Mike Tyson: Why I’m a Muslim for Donald Trump

The legendary fighter sat down to discuss his upcoming Scorsese biopic, almost being played by John Boyega in an HBO series, and why he’s on board the Trump train.

01.21.16 2:13 PM ET

The last time I spoke with Mike Tyson, the former heavyweight boxing champion whom Amy Schumer once accused of having “a slutty lower-back tattoo” on his face, he inhaled two gigantic tubs of Pinkberry within an hour—an elixir intended to induce docility. Today, with his Froyo handler nowhere in sight, the ex-pugilist’s behavior is a bit more, shall we say, unpredictable.

Within two seconds, the door to this posh Beverly Hills hotel suite has swung open and Tyson is seated inches from me. Before I can get a word out, he begins pounding his fists on the table like a petulant child before emitting a room-shaking scream: AHHHHHH! A look of concern washes over his assistant’s face. She asks him if he needs some water before we continue, but Tyson has settled into the opposite extreme: a creepy, Zen-like calm. He replies, “No, I’m fine,” in his gentle lisp. I ask him if everything is OK. “I’m good,” he whispers, grinning from ear to ear.

At 49, Tyson is in the midst of a fascinating second act—one that seemingly began with his supporting role in the 2009 comedy smash The Hangover and has extended to other areas, including video games, a one-man Broadway show, and even his own cartoon series, Mike Tyson Mysteries. He’s in L.A. promoting a cameo role in Ip Man 3, a kung-fu extravaganza starring Donnie Yen as the titular Wing Chun instructor based on Bruce Lee’s real-life master, Yip Man. Tyson plays the film’s antagonist, a shady American gangster. Fists—and feet—fly.

As a teenager, the Brooklyn-born Tyson would check out kung-fu movies with his friends in dingy Times Square. “You’d watch three for a dollar fifty,” he recalls. “I’d sneak in and then let my friends in from the back.”

He pauses, lost in the memory. “I watched Bruce Lee movies, but my favorite were the Shaw Brothers. I liked the Shaw Brothers a lot, these guys flying across the screen a hundred feet.”

It’s a different kind of role for Tyson, who’s rebranded himself as a lovable sideshow despite a laundry list of deeply disturbing behavior, from his 1992 rape conviction to snacking on Evander Holyfield’s ear to a lifelong battle with drug addiction. Now he’s clean and sober, but at the height of his troubles, he became fast friends with a real-estate heir by the name of Donald J. Trump. 

Tyson had fought some of his biggest bouts at Trump hotel-casinos, and Trump even bid a record $11 million site fee for Tyson’s 1988 showdown with Michael Spinks, which at the time was the richest fight in boxing history. When Tyson was later convicted of the rape of 18-year-old Desiree Washington and sentenced to six years in prison, Trump proposed that Tyson should be allowed to keep fighting, with the proceeds from his bouts going to rape victims (and Trump, naturally). The arrangement would have greatly benefitted Trump’s casinos at a time when he was suffering financial woes, but officials deemed it inappropriate.

At an ensuing press conference, Trump was asked, “If your sister was raped by a millionaire, would you encourage her to accept a big bundle of cash to forget everything?” Trump’s reply: “I think every individual situation is different.”

“We’re really good friends,” Tyson says of Trump. “We go back to ’86, ’87. Most of my successful and best fights were at Trump’s hotels. He didn’t manage me, though. He was just helping me with my court case.”

“We’re the same guy,” he continues. “A thrust for power, a drive for power. Whatever field we’re in, we need power in that field. That’s just who we are.”

Then, Tyson starts to lose me a bit. “Balls of energy. We’re not even who we think we are. We’re fire. We’re made of this crap—water, motion, dirt, diamonds, emeralds. We’re made out of that stuff, can you believe it?”

Given their history, it should come as little surprise that Tyson is endorsing Trump for president.

“Yeah! Hell, yeah,” he exclaims of Trump 2016. “That shit is the real deal. Listen: I’m a black motherfucker from the poorest town in the country. I’ve been through a lot in life. And I know him. When I see him, he shakes my hand and respects my family. None of them—Barack, whoever—nobody else does that. They’re gonna be who they are and disregard me, my family. So I’m voting for him. If I can get 20,000 people or more to vote for him, I’m gonna do it.”

I ask Tyson, who converted to Islam while in prison, how he could support Trump, who proposed a ban on all Muslims entering the U.S.

“It’s just not gonna happen,” he says of the Muslim ban, shaking his head. “He’s just not gonna do that. Congress just won’t do that. But that doesn’t mean he can’t be president, you know what I mean?”

I don’t, but tell him to go on anyway. “And listen, I’m a Muslim. Some people are Christians, and you know what some Muslims and some Christians say when they see these evangelists burning and killing? ‘I don’t think like that.’ When guys are blowing people up, chopping off people’s heads, I’m a Muslim and I think, ‘I don’t think like that. I don’t believe in that.’ When we go to God, regardless of what religion we are, we’re going to have to listen to our own stuff. We can’t take responsibility for all the Muslims in the world.”

In addition to stumping for Trump, Tyson is excited about a bevy of upcoming projects. But one intriguing project that didn’t come to fruition was Da Brick—an HBO pilot helmed by Spike Lee starring John Boyega as a young Mike Tyson. Unfortunately, HBO passed on the pilot, though Boyega’s since landed on his feet, starring in the global blockbuster Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

“He was supposed to portray me,” Tyson says of Boyega. “But it didn’t happen. I just don’t know why that didn’t happen, because people had called me and said they’d shot the show, and I guess it just never came out. They shot an episode of the show. John’s an interesting kid. His family’s from Africa, and I could see the similarity [in looks] when I was younger. I could see it.”

One project that looks like it will actually happen is an upcoming Tyson biopic directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Jamie Foxx as Tyson.

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“I spoke to Terence Winter, the movie’s writer. He’s such an interesting guy,” says Tyson. “When we went to pitch the film. I talked, then Terence talked, then Jamie said, ‘OK, let’s go for it!’”

It’s a strange turn of events for Tyson and Foxx, who, according to Tyson, worked for a shady business of his back in the ’80s when he was a struggling comedian.

“Listen, me and my friend we had this business—I financed my friend’s business, and Jamie used to work for us,” he says. “He sold phones—this is when phones first came out—and pagers. This was in ’85 or ’86 out in California, man. We had no concept of running a business so we had gangsters around there coming in with suitcases filled with money and stuff, and Jamie was scared as hell! He’s a good guy, though.”

Tyson is convinced that Foxx is the right man to play him because he’s been shadowing him for years, studying the many ways he acts.

“He’s been around me. He’s been lurking in the quiet, watching me for many, many years,” Tyson says. “He’s been around the circle. He’s seen us go through good times, and bad. He’s seen things that people from the outside didn’t see, from me crying mad to crazy people shooting at me, some crazy crap.”

“Wait,” I ask, “he saw people shooting at you?”

“I’m sure he’s seen people shooting in the club. He had to have been there. I don’t know which time, that’s just how it is in that world,” he replies, refusing to elaborate further.

Tyson is also excited over what transpired this past weekend, when he finally met the current heavyweight boxing champion, Tyson Fury—who is named after Iron Mike—for the first time.

“He’s as crazy as I was. He’s nuts. He’s just nuts because he’s Tyson!” says the man in his trademark lisp. “I met him this past weekend in New York and he said, ‘You know, I’m named after you,’ and I said, ‘Well, my ego is sky-high now, having the heavyweight champion of the world named after me.’”

He pauses. “I just never looked at myself like that, having kids named after me. I guess I need to start conducting myself like a gentleman. That puts strain on you, as a human being, people naming their kids after me. Just leave me the fuck alone, I got issues!”