The Mike Tyson circus edged closer to New Zealand today but whether he is granted a visa for his planned November show in Auckland remains in the balance.
Former world heavyweight boxing champion Tyson took part in a teleconference streamed live from Las Vegas to reporters in Auckland, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth in a publicity drive for his “Day of the Champions” show in the Australasian cities.
The visa issue loomed large among the early questions – he was convicted of rape and spent three years in prison 20 years ago – and Tyson’s frustration was obvious as his promoter Max Markson gave an update on his dealings with Immigration New Zealand.
Under the Immigration Act, anyone who has been sentenced to five years or more in prison is to be denied a visa to enter the country. Tyson was sentenced to six years, but was released early for good behaviour.
“We’ve applied for the visa and asked for a special direction from the minister, so we’re waiting patiently for a visa,” Markson said, without explaining which minister he was dealing with.
Markson, sitting alongside Tyson, suggested the former boxer’s tattoo over and around his left eye, which has suggestions of Maori art, made him an “honorary New Zealander”.
“He’s a great ambassador and he really does have a tremendous story which he has to tell to the people of New Zealand and it would be a tragedy if the show that he’s been doing on Broadway for the last few weeks can’t be told,” he said.
“Tragedy, huh?” Tyson replied, before appearing to lose his sense of humour when the visa questions continued.
“I’m not going to sit here and cower and beg to come to your country. I’m sorry, but if I can’t come, I can’t come. It will be my misfortune but I don’t want to feel like I’m on trial to come to your country,” Tyson said.
Markson added: “He’s not a danger to New Zealand, he’ll be there for one day.”
Tyson said: “I haven’t been to New Zealand. Man it must be a serious country if I can’t go there.”
His promoter read off a long list of countries Tyson had visited, suggesting the former self-styled “Baddest Man on the Planet” hadn’t had problems entering them.
Tyson, who was extremely animated at times during the teleconference, shouting “New Zealand!” and “Auckland!” during the 34 minutes he received questions, hasn’t always been one to bear such inconveniences lightly.
Apart from his prison sentence, Tyson, who was heavyweight champion of the world as a 20-year-old and was known for his powerful, aggressive style in the ring, bit the ears of fellow heavyweight and American Evander Holyfield during a notorious 1997 fight in Las Vegas.
Now aged 46, he also threatened to eat the children of his opponents and was forced to attend rehabilitation due to a cocaine addiction.
More recently he has attempted to redefine himself as an actor, playing himself in The Hangover movies, which make light of his notorious past.
Tyson today refused to go into detail about his past, saying he was saving it for his show.
However, he did reveal that he believes boxing is stuck in the “18th century” (“people don’t want to hurt each other no more”), he no longer has a tiger for a pet (“you can’t keep a tiger for free!”), and he could categorically rule out a return to the ring. “No way, I’m not that person any more. If I was that person, I wouldn’t have my family.”
Tyson said he didn’t design his tattoo on Maori art, and appeared slightly confused about a question relating to the All Blacks.
“I’ve always been black. I’ve been playing black all my life.”
“I can’t believe you’ve got me doing this s**t!”, he added, laughing and slapping the table.
When it was all over he exited stage right, eating an apple.