Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

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The rebranding of Mike Tyson

March 11, 2015

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Cartoon Mike Tyson in his new show on Adult Swim "Mike Tyson Mysteries." (via Adult Swim)

Last Friday marked the 30-year anniversary of boxer Mike Tyson’s first professional fight against Hector Mercedes, and his controversial legacy was analyzed in long form stories by Sports Illustrated and SB Nation.

When most people think about Tyson, they probably remember negative things first: a rape conviction in 1992, biting off a part of Evander Holyfield’s ear in 1997 and drug and DUI charges in 2007.

But lately, as clearly evident in SI’s and SB Nations’ stories, the 48-year-old seems to be getting another chance, and a lot of that has to do with a deliberate rebuilding of his personal brand.

Over the past six years, Tyson has done this partly by making cameos on Hollywood films like the Hangover, but mainly through business ventures built around his persona that have paid off.

Below, I’ve compiled a timeline of all of his major forays into the entertainment business world, beginning all the way back to the late 1980s.

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Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out. In 1987 Nintendo paid Tyson $50,000 to acquire the rights to his likeness for a boxing video game. “Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out” was a hit, and you can see Tyson trying defeat himself at his own game almost 30 years later on The Tonight Show late last year. 

Taking on Tyson. Growing up in Brooklyn, Tyson became passionate about raising pigeons, and that passion continues to this day, as evidenced by “Taking on Tyson” — a show about pigeon racing, starring Iron Mike himself — which premiered on Animal Planet in 2011 with six episodes. Though it only aired for one season, Tyson wasn’t done with TV quite yet.

Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth. In the summer of 2012, Tyson and Spike Lee teamed up to create a Broadway show about the boxer’s life. Undisputed Truth’s brutal honesty about Iron Mike’s tough childhood and misdeeds in adulthood won critical acclaim, and the one-man show was picked up for a tour around the country after its Broadway tenure ended in mid-August. The nationwide tour in 2013 lasted from Feb. 15 to May 5.

At this point, Tyson’s cultural cache was probably the highest it had been since the 1990s, and he strategically released his new memoir (which shares the same name with the one-man show) on Nov. 12, 2013. It climbed to No. 14 on the New York Times hardcover bestsellers list later that month, but only stayed there for a week.

A few days after the memoir’s publication, HBO Films’ “Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth” premiered to favorable reviews and 882,000 viewers, which undoubtedly helped buoy his book sales.

Iron Mike Productions. After infamous boxing promoter Don King allegedly stole millions of Tyson’s earnings, the former heavyweight champion vowed never to get involved with the business side of boxing. But in the fall of 2013, Iron Mike teamed up with South Florida businessman Garry Jonas to create Iron Mike Productions, with the goal of creating a boxing promotion business that was beneficial for both the promoters and fighters.

In February 2014, he told USA TODAY Sports that he wanted to give his fighters everything that he didn’t have when he was in the ring. Despite signing decent fighters to Iron Mike Productions, Tyson and Jonas had a falling out late last year, and ESPN says the fate of the company is unclear.

Mike Tyson Mysteries. This is by far my favorite Tyson business venture. Mike has always seemed like a living cartoon in some ways, and now you can literally watch a cartoon version of Tyson on Adult Swim. “Mike Tyson Mysteries” has slowly increased its viewership since its debut in October 2014 going from 1.012 million viewers on its debut to 1.672 million on Feb. 3, 2015.

Adult Swim largely caters to a millennial audience, so Tyson accomplishes two goals by his show’s success: He now has a regular program, starring himself, on TV, and it exposes his brand to a younger audience that might not remember his fighting days so well. The show has even got favorable, if not puzzled reviews from mainstream outlets like the Los Angeles Times.

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The main point of conflict behind SB Nation’s Tyson piece is this: “Why has Mike Tyson been allowed redemption?” I don’t have a good answer to that question, but I can tell you this — Tyson’s success in the entertainment business has certainly helped rebrand his image.

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