LAS VEGAS — Just call him Ambassador Iron Mike.
Mike Tyson was once the baddest man on the planet. Now he’ll be circling that planet as a self-titled ambassador to spread the gospel of boxing to the Chinese.
“I didn’t even know what an ambassador really was,” he said Thursday. “When I think of ambassadors I think of living off government money and jet-setting with girlfriends.”
No government money just yet, though a Chinese company is paying Tyson to visit in December. No girlfriends, either, especially since his wife is due with a baby boy early next year.
And no real formal agenda just yet for his trip to China in December, either.
“I know he wants to see Chairman Mao’s body,” said Gary Yang, an executive with Tianjin International Sports Development in China.
The Chinese want to see Tyson, too, if Yang and his partner, Qing Yu, are correct. They held a news conference Thursday to announce a deal for Tyson to visit the country and scout boxers for a series of matches in the city of Tianjin.
The news seemed to be news to Tyson, too.
“Mike hasn’t been brought up to speed really,” promoter Sterling McPherson said. “But if Mike likes what he sees there can be many, many more trips to China.”
Apparently Tyson hadn’t brought the Chinese up to speed, either, because he already saw Mao’s tomb on a visit to China in 2006. Tyson has spoken fondly of Mao in the past, and has a tattoo of the former Chinese leader on his right arm.
As appearances go, it was a far cry from the days when a glowering Tyson used to show up an hour late and then sneer at anyone who dared ask a question. Reborn over the last few years as an actor, dancer and pitchman, he got a chance to show off his new comedic side.
“Can we talk about what will take place on the trip?” someone asked.
“Yeah, tell me,” Tyson replied. “I’m pretty interested.”
Just what Tyson will be doing in China other than visiting Mao’s tomb in Tiananmen Square wasn’t quite clear, though what was clear was that he was being paid good money to do it.
“I’m just as clueless as you,” Tyson said. “But I’m an ambassador so I should have some say.”
Yang talked vaguely about having Tyson looking for talent for boxing shows in China, where amateur boxing is thriving, and perhaps helping to sell tickets to shows the company plans to put on.
“Chinese people just love Mr. Tyson,” he said. “He’s above (Muhammad) Ali there, though I shouldn’t say that.”
Tyson probably shouldn’t have said so much either, but the news conference was faltering and in need of rescue. In answer to a question, he said he liked Thai food better than Chinese, but remembered from his earlier trip how to say hello in Chinese.
When it came to the state of boxing in China, he had some ways to make it better, too.
“Didn’t you guys have an altercation with the Japanese people at one time?” he asked Yang. “Here’s what you do: You go looking for a Chinese fighter who will beat the evil Japanese guy and get revenge. That will sell.”