Whether you love him or hate him, Mike Tyson has a pretty good claim to the title of the most interesting man in modern sports. During his fighting career, Iron Mike was one of the best boxers we’ve ever seen; outside of the ring, he’s owned tigers, starred in movies, and done just about everything in between. And don’t forget about his famous face tattoo.
Tyson’s look, however, could have been much more unique if he got his way. The former heavyweight champ initially had a much weirder design in mind for his facial tattoo; it was such a bad idea that the tattoo artist refused to apply it.
Mike Tyson’s unforgettable time in the boxing ring
These days, Mike Tyson has become more of a pop-cultural figure than anything else. During his prime, however, he was one of the most fearsome fighters to ever practice the sweet science.
While Tyson started fighting during his childhood in Brooklyn, he didn’t begin to box until his teenage years. After repeated run-ins with the law, he found himself in upstate New York at the Tyron School for Boys. There, Mike sought out Bobby Stewart, a former boxer turned counselor; Stewart, however, realized he was dealing with a generational talent and introduced Tyson to Cus D’Amato.
Tyson did have plenty of talent and raw punching power, but the legendary trainer fine-tuned his craft. D’Amato taught his new protegee the peek-a-boo style; that turned Iron Mike into a capable defensive fighter who was able to withstand his opponent’s advances before sending them to the canvass.
That combination allowed Tyson to cruise to the top of the boxing world and claim the heavyweight title at only 20 years old. While he may have fallen from grace—both in and out of the ring later own—prime Mike Tyson was a force of nature. Between his brutal knockouts and powers of intimidation, he lived up to his title of ‘the baddest man on the planet.’
Getting his famous facial tattoo
In 2003, Mike Tyson’s boxing career was coming to an end. When he stepped into the ring against Clifford Ettienne, however, something was different. While Iron Mike was able to dispatch his opponent without breaking a sweat, he was sporting a new tattoo on his face.
That tattoo, of course, has become a piece of popular culture. While Tyson was no stranger to bizarre choices—he owned tigers, tried to fight a zoo’s gorilla, and bit Evander Holyfield’s ear, among other things—his body art took on a life of its own. That tattoo even played a role in The Hangover: Part II, which, in turn, resulted in a lawsuit over the design’s ownership.
While Tyson once joked on Twitter about getting the tattoo removed, it’s become a part of his identity. “A lot of stuff happened out of this tattoo, a lot of good stuff,” he told Sports Illustrated in 2016. “Other young athletes come to me and said, It’s because of you they call it the Mike Tyson.”
Mike Tyson almost got hearts tattooed on his face instead
After almost 20 years, it’s virtually impossible to see Mike Tyson with anything other than a tribal design on his face. The former heavyweight champ, however, almost got a different tattoo.
“I was going to get a bunch of hearts and stuff,” Tyson explained to Graham Bensinger. “I was going to be the man of hearts, baby.” While he came “very close” to getting that tattoo, the artist stepped in to prevent Iron Mike from making a big mistake.
“The tattoo artist [Victor Whitmill] said, ‘no, I’m not doing it,” Tyson continued. “I said, ‘what do you think I should get,’ because I was confused.” Within a few days, Whitmill had drawn up the tribal design we all know and love.”
Tyson has retold the story several times, with the details slightly changing—he’s also said he wanted to deface his face and have the hearts be “like a pirate patch”—but the nuts and bolts remain the same. Just think, if not for the good judgment of a tattoo artist, we could have ‘The Man of Hearts’ mounting a boxing comeback rather than Mike Tyson.