Skip to main content

Although Mike Tyson won his first 37 professional fights, he suffered a pair of significant losses early in his career. One happened even before he turned pro.

The former heavyweight champion of the world lost his mother when he was 16 years old. Three years later, he took another hit when his legendary trainer, Cus D’Amato, died.

Mike Tyson’s mother died of cancer in 1982

Tyson might’ve spent more time with the police than with his mother when he was a child. The former boxing champ said he was arrested more than 40 times before age 12. During an appearance on the IMPAULSIVE podcast in 2021, he talked about his young days living a life of crime.

“I didn’t want to let my mother down,” he said. “My mother really did a lot. Always going to police stations to get my ass out. She would beat my ass so bad, in front of the police. I’ve been arrested 40 times before I was 12. My mother was so humble and proud, and I was arrogant.”

His mother, Lorna Smith, died of cancer in 1982 when Tyson was 16. Tyson began boxing at Tryon School for Boys, a juvenile detention center. He began to turn his life around when his mother died.

 “I never saw my mother happy with me and proud of me for doing something,” Tyson told Sports Illustrated in 1986. “She only knew me as being a wild kid running the streets, coming home with new clothes that she knew I didn’t pay for. I never got a chance to talk to her or know about her. Professionally, it has no effect, but it’s crushing emotionally and personally.”

Mike Tyson was delivered another knockout with the death of Cus D’Amato in 1985

After Tyson’s mother died, D’Amato became Tyson’s legal guardian. He was the father figure Tyson never had. Tyson was coming into his own as a young, powerful boxer when D’Amato died from pneumonia at age 77 in November 1985. Tyson was 11-0 as a pro at the time of D’Amato’s death.

“I miss him terribly,” Tyson said a year after D’Amato’s death. “The many years we worked over things and worked over things. He was my backbone. All the things we worked on, they’re starting to come out so well. If he was just here to see them, he’d be so happy.

Despite his success in the boxing ring, Tyson was lonely. He was making something of himself but had nobody to share it with.

“When I’d get up in the morning, he’d make me breakfast,” Tyson said. “Now he’s not around anymore. God, I’m going to do well, but when I come down to it, who really cares? I like doing my job, but I’m not happy being victorious. I fight my heart out and give it my best, but when it’s over, there’s no Cus to tell me how I did, no mother to show my clippings to.”

D’Amato taught Tyson many valuable lessons


Mike Tyson Was Scared of One Man and One Man Only

D’Amato is the person who turned Tyson into a man. He taught him many life lessons, including discipline and dealing with fear.

“Without discipline, no matter how good you are, you are nothing,” Tyson recalled D’Amato telling him. “One day, and I might not be around; you’re going to meet a tough guy who takes your best shot. He’ll keep coming because he’s tough. Don’t get discouraged. That’s when the discipline comes in.”

D’Amato also told Tyson that fear could work two different ways.

“Fear is your best friend or your worst enemy,” Tyson said D’Amato told him. “It’s like fire. If you can control it, it can cook for you; it can heat your house. If you can’t control it, it will burn everything around you and destroy you. If you can control your fear, it makes you more alert, like a deer coming across the lawn.”

Inside the ring, there weren’t many losses for Tyson. Outside the ring, they piled up early.