LOS ANGELES. — “Mark Twain said boxing is the only sport where a slave, if he’s successful, can rub shoulders with royalty,” says former world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, who once knocked out 19 opponents in a row. “Can you imagine that? Just by fighting another human being, he can meet a king, a prince, a queen, eat at the same table with them, be invited to the castle.” Or in modern times, make US$30 million in one fight, build your own castle, stock it with tigers and still wake up every morning the pawn of powerful men who make money off your sweat.

When Tyson was a fighter, he studied tapes of old brawls to learn what made men win or fail. He was an encyclopedia of the past. After retirement, after the bankruptcies and prison sentence, after the public shame, he widened his interest to learn about the history of fighting, going all the way back to the gladiators. He wanted to figure out what had happened to him.

Tyson spotted a pattern.

“Since the beginning of time, it was the lowest sport in the history of entertainment, and it always made the most money,” Tyson tells the LA Weekly.

“But the participants were worse when they finished than when they started. Only difference is now people know their names.”

And these fighters were men like him: people with few options and little education, be they war captives in 65 BC, African slaves in 1795, Irish immigrants in 1893 or a battered 9-year-old boy in ‘70s Brooklyn, forced to rob houses to buy clothes.

“Extraordinary fighters come from the financial quagmire of poverty,” Tyson explains.

“We’re the bottom of the barrel in society.” No wonder that when they do earn cash, they have no idea what to do with it except prove, sports car by sports car, how far they’ve come. — LA Weekly.

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