While Mike Tyson may have become a pop-cultural icon in recent years, he wasn’t always such a comedic character. Long before appearing in The Hangover and gracing the stage in a one-man show, Iron Mike was one of the most intimidating men to step into the ring. No boxer, however, is immune from one universal emotion: fear.
Mike Tyson might have been capable of vanquishing almost any human opponent, he was still victim to the same doubts that every fighter experiences. Even Iron Mike was known to experience “horrible emotions of fear” before each bout.
Mike Tyson’s dominant boxing career
During the prime of his career, Mike Tyson became one of the most dominant fighters the sweet science has ever known. His boxing career, however, started in much different circumstances.
Tyson grew up in Brooklyn and, after finding himself in trouble with the law, landed at the Tyron School for Boys in upstate New York. That move would change the teenager’s life, but not in the way anyone expected. Tyson met Bobby Stewart, a boxer turned counselor, and stepped into the ring; before long, he was training under the legendary Cus D’Amato.
Tyson always had plenty of punching power, but D’Amato refined the raw talent; Iron Mike adopted the peek-a-boo style, giving him a solid defensive base to compliment his raw strength. In the ring, that combination proved to be almost unstoppable.
For all of Tyson’s technical skills, however, he also brought an invaluable edge to the ring. Based on his brute strength and reputation as ‘the baddest man on the planet,’ Iron Mike intimidated even the toughest opponents; more often than not, they were defeated before the first punch was thrown.
Even Iron Mike wasn’t immune to fear, though
Iron Mike didn’t merely master psychological warfare, though. Tyson was a skilled enough fighter to win 50 of his 58 career fights, win the heavyweight championship at age 20, and successfully unite the WBA, WBC, and IBF titles. That resume, however, didn’t make him immune from fear.
“Mike in the dressing room used to go through horrible emotions of fear,” Joe Egan told SunSport. “And like Cus used to say to us, ‘There’s a very fine line between the coward and the hero.”
The saving grace, however, was that every boxer feels fear. Tyson might have been afraid before each fight, but his opponent felt even worse.
“Mike’s a human being, he’s not a machine,” Egan continued. “He had the same emotions that his opponent had. What Mike had over his opponents is the fact he had a fear factor because he carried all the invincibility into the ring because of his power.”
Mike Tyson learned to love the feeling of fear
As Egan explained, every fighter, whether they’re the heavyweight champ or an up-and-coming challenger, experiences fear. Mike Tyson, however, did things a bit differently. While he was afraid before stepping into the ring, he learned to love the emotion and use it to his advantage.
“Fear is my friend,” Tyson recently explained on Tony Gonzalez’s Wide Open podcast “I love fear. Fear allows me to reach my highest potential. The fear of failing is an illusion. Fear is an illusion, but we have to have desire. We have to have something that pushes us. Fear pushes us.”
While Iron Mike then veered into some deeper topics, like the relationship between life and death, the conversation did provide some insight into his keys to success. It goes without saying that Tyson had all the physical tools necessary to be a championship boxer; his ability to see fear as motivation, rather than an impediment, helped him make the most of that talent and become a dominant fighter.