Some individuals achieve such fame for their contribution to history, that they are capable of identification by just a single name.
Churchill. Hitler. Stalin.
Shakespeare. Mozart. Elvis.
Such recognition may reflect their achievements, notoriety, talent, or all the above.
Their names enter the lexicon of a nation.
JFK. Nixon. Lennon & McCartney. Titles that evoke the lives and legacy of the personnel concerned.
It crops up in sports frequently. Torvill & Dean. McEnroe. KP.
The famous Welsh rugby stars of the 70s are still often referred to by their Christian names alone in the South Wales Valleys. Even by just their initials. JPR is known to all. ‘Alun Wyn’ has continued the trend.
It is especially common in football.
Beckenbauer. Beckham. Shearer.
Matthews. Finney. Gazza.
Who was better: Ronaldo or Messi? History will deliberate on that one for decades.
The single names of Best, Charlton & Law define an entire soccer dynasty.
Moore, Peters, and Hurst will remain English heroes forever.
Perhaps though, it crops up most often in boxing.
Ali v Frazier.
Bruno. AJ. Marciano for older readers. Calzaghe. Tyson.
Mike Tyson is one of those figures whose fame surpasses his own world. Undoubtedly one of the fiercest heavyweight boxers of all time, his list of achievements makes impressive reading. Winning his first 19 fights by knockout. Unification of world titles. Awesome
achievements in his early twenties.
Tyson’s reputation defined him. Victory over Michael Spinks in 91 seconds, knocking out the legendary Larry Holmes, demolishing all-comers with chilling ruthlessness. Simple black shorts. Cold eyes and a hammer in each hand. A fighter who cared little for the more refined niceties of the noble art.
At the height of his fame, the softly spoken Tyson was, quite simply, one of the most recognised sporting personalities in the whole world. In addition to his many accomplishments in the ring though, his activities on the other side of the ropes also kept him firmly in the public eye
His first wife, Robin Givens, described living with him as “torture, pure hell, worse than anything I could possibly imagine.” Some stories claim that he made a prison official pregnant while in jail; that he wrestled with a tiger and that he even offered a member of staff at a zoo $10,000 to let him fight a gorilla. Tyson apparently offered the sum to a zookeeper in the hope that he’d let him fight a silverback gorilla. The legendary former heavyweight champion has told the story of how his offer was declined on a day he’d hired out the entire zoo just for him and Robin Givens. Unsurprisingly the fight never took place.
Tyson’s intimidating, all-embracing face tattoos seem mild in comparison, don’t they?
So, yes, my meeting with Iron Mike Tyson remains fixed in my mind.
My rendezvous with him came about through my association with Welsh boxer Joe Calzaghe.
By the time Joe’s details appeared in my phone book, I was already well established, providing independent financial and investment advice to a growing list of household names, especially from the world of sport and entertainment.
Joe though, Joe was something else. To the outside world, his name may not trip readily off the tongue in any list of the world’s greatest pugilists. History though will prove otherwise.
I began my association with Joe not long after he defeated legendary British boxer, Chris Eubank, for the vacant WBO Super-Middleweight Championship in 1997 in Sheffield. Eubank later described the Welsh ace as the “proper article, a true warrior.”
Despite his Hammersmith origins, Joe wore his mother’s Welshness with pride, emerging as an icon of the ‘Cool Cymru’ brand (Cymru = Wales in Welsh) that emerged to embrace stars such as Catatonia, the Manic Street Preachers, and others during the 90s. The Juventus-supporting boxer held world championships
at two weights, including the unified WBA (Super), WBC,
IBF, WBO, Ring Magazine and lineal super-middleweight titles,
and the Ring light-heavyweight title. He is the longest reigning super-middleweight world champion in boxing history, having held the WBO title for over 10 years. Joe retired with the longest continual stint as the world champion of any active fighter at the time. He was also the first man to unify three of the four major world titles (WBA, WBC, and WBO) at super- middleweight, and was the first Ring champion in that weight class. Rare blemishes on his career had been a 1990 defeat at the hands of another of my clients, Michael Smythe, at the Welsh ABA finals and Romanian Adrian Opreda at the 1990 European Junior Championships in Prague. This had still left Joe with an impressive 110–10 record as an amateur mind. His professional career finished with 46 fights, and 46 wins. That’s only three less than Rocky Marciano.
So yes, Joe has some standing within boxing circles and entered the Boxing Hall of Fame in 2014. He also collected the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award in 2007. Joe has been awarded the title of Welsh Sports Personality of the Year three times.
Over the years, as with many of my clients, I became not just Joe’s advisor but also his representative, advocate, and confidant.
I also advised Joe’s Italian-born father, Enzo. Famous names.
Tyson though, Tyson’s fame was simply on another level again.
Joe Calzaghe was due to meet David Starie at the MEN Arena, Manchester on 29 January 2000. At the time, Joe was the WBO Super-Middleweight champion. World Champion. 27 undefeated contests to date. Top billing, you might think.
One MG Tyson was also set to appear on the card, however. A gift for the media men and publicity machinery.
Even though the fearsome Tyson’s best results occurred long before entering the ring that night in Manchester, the Tyson legend remained pure box office. His notoriety and past achievements
still ensured bums on seats, irrespective of his faded glory. The tune may have been over but the malady lingered on.
Tyson was set to share the ring with Julius Francis, a 35-year-old Londoner whose modest achievements to date had included gaining a coveted Lonsdale Belt, a reward bestowed on fighters who had won three British title fights.
This was to be Tyson’s 51st professional bout but his first in the UK. His list of earlier conquests reads like a ‘who’s who’ of the noble art. Bruno, Spinks, Holmes. Chilling victories, ferocious punching, unification fights, Madison Square Garden, the Las Vegas Hilton, and Caesar’s Palace. Tyson had been brought to you by HBO, Showtime, and King Vision. He had been promoted by Don King during his career – himself a controversial figure, partly due to a manslaughter conviction and civil cases against him. These guys simply don’t settle for second billing.
So, it perhaps came as a little surprise to some that, even though the night marked the latest encounter for a WBO World Champion of some standing, the legendary name and persona of Mike Tyson still dominated the build-up.
This was to be Tyson’s first fight on European soil and the reputation of the New York City slugger easily preceded him into the Manchester contest.
Home Secretary Jack Straw granted a dispensation to
Tyson – who had served half of a six-year jail sentence after being convicted of rape in 1992, before then being imprisoned again for four months in 1999 for attacking two motorists – to even enter the UK. Justice for Women, a feminist campaigning organisation, had tried to stop the fighter’s entry into the country.
None of this fazed Iron Mike of course as the native New Yorker’s entourage took over an entire floor of London’s Grosvenor House Hotel. Chaotic scenes at Heathrow added to the aura of menace. His visit to Brixton attracted 2,000 onlookers. There were stories of a shopping spree that saw him spend £450,000 on high-end jewellery.
As an aside, this occasion also includes a bizarre story in the lead-up to the fight.
Francis approached me for independent, financial advice via his agent, with whom I had already established a strong business relationship. I never formalised an arrangement with him though I was able to help him out a little when I spent a few hours in conversation with him.
Francis also saw that the bout with the legendary Tyson provided him with a unique opportunity to maximise his earnings. He reported, “I got paid £350,000 for the fight, while Tyson got £7m. I’m not annoyed about that, but people think I got a lot for it.”
To boost his purse, Francis told me that he had agreed on an amazing deal with the Daily Mirror newspaper to have the bottom of his boxing shoes sponsored. Piers Morgan would have been a key decision maker at the Mirror in those times. The thinking being, I guess, that as he lay spreadeagled on the canvas courtesy of another blow from the iron fists of Mike Tyson, the entire world would believe that this fighter was an avid Daily Mirror reader. They would also view the Mirrorlogo in full colour of course. Marketing and commercialism at their most ruthless. You couldn’t make it up, could you?
The fight itself was irrelevant. Tyson sent the underdog Francis to the canvas five times, fully justifying the Daily Mirror’saudacious investment, before winning the fight as early as the second round. The 17-stone, Peckham-born Francis later described how the sheer power of the punches he faced had even lifted him off the ground. Only fools & boxers, eh?
So, as I say, what with the boxing and brutality, Tyson, despite an uncertain reputation, remained a ‘celebrity’ to put it mildly. Fame and recognition on a global scale.
Tyson’s reputation, history, and sheer magnitude even impressed our man Calzaghe in the build-up to the Manchester Massacre.
Joe came face-to-face with Tyson after his father Enzo almost provoked a fight with the so-called Baddest Man on The Planet.
Training alongside one another for a week, Calzaghe claimed he asked Tyson for a photo.
Pietro Vincenzo “Enzo” Calzaghe, Joe’s dad, was charged with taking the photograph.
Enzo himself was no slouch when it came to ringside craft either mind. In recognition of his achievements as Joe’s coach, he won ‘Coach of the Year’ at the BBC Sports Personality awards, The Ring Magazine trainer of the year for 2007, and the Futch–Condon Award, awarded by the Boxing Writers Association of America, for Trainer of the Year in 2007.
Enzo had been a schoolmate of Joe Bugner – who went 12 rounds with both Ali and Frazier in his time – and had learned to box to protect himself from school bullies.
But Iron Mike clearly wasn’t in the mood for photographic niceties, declining to even smile for the camera.
The tough Sardinian Enzo was unimpressed by this lack of chivalry from the former world champion. He confronted the American “Are you gonna smile or what?” he enquired.
Amazingly Calzaghe Senior’s head remained attached to his 5’7” frame after this exchange and Joe later joined Iron Mike for a chat outside the gym, where Tyson talked about family, money….and eating Don King’s children.
My role in all of this had been largely that of a bemused
observer. I was the same height as Enzo. Extracting reluctant smiles from theBaddest Man on the Planet had not hitherto featured on my bucket list so I had stayed well out of it all.
Joe saw a role for me. Even though he was the world champ, the pre-fight publicity was all about Iron Mike. Publicity posters screamed the single word, ‘TYSON.’
The whole world knew just who ‘Tyson’ was. Beneath the dayglo blue and green lettering, the unmistakable, enormous face of Tyson glared out – and no, he wasn’t smiling.
Somewhere near the foot of the poster, almost as an afterthought even, promoter Frank Warren had condescended to make mention of the fact that Joe Calzaghe, incidentally, would also be fighting that night, for something called the World Championship. The picture of Joe took up almost as much space on the poster as Tyson’s left ear.
Now, even though Joe Calzaghe was a world champion, a Welsh sporting icon, and a figure of some fame and fortune himself by now, he remained a boxing fan. Joe wanted Tyson to sign some posters for his children.
It’s not that simple though when you are champion of the world. Especially after the photo session experience described above. Eyebrows had already been raised when Francis had reportedly asked for an autograph at the pre-fight weigh-in. Reigning world champions who have dominated all comers, simply do not hang around outside dressing rooms hoping for a chance to ask fighters on the undercard for autographs. Never mind who they are.
It may have been ok for Julius Francis but Francis was no Calzaghe. No legendary, undefeated champion.
“That’s ok,” thought Joe. “Jon will do it.”
This was not the first time that the Calzaghe camp had found me additional employment by the way. As Joe trained one morning, Enzo had me sit at ringside in the gym under strict instructions to ring the bell every three minutes. Presumably, this was designed to replicate the three-minute round-by-round conditions of the big fight. I sat in the corner as Enzo put Joe through his paces. As each three-minute warning arrived, I clanged the bell hard. I often performed some unusual roles for my clients though, so I simply stuck to my task. From tea boy to bell boy now.
I supported my clients throughout their careers and have enjoyed watching many of them utilise their talents at big events, usually from the best seats in the house. Enzo kindly arranged 10 ringside seats for me for the night in Manchester but, to be honest, I could have used 100. My phone never stopped ringing as international sportsmen clamoured for the chance to witness a legend in the flesh.
Watching Tyson train in that gym that he shared with Joe was a tremendous experience. His sheer, powerful force left us breathless and open-mouthed. Over the years, I worked with many great fighters – champions such as Robbie Regan, Steve Robinson, and Howard Eastman, who fought Bernard Hopkins for the World Title. This guy Tyson was a whole new ball game though. He was simply ferocious, even in training.
So, I find myself sitting later at the Grosvenor House, on Park Lane. Joe has assigned me the role of autograph hunter.
The Grosvenor is a 5-star venue within the upscale neighbourhood of Mayfair. We are moments from Hyde Park, Oxford Street, Buckingham Palace, and more.
The exclusive gathering which had assembled after training at the gym had finished, comprised me, promoter Frank Warren, the two Calzaghe Boys… and the man who had once been disqualified in a contest with Evander Holyfield in 1997 for biting Holyfield’s ears. One bite notoriously being strong enough to remove a portion of his right ear. We sat for over an hour, all very relaxed, even with a heavy security presence at the door.
The Islington-born Warren was a very big player on the world boxing scene.
During his time he promoted and managed world champions and top-ranked fighters including Joe, Naseem Hamed, Frank Bruno, Tyson Fury, Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank, Amir Khan , and Ricky Hatton. He had guided Hamed to become Britain’s youngest ever world champion when he overcame another of my clients, Steve Robinson, to win the WBO Featherweight title in Cardiff in 1995.
In 1989, he had been shot outside the Broadway Theatre in Barking by an unknown gunman in a balaclava. The former boxer, Terry Marsh, who had become Warren’s first world champion two years earlier, was accused of the shooting but later acquitted. The Arsenal fan certainly made for an interesting guest at our table.
Joe Calzaghe had, of course, been successful in persuading me to play the part of the autograph hunter. After all, when a world champion asks a favour, it’s hard to decline the request.
The after-dinner conversation reached a natural lull at one point. Here was my chance.
Reaching below the table, I quietly collected two or three of the posters. “Excuse me, Mike, would you mind signing a couple of posters please?”
The fearsome Mike Tyson glared back at me. Eyes that had sent fear into boxing greats, stared at me coldly. Ice eyes. I felt my throat dry up. This man took the word ‘imposing’ to new heights.
He said simply, “No.” Then there was a pause. A long pause.
“I don’t understand,” I somehow replied. “No, you don’t mind or no you won’t sign them?”
What could be described as a stand-off then followed as the fearsome Tyson glared at me. I forget the exact terms of his supplementary response now, suffice to say that it was firmly in the negative, and sprinkled with expletives. The convivial mood in the room quickly changed.
I slid the posters away. Embarrassed in front of legends. Neither of the Calzaghe boys said a word. Nor did Warren. “No” had simply been enough for them.
As we were all shocked and ill-prepared for such behaviour, I soon made my excuses and left. In any event, I had a meeting arranged that afternoon elsewhere in the hotel with Dutch footballer Nordin Wooter. Wooter had begun his career at Ajax but was with Watford at the time. As with so many of the stars I advised over the years we had also become great friends alongside our business relationship.
In the hotel foyer later, Joe came up to me and reassured me. “It’s ok man” he promised. “Mike will sign the posters, no bother.” I was ready to go again. Tyson would sign the posters after the press conference Joe promised. The press conference was due to start imminently.
Power v Tyson II. The rematch. I approached the Brooklyn Bruiser for a second time.
“So, about these posters then Mike?”
The terror was cranked up. This time it was personal. Tyson stared into my eyes from a matter of inches. “Had he not told me before?”
Tyson’s neck measured 20 inches in diameter. That’s nearly two feet ear-to-ear. His 71” reach meant that he could have hit me from over five feet away. He was much, much closer than five feet though, believe me. A cold sweat soon occupied my brow.
I felt my own ear twitch as I glimpsed those snarling teeth. The same dentures that had munched on Holyfield. One of the most feared men in the history of sport now gave it to me both barrels. I trembled visibly. Haverfordwest had not prepared me for a confrontation such as this.
“Who the f…. What the f……. bad ass mother f…er.” I had the lot. The full Brooklyn vocabulary. Eddie Murphy on speed as the giant frame of Tyson stood inches from my eyes. There was no Enzo in my corner to throw in the towel either.
So, was this how my life was to end? Mauled by a tiger wrestler in a top London hotel?
I decided that it was time to finally blow my cover.
Joe and I were pals, but I felt obliged to drop him in it now.
“It’s not for me. It’s for Joe, honest.”
Tyson’s snarling mood switched in a heartbeat. The angry man was gone. Wild eyes now smiled at me, as a friendly uncle might regard a tiny tot. A pussycat emerged. That gentle lisp soothed the savage beast and defused the enormous situation. Hyde became Jekyll. The monster is gone. What the……?
“Well, sure, if it’s for Joe.”
It was all “Hey Man, your name is Jon, right?”
“Well Jon, the first poster is for you.”
Tyson signed the poster “To Jon from Mike Tyson.” I still have it. I was his best friend now. We even had a photo taken. Tyson, Joe, and I. This time he even smiled.
I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry.
My heart thumped evenly once more. A white-robed, scythe-carrying figure slipped away into the shadows. His time would come again. My time had not yet come.
Within seconds, Tyson had moved from likely assassin to become my best buddy. Quite a guy, eh?
So, inevitably perhaps, I hear you ask….
How did a quiet young lad from a modest upbringing in sleepy Pembrokeshire, West Wales, with no formal educational qualifications graduate to dine out with legends?
Why do Knights of the Realm, sporting superstars, and pop idols now know him by his Christian name alone? He has mixed with senior royals and establishment figures.
How on earth could he buy a luxury sports car for a six-figure sum and a six-bedroom executive home in the leafy Cardiff suburbs? He dines in 5-star hotels with international celebrities. How can you reach such dizzy heights?
This is the point of this book. If you aspire to reach your own potential: read on.
Sometimes, the race is not won by the swift, or the battle by the strong; but time and chance happen to them all.
Will you take that chance? Make that chance even?
If there was a 48-hour day and 10 days a week, would you work them? Are you prepared to make and take the breaks; to make your own luck; to seize the chances that come your way?
I want to inspire you. I want you to know just what it takes. Yes, I hope you enjoy the stories, the famous names, and the superstar insights. But hey, this could be you. Honest. It really could. Maybe you won’t reach the heights that I reached but, do you know…you might.
If you aspire to achieve, however modest your ambitions may be, then follow that dream. Dream on and chase your dream.
You will need hard work – inspiration and perspiration. You will need luck. You will need friends you can trust. A loving supportive family helped me, though not all can be so lucky.
Good role models can help shape you or inform your decision-making. A wise and encouraging teacher perhaps. At the end of the day though, it’s down to you. No-one else.
You will need a cool head, a strong will, and good character.
You will need a backbone, a funny bone, and a wishbone.
Oh, and you might need a bike.
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Andrew Cole (187 Premier League Goals)
Jonathan, I met him some years ago when I was still playing football and he helped me with some very shrewd business advice with quite a few properties. I only wished I had stayed in touch with him regarding the advice that he had given me.
Some years later I came across Jonathan again and wow, that’s all I can say, as what he did for me when I caught up with him again has changed my life in a way that I will always be indebted to him - for his honesty and his help.