We’re at Mile No. 7, and I’m feeling good, which is more than I can say for Mike Tyson. For the former heavyweight boxing champion of the world, life—at least on this bizarre eight-mile walk from Downtown Las Vegas to Nellis Air Force Base—isn’t going so hot.
“My feet are on fire,” the ex-champ says as he sluggishly moves northbound on Nellis Boulevard, and I can empathize. I’m hungry, it’s in the upper 80s, I’m thirsty, and I’m not entirely sure why I and the 10 or so others gathered for this media event are subjecting ourselves to this.
File this under “things that sounded good at the time.”
According to ESPN Radio 1100 personality and organizer Seat Williams, the purpose of this walk is to bring awareness to the hardships and troubles facing our soldiers here and fighting abroad. In addition to Tyson, Williams has enlisted the help of former WBA heavyweight John Ruiz (who brought his wife and son), other local sports stars and a couple of vets.
“We didn’t want things to get out of hand,” says Williams before the journey about not inviting the public for the march. “I wanted star power to get the attention to the public.”
But if the variety of famous (and not so famous) jocks in our contingent didn’t get the public’s attention, the four-officer motorcade escorting us surely would. It’s a nice touch to see one of the officers continually produce a Slurpee from some seemingly hidden compartment on his motorcycle. At the walk’s outset, Tyson—who except for his tribal facial tattoo looks almost nothing like he did even a year ago, having packed on the pounds—seems genuinely grateful as he waves and smiles to onlookers who honk, yell and even rush up to hug him in adoration.
“Man, it must be nice to know people still like you,” I say to the beast of a man as we walk near Owens Avenue. Tyson mutters something unintelligible under the sounds of the road and laughs as he pats me on the back as we both chuckle. Somehow I feel like I’ve made a connection with the man whom so many people over the years have decried as nothing more than an animal or a thug—in a way, it’s maybe one of the most honest shows of personal emotion I’ve ever encountered.
Seven miles later and at the home stretch, however, the once cheery Tyson just wants everything to be over. A flurry of honks greet the now-winded former champ. He waves to the fans, but continues to trudge through the long haul as if he’s being subjected to some new kind of torture.
“I don’t really want to think about them,” Tyson says candidly of his fans. As we approach the end and my quasi-adequate physical tenacity is affirmed by the walk, Tyson, ready to quit, still won’t give up. But he’s not all too happy with the situation, either.
“I just want to get done with this walk,” he says just barely above a whisper, and with a smile.
“Yeah,” I say, agreeing with him. “This does kind of suck, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Tyson says. “But it’s for a good cause.”