Mike Tyson, Fighting Fear and the Gospel

Mike Tyson has always intrigued me. As a kid I would watch boxing fights with my dad and brother. It was during this time that Tyson was punishing his opponents en route to becoming the youngest undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. He was 20 and the world was at his fingers, or fists. With nicknames like Kid Dynamite, Iron Mike and The Baddest Man on the Planet, he continued to wreak havoc on helpless heavyweights who hoped to get a shot.

Topics: Sports

Mike Tyson has always intrigued me. As a kid I would watch boxing fights with my dad and brother. It was during this time that Tyson was punishing his opponents en route to becoming the youngest undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. He was 20 and the world was at his fingers, or fists. With nicknames like “Kid Dynamite,” “Iron Mike” and “The Baddest Man on the Planet,” he continued to wreak havoc on helpless heavyweights who hoped to get a shot.

I watched him beat Trevor Berbick for the title. He decimated Larry Holmes and embarrassed Michael Spinks in defense of his belts. In fact, even “Little Mac” was working his way up the ranks to face the champ on the Nintendo game, “Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!!” I spent countless hours honing my skills again the likes of Glass Joe, King Hippo, Soda Popinski and Super Macho Man only to have my dreams dashed on the canvas by Iron Mike himself. Even more shocking, I remember where I was when I heard he lost to James “Buster” Douglas. I watched in complete disbelief when he bit the ear off in his rematch with Evander Holyfield. Needless to say, I grew up watching the sights, sounds and drama that is Mike Tyson.

A few weeks ago I watched the documentary titled, “Tyson.”It was a fascinating conversation with a reflective Mike Tyson peppered with fight footage, interviews and training tapes. The documentary opened a window into his dark soul that was both riveting and strikingly common. In short, I learned that Tyson was driven by fear. His upbringing was horrific and filled with loneliness, neglect and pain. There was a defining moment for him as a young boy when he was beat up and humiliated. It was his first fight and his first loss. He vowed it would never happen again. Pain cracked a fissure in his heart and fear took up residence. All of his days since have been marked by a haunting fear of hurt, humiliation and loss.

In an effort to alleviate his pain and assuage his fears, Tyson preemptively predicates pain upon others. The man who everyone feared in the ring actually feared every man. Tyson said, “Fear is your best friend or your worst enemy. It’s like fire. If you can control it, it can cook for you; it can heat your house. If you can’t control it, it will burn everything around you and destroy you. If you can control your fear, it makes you more alert, like a deer coming across the lawn.” Fear catapulted the career of one of boxing’s greatest fighters and fear eventually betrayed him. A house built on a foundation of fear eventually comes crashing down.

Here is what I found to be strikingly common: fear is a wonderfully deceptive motivator. There is no shortage of executives, athletes, parents or pastors who are primarily motivated by fear. Those who fear failure, rejection, pain, etc. continue to pay homage to its insatiable mantra, “not good enough, failure, not loved…”So, in an effort to quiet the critic we continue to strive and achieve. All the while the very image we are perpetuating is a mirage; our “success” is as shallow as our fear is deep. There can be a very dark side to success no matter what the veneer looks like.

The apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:14 speaks of a very different motivator: love. He writes, “For the love of Christ controls us…” The verb “control” carries the idea of being managed, directed and guided. The picture Paul is alluding to is that of two walls hemming one in and dictating one’s direction. In essence, love has become the dominating reality in his life. The apostle John writes similarly in 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” Paul elaborates in verse 15 that the reason love is able to control us and motivate us is because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We no longer live for ourselves, but for him who died and was raised. Our very disposition is now Other-centered; primarily to Christ, secondarily to others and then to self. The incessant calls from within and the painful monuments of personal experience that cry out, “I am not loved,” “rejected,” “abandoned,” and “failure” are all redeemed in the cross of Jesus Christ. God demonstrated his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). We are forever adopted as children and bound to Him forever (Galatians 4:5, Romans 8:35-39). He will never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). I am not lovely, yet I am loved. I am not rejected, but received as a son. I am not abandoned, but bound. I fail, but He is sufficient. Fear is brittle in light of the strength of the cross.

As the credits rolled on the documentary I felt sorry for a man whose only consistent companion has been fear. I don’t wish the shackles of such relationship upon anyone. My heart was hopeful in the God who visits such prisoners and sets them free to enter into His love, rest and freedom through the good news of His Son, Jesus Christ. This is how I pray the story will end.

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