The last time Mike Tyson saw Tupac Shakur, it was September 7, 1996.
'Pac, who had struck up a friendship with Tyson in the early 1990s, came to Las Vegas like thousands of others to watch "Iron Mike" clean the clock of fellow pugilist Bruce Seldon. That night, Tyson won the World Boxing Association's heavyweight championship title via first-round TKO. After the bout, Mike, 'Pac and Suge Knight headed to the locker room to celebrate. No one knew that prizefight night would also mark one of the greatest tragedies in hip-hop: Tupac was shot as he left the Tyson/Seldon matchup; he died from his injuries a few days later, on September 13.
" 'Pac was just a ball of energy," Tyson recalled of his friend, when MTV News called him up on Wednesday (June 16).
The most prolific MC ever, 'Pac would have celebrated his 39th birthday Wednesday. Instead, the hip-hop community honors Shakur's life and legacy. Tyson remembered him as an individual who was unique, to say the least. The former heavyweight partied with the icon, but the two men also shared some insightful private conversations.
"He was incredible. You knew he was a special person when he's in your presence," Tyson said on the phone from Las Vegas.
"If you had any consciousness of the reality we live in, you could feel his energy. You knew he was a special individual." Mike described their talks as, "purely emotionally intimate talking; expression of feeling. He was very prolific in expressing himself. He had a lot of hostility. I think it was just misguided and misdirected. It was obvious he was a genius, he was a prodigy. Whoa! He was just amazing as far as his energy was concerned. He was explosive — like a black panther ready to pounce."
In the ring, Tyson exhibited 'Pac-like qualities himself. He intimidated the competition, but the people loved him. He was a warrior, the fiercest gladiator the sport has ever seen.
"He looked very destructive. He came across as a world beater," Tyson said. "As far as his music was concerned, his presence and his energy ... the word I'm looking for is fearless. He came across as fearless. When you come across somebody that's fearless, you're a little bit in awe. You're like. 'Whoa!' He's ready to blow, too, at any moment; very volatile. He's very focused. He can go from one second to the next and get very focused."
Tyson and Tupac met during a turning point in both their careers. Iron Mike was the biggest and baddest draw in boxing, but also a year removed from having lost his heavyweight championship. 'Pac was still affiliated with Digital Underground and about a year from landing the star-making role that would launch him: the intriguing, if insane, Bishop in 1992's crime saga "Juice."
"Magic Johnson had a party at the Palladium in Los Angeles," Iron Mike said, jogging his memory. "What year was this? No, I wasn't champion, it was '91. I just fought [Donovan 'Razor'] Ruddock ... I believe I came outside. I was talking to the people running the door. They were friends of mine. They wouldn't let these guys in, Tupac and them. I said, 'Man, let these guys in. You remember how it was with us.'
"So they let him in. 'Pac had said, 'Hold up for one minute,' and he brought back 200 more people. He had a gang of people with him. They said, 'Listen, you can't go through the front, you have to go through the back.' Next thing I knew, it was over. I hear somebody on the mic — he took the mic. Him and his guys got the mic somehow and started rapping. The whole crowd started going crazy. They loved him. The guys from Digital Underground introduced him to me. They said, 'This is Tupac.' I met him, he was very young. He was very happy, vivacious. He just had energy. He was wild, an amazing individual."
More than three years would pass before Tyson and Tupac crossed paths again. In 1995, 'Pac visited the champ at the Plainfield Correctional Facility, in Plainfield, Indiana, where Tyson was serving his sentence for a rape conviction (a crime for which Tyson still maintains his innocence).
"The next time I saw [Tupac] I didn't even know who he was," Tyson said. "I knew he was '2Pac.' But his mother had wrote me a letter in prison ... I remembered that night. He came to prison to see me. We spoke. He was so much more confident than when I had met him the other time, probably a year or two prior to that. He had gone from being shy guy to very strong-willed and confident and independent. He was tremendously feeling himself. He had so much confidence. He was bursting off the air.
"He came to the prison. He was standing on the table, started talking. All the people in the prison started going crazy. I said, 'Sit. Sit down. Sit, brother, sit,' " Tyson recalled. "The white prisoners, the guards, everybody went crazy in this redneck prison. They went nuts when he came in there. I didn't know he was [famous] like that. I didn't know he was like that! I thought he was some young brother. But when he came in, I didn't know people was feeling him like that too. I was like, 'Yo man. Chill, brother.' He was wilding, sweating, talking, being very gregarious. He was prolific. He was talking, having a ball. ... He was very territorial. He was an interesting guy. He was different than any other rapper I had ever met from a philosophical perspective."
Tyson said all of the prisoners were trying to talk to 'Pac and snap pictures with him. But the champ was concerned that all the hoopla might get him thrown out of the facility, which had happened before when other celebs had visited the boxing legend.
"I didn't know Tupac was that big then, because I was inside," Tyson explained. "That's when they had that [East Coast vs. West Coast] beef stuff [with Bad Boy]. I didn't know Tupac was who he was. I had no idea."
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