew. Iron Mike still stands as the youngest heavyweight champ ever. He made fortunes and headlines. His best and worst fights didn’t always play out in the ring. He went to jail for rape.

There was also some we didn’t know, his side of the story. Arrested and jailed so often as a kid that he likens juvenile detention to Cheers, because everyone knew his name.

– The first beating he delivered was “love at first fight.”

– His crew in Brooklyn had a creed: Never Ran, Never Will.”

When trainer, savior and mentor “Cus” D’Amato started talking about the future, the words resonated. Says Tyson, “Everything sounded foreign to me, but I liked the sound of it.”

You wonder about Mike’s motivation. He’s in big debt, so airing all the dirty laundry before packed houses surely helps. And we know his adrenalin always surged when he could bring a crowd to its feet. It must be empowering to know he can do it with words and images instead of fists and fury.

Not that there isn’t plenty of fury in the production directed by Spike Lee. Lee’s fingerprints are all over the show, like when Mike talks about being scared of white people and an enormous image of Mitt Romney suddenly fills the screen behind Tyson. You wonder how much Spike mixed editing with directing.

It’s also true that Tyson’s enormous personality and ego are impossible to drown out. He battled Robin Givens and Don King, bit Evander Holyfield, and broke to bits when his four-year-old daughter died in a 2009 treadmill accident. At times, it seems he’s telling these stories as if to persuade a jury.

Why? Is he trying to win hearts and minds? To entertain? To cash in on his fame before so much time passes, he can’t throw phantom punches that still make us shiver way up in the balcony?

In wrapping up the night, Tyson told the crowd, “It took me a real long time to get it, but I got it.” Perhaps.

This much is certain. No one left D.C.’s Warner Theatre without an opinion. Some were sympathetic, some inspired, some skeptical. Most seemed to agree that Michael Gerard Tyson, who turns 47 in June, is lucky to be alive.

Absent a childhood arrest that put him before gritty experts who saw and cultivated his talent, odds are that he’d already be dead or in jail for life. He has had to survive success as well as failure. He has beaten menacing giants in the ring, endured those who used him to make their own fortunes, and, for now, halted the demons that emerged during childhood – a childhood that saw him in jail more than school, longing for an absent father, and crushed because his mother died years before his first achievement.

Count me among the skeptics, but also as one who’s pulling for a happy ending that sees Tyson find peace, stay straight, and counsel kids who have begun life in similar circumstances.

Read more posts by Steve Piacente, a former print journalist and correspondent. Steve is a blogger for JenningsWire.