Shortly after retaining his Junior Olympics heavyweight title in 1982, Mike Tyson got into a spot of bother with Cus D’Amato, his trainer and adoptive father. Tipped off by one of the other fighters in the camp, D’Amato’s German cleaning lady, Ruth, had unearthed a bag of weed in the 16-year-old’s bedroom at their home in Catskill, New York. When the errant teen returned to the house that afternoon, the incriminating evidence was exhibited on the kitchen table and the sitting judge was waiting to deliver a scathing verdict.
“This must be some really good stuff, Mike,” said D’Amato. “It must be really good for you to let down 400 years of slaves and peasants for it!”
Forty years after a withering line Tyson said, “broke his spirit”, it’s not difficult to imagine what D’Amato would make of his former charge’s latest commercial. It features his greatest protege ham-acting alongside Evander Holyfield, a pair of superannuated fighters in cuddly Christmas sweaters exchanging gifts in their dotage. Holyfield hands over an iron, representing the fact they have managed to straighten things out between them. In return, Tyson presents him with a nicely wrapped box that he opens to discover contains cherry-pie punch flavored cannabinoid edibles baked in the shape of an ear. Geddit?
“From Mike Bites to Holy Ears, cannabis fans around the world can now experience the same feel-good benefits that herbal products have brought me,” said Tyson. “It’s a privilege to reunite with my former adversary and now long-time friend and turn years of fighting and knockouts into a partnership that can have a positive impact and heal people.”
A quarter of a century after he chomped a one-inch piece of cartilage off Holyfield’s right ear and spat it on to the canvas in their second world heavyweight title clash, Tyson has turned that disgrace into an ongoing gag (they argue about how it tasted ) and, for a pair of boxers who both squandered immense fortunes earned in the ring, a unique selling point. Nostalgia marketing with a whiff of infamy about it.
Following the addition of Maryland and Missouri earlier this month, 21 American states have now legalized recreational marijuana for adults and legit cannabis sales are expected to hit $30 billion this year. Tyson 2.0, the weed company with a salt and pepper bearded boxer as chief brand officer, has garnered its share of that burgeoning market via his notoriety and astute hookups with Holyfield and the wrestler Ric Flair (shilling a line called Ric Flair Drip).
In interviews, Tyson and the other endorsers talk sensibly about how the medicinal benefits of weed would have been so helpful to them in terms of coping with injury at the height of their physically punishing careers. For years, NFL players used to make the very same argument, contending a toke on a forbidden joint was way less damaging than the perfectly legal yet highly addictive pain pills freely dished out to them by team doctors after games. It’s a measure of the changing times that the league no longer tests for THC in the off-season and now ends rather than suspends players caught using during the bruising campaign.
Tyson might be the perfect rogue pitchman for a drug grinding its way towards respectability and acceptance into the mainstream. Between voicing himself in “Mike Tyson Mysteries”, a hip adult pastiche of the Scooby Doo cartoons, and starring in a one-man Broadway show about his extraordinary life, the former “baddest man on the planet” has evolved over decades into somebody Sports Illustrated dubbed “baddest dad on the planet”, partially because his daughter Milan is a tennis prodigy. His curious metamorphosis of him has included the rather too-convenient and kind of baffling excising of the fact he was convicted of kidnapping Desiree Washington, an 18-year-old beauty pageant contestant, in an Indianapolis hotel room in 1991.
Nobody seems too interested in mentioning that troubling detail as long as the new, avuncular Tyson trots out entertaining tales about his lengthy relationship with weed. Like the time, in the middle of a court-mandated bout of sobriety that included regular testing, he managed to swear off every prohibited substance except his beloved herb. To avoid a positive and a trip to jail, he invested in a whizzinator, a fake penis that he filled with either his kids’ or his wife’s urine depending on who was available. Having painted the appendage brown for added authenticity, he claims all he had to do for the elaborate subterfuge to work was to exhibit some casual homophobia to get the tester not to stare at him in the act of peeing.
His history with the drug stretches farther back to his early childhood in Brooklyn where it was part of the street furniture and a feature of chaotic house parties thrown by his troubled mother. A lifelong smoker, he claims to have once gone nearly a decade without a puff, a hiatus that ended with the death of his friend Tupac Shakur. Tyson 2.0 is his second foray into the cannabis industry, and aside from Tyson Ranch, a resort in California where people can go to partake at their leisure, he’s also the host of Hotboxin’ with Mike Tyson, a podcast where he chats to other famous users while they merrily inhale.
“If I was on cannabis,” said Tyson, the other week, “I wouldn’t have bit his ear.”
And Holyfield smiled. All the way to the bank.