The 2014 Tribeca Film Festival is in full swing, and this past weekend saw one of the fest's most anticipated events: the premiere of the documentary Champs, followed by a special conversation with former heavyweight boxing champions Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield.
The film is an intriguing look back at the boxing careers of Tyson, Holyfield and WBA light-heavyweight world champion Bernard Hopkins, all of whom were forced to overcome broken homes, poverty--and in some cases the prison system--in order to eventually become some of boxing's greatest fighters. Along with interviews and dramatic re-creations, Champs not only documents the last great, memorable heavyweight boxing moments, but it also takes a real harsh look at the sport itself and why it's taking advantage of the young kids who turn to boxing with hopes of getting off the streets and bettering their lives.
Thanks to WNYC, you can listen to the entire conversation using the audio player below.
Here are some highlights:
1. Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield Are Now Good Friends
When you mention Tyson and Holyfield in the same sentence, most recall the infamous ear-biting incident, where a deranged Tyson actually bit off a portion of Holyfield's ear during a match. Many years have passed since, and Holyfield says he learned to forgive a long time ago. The two are now friends and involved in charity work together, and they even poked fun at the whole ear thing in a commercial last year.
2. Their Most Complete Fight
During the documentary Evander Holyfield says that his first match against Mike Tyson was his most complete fight as a boxer. When Tyson was asked the same question during the postscreening Q&A, he said his match against Marvis Frazier was his most complete fight. Moderator Jeremy Schapp (ESPN) followed up by noting that Frazier "was a rich kid." Tyson replied, "Yeah, they're easier to beat up."
3. Mike Tyson's Kids Go to Ivy League Schools
(Photo by Dave Hogan/Getty Images)
Throughout the conversation, Tyson kept stressing how happy and content he was with his life now despite the mistakes he made in the past. Boxing promoter Lou Dibella (who's featured in the film and was on hand for the Q&A) noted that if Tyson was the person he is today back then he'd now be known as one of the best who ever fought. So what kind of person is Tyson today?
Aside from claiming to be "friends" with the IRS, he also says all of his children were accepted to Ivy League schools. "I may be dumb as s**t, but I did something right!" Tyson joked.
4. The Documentary Is Packed with Celebrity Interviews
Aside from Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Bernard Hopkins, Champs is also littered with celebrity interviews. Mark Wahlberg, Denzel Washington, Spike Lee and Mary J. Blige are among those featured, but surprisingly it's Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson who provides the most impactful talking points as someone who, like all three boxers, was raised on the streets and overcame a life of crime in order to become a superstar entertainer.
5. Mike Tyson Was Bullied As a Kid
Some of the best moments of the documentary are the ones where we revisit Mike Tyson's most electrifying fights. In his prime Tyson was knocking guys out in under 90 seconds, and while it's easy to imagine a man who was born with giant muscles, that wasn't the case. In fact, Tyson was overweight and shy as a young kid, and was bullied in school all the time. Eventually the bullying stopped when the kids who were abusing him asked Tyson to steal for them.
His early life of crime came to end when Tyson's mom died, leaving the responsibility of looking after a 16-year-old Tyson to boxing trainer Cus D'Amato, who became his legal guardian and helped change his life.
6. The Sport of Boxing Is Beyond Corrupt
A large portion of Champs and the subsequent conversation centered on the sport of boxing and how different it is from every other professional sport. With no union or commissioner, there's no one who really represents the boxer's best interests. Managers are useless, especially since boxing promoters do most of the legwork in negotiating the matches and boxers' fees, and so many up-and-coming boxers are easy to take advantage of because they come from low-income, unstable families.
"As soon as you rely on someone because you don't know, that's when they get you," Holyfield said when asked what he would do differently knowing what he does now. He followed it up by saying every young boxer should have their own lawyer and accountant.
7. Mike Tyson Trained Bruce Leroy from The Last Dragon
Yes! This happened. During the Q&A, Last Dragon star Taimak (Leroy Green) stood up and told a story about one time when he was training with Tyson and a ferocious dog stood nearby, ready to attack. Freaked out, Taimak asked Tyson what to do about the dog and Tyson told him to just kick it in the face.
Naturally Tyson didn't remember any of it, but it still made for a random (and pretty hilarious) moment.
8. Will We Eventually See Another Great Heavyweight Boxer?
[via Getty Images]
As boxing promoter Lou Dibella noted toward the end of their conversation, big American males aren't becoming boxers these days; instead they're going to the NFL or NBA. But Tyson feels like the day will come where we'll see another great, iconic heavyweight champion. "A guy will emerge," he said. "It will happen. It's the longest drought in history, but it'll come."
As to whether he'll let his own kids become fighters, Tyson laughed. "My kids? They don't have to fight. But I definitely wouldn't want them to fight a guy like me."
Champs is currently screening at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival. For more coverage of this year's fest, head here.
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