Last year ESPN scored huge ratings with the multipart Michael Jordan: The Last Dance. In an attempt to replicate that same success, last Monday night ABC, the network arm of ESPN/Disney, premiered the first part of Mike Tyson: The Knockout. It was anything but a knockout.
The vast majority of Mike Tyson fans know the backstory of Tyson’s less-than-humble beginnings growing up in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn and then ultimately winding up under the care of legendary boxing trainer Cus D’Amato. The archival videos of a young Tyson training under D’Amato’s tutelage showcased the raw and natural ability Tyson had as a puncher in his early teens. The documentary focused on Tyson being trained by Teddy Atlas and present day Atlas explained what it was like dealing with a young Tyson and the alleged incident involving Tyson and an 11-year-old in-law of Atlas. The young girl told Atlas that Tyson had groped her. Atlas responded by approaching Tyson with a gun and firing a gun shot in the air that scared the bejesus out of the prodigal son of D’Amato. D’Amato immediately fired Atlas and this was the first inexcusable error of the documentary. Where was Kevin Rooney?
Any casual boxing fan from the mid-to-late 1980s knows that the trainer who had the most success with Mike Tyson was D’Amato’s protege Rooney. Because Cus was in his 70s, he didn’t have the energy to be Tyson’s primary trainer in conducting sparring sessions and roadwork. It is why Atlas, who was in his mid 20s at the time, was selected by Cus to be Tyson’s primary trainer. After the gun incident, Cus replaced him with Rooney, who like Atlas was a former boxer and the same age. The documentary didn’t mention any of this despite the archival footage showing Rooney training a young Tyson in the gym and in all of the fight footage shown between 1985 and 1988. You cannot tell the story of Mike Tyson without talking about his relationship with Rooney. It would be akin to a documentary on Muhammad Ali without ever mentioning his legendary trainer Angelo Dundee.
I also had a huge problem with the documentary using Skip Bayless as an alleged boxing historian talking about Tyson’s impact back in the 1980s. Bayless was a Dallas newspaper writer whose main job was to cover both the Dallas Cowboys and Mavericks, a duty in which he undoubtedly did outstanding work. Never was he a boxing writer or pundit. To hear him talk about Tyson and why Tyson engaged in some of the nefarious actions he was accused of was hard to stomach because Bayless was not covering Tyson or boxing back then. This was a huge slap in the face to both boxing and Tyson fans. ESPN/ABC has one of the great boxing historians on staff, Max Kellerman, the same man who replaced Bayless on their signature sports talk show, First Take. Kellerman, although only a young teenage fan at the time of Tyson’s meteoric rise, would’ve been a much more credible spokesman as a boxing historian than the clueless Bayless.
Another glaring error was the documentary completely ignoring the Don King/HBO tournament for the undisputed heavyweight title that climaxed with Tyson’s 91 second destruction of Michael Spinks. While they spent ample time on the Spinks fight, they did a heinous job in not explaining why this fight was huge at the time. That story can only be told by documenting Tyson’s wins over Bonecrusher Smith and Tony Tucker, the two men Tyson defeated en route to his destruction of Spinks. You can also add the fact that Rooney was fired immediately after Tyson obliterated Spinks which according to the documentary never happened because Rooney never existed.
Finally, it makes no sense to have legendary fashion designer Dapper Dan as one of your talking heads on the show and not go into detail the night of August 24, 1988. It was one of the most infamous street fights in the sordid history of New York City. They didn’t have Dan explain exactly what went on that evening. Instead they showed a quick video of the damage Tyson did to Mitch Green’s face and it was quickly glanced over. Just shoddy filmmaking.
As you can tell by my review, I was highly disappointed of the first part of Mike Tyson: The Knockout. There is great archival footage that fans of boxing and Tyson will no doubt enjoy. Rosie Perez, Wallace Matthews and Randy Gordon do an excellent job detailing the impact Tyson had on the world back then. Teddy Atlas is his usual no-holds-barred self when it comes to his relationship with Tyson, and that is very refreshing. However, I abhor the fact that my intelligence was insulted by the glaring omissions I pointed out.