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Rubino: There's much to dispute in Tyson's 'Truth' on HBO

  • Spike Lee, left, director of "Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth," and Mike Tyson take part in a panel discussion on the film during HBO's Summer 2013 TCA panel at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Thursday, July 25, 2013, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

It's the most remarkable sports personality makeover since George Foreman transformed himself from a muscled monosyllabic mummy-like knockout monster who destroyed Joe Frazier in two rounds to a jolly talk-show raconteur and super-heavyweight champion grill salesman.

Mike Tyson, once upon a time boxing's enfant terrible (high-pitched lisp and all) who became the youngest heavyweight champion at 20 but soon after was seemingly consumed by appetites gross and unchecked, is now a wise-cracking, clean-and-sober vegan entertainer who specializes in one subject: himself.

"Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth" recently was a limited-run one-man Broadway show, directed by Spike Lee, that HBO first broadcast last week and continues to rerun.

It's interesting, a fascinating spectacle, no doubt about that. But it's also redundant, irrelevant and disingenuous.

Nearly all of the ground gone over in Tyson's one-man show was covered in "Tyson," an acclaimed documentary first released in the United States in 2009, directed by James Toback (and produced by NBA star Carmelo Anthony, among others). In it, a mostly dazed and bitter Tyson holds forth on his large fame and larger infamy, and it includes a vituperative, misogynistic rant against Desiree Washington, the woman who accused him of rape, for which he was convicted and served three years in prison.

In his one-man show, Tyson even acknowledges the redundancy early on, but then goes on to claim that much of what he said in Toback's film was under the influence of drugs and alcohol and that now he no longer puts those poisons (nor meat) in his body. Now, he says, he's reformed and in complete control.

But he says the same things in "Undisputed Truth" that he said in "Tyson," only now he's animated and engaging and aware, no mere interview subject but a genuine showman spinning his "truth" his way. And with the imprimaturs of a more famous director and a big-time cable network, no less. As his former promoter might say: Only in America.

About his rape conviction, this time around he's nearly laconic, but hardly forthcoming. After briefly blaming his lawyer, prosecutor and jury, Tyson dismissive insists: "I did not rape Desiree Washington. And that's all I have to say about that."

Tyson reprises his unconditional love for his late mentor, the trainer Cus D'Amato, while guilelessly failing to make the connection between D'Amato's obsessive development of him as an entitled, ego-inflated fighter to the exclusion of nurturing him as a responsible person with the same social responsibilities as the rest of us.

On his shocking 10th-round knockout loss to 42-to-1 underdog Buster Douglas, whose performance was brave and brilliant, Tyson whines about an alleged long count in the eighth round that benefited Douglas. It's a stale complaint, recycled.


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