'Mike' review: Unflinching look at boxing legend Mike Tyson pulls no punches

·4-min read
Mike -- “CANNIBAL” - Episode 107 -- Tyson examines the complicated events that led up to his fight with Evander Holyfield and the ‘bite heard round the world.’ Mike Tyson (Trevante Rhodes), and Don King (Russell Hornsby), shown. (Photo by: Alfonso Bresciani/Hulu)
Mike Tyson (Trevante Rhodes), and Don King (Russell Hornsby), in Mike. (Alfonso Bresciani/Hulu)

Launching as part of Disney+ Day, new drama Mike reveals the force of boxing legend Mike Tyson in his prime, giving a new generation the change to experience the impact of this cultural icon first hand.

With Karin Gist (Sister Act 3) on showrunner duties and creator Steven Rogers (I, Tonya) fighting Tyson’s corner, Mike creates a portrait of this boxing legend who pulled no punches.

Brought to life by Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight), Mike proves to be an excellent exposé of a fighter who punched his way out of poverty.

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From the outset Mike is a canny combination of formative flashbacks, voice over exposition, and brutal boxing highlights. This makes it easy to bounce between dramatic segues, whilst allowing inevitable time jumps to occur naturally within the narrative. Not only that, but it means that Rhodes is given ample opportunity to imbue his portrayal with a naturalism which taps into Tyson’s innate charisma.

Starting way back in 1974 with a young Mike (Zaiden James) accompanied by the present-day Tyson through voice over, audiences are given a snapshot of his impoverished upbringing. Beaten and bullied by his peers, violence is engrained into the story which portrays this would-be champion as a timid and sensitive soul.

Belittled by Lorna Mae (Olunike Adeliyi) his world-weary mother, the young Tyson finds a surrogate family amongst petty criminals, who exploit him for their own ends. When the story is punctuated with a snippet of his fight with Leon Spinks, teenage Mike (B.J.Minor) takes over as he heads into a juvenile detention centre. Where everything changes for him as Mike Tyson first encounters boxing legend Teddy Atlas (Ethan Dubin).

Mike -- “MONSTER” - Episode 102 -- Cus D’amato discovers Mike at 13, gives him discipline, extremely honed skills and an ego, transforming Mike into the youngest Heavyweight Champion of all time. But at what cost? Teen Mike (B.J. Minor), Sparring Partner (Ethan Dubin), and Cus D’Amato (Harvey Keitel), shown. (Photo by: Patrick Harbron/Hulu)
Teen Mike (B.J. Minor), Sparring Partner (Ethan Dubin), and Cus D'Amato (Harvey Keitel), in Mike. (Patrick Harbron/Hulu)

It's here that the young would-be champion finds his vocation, gets an education and encounters someone who finally believes in him. Dubin is excellent in this supporting role offering tough love and genuine encouragement, which spurs Tyson on to greatness. Through Teddy Atlas he was also introduced to Cus D’Amato (Harvey Keitel), who would become both his trainer and mentor in later years.

Read more: Everything new streaming on Disney+ this September

There's no denying the contribution Keitel makes in his role as D’Amato, giving this project both credibility and kudos through his involvement. It's a patronage which has paid dividends in the past for people like Quentin Tarantino with his first feature Reservoir Dogs. In Mike he fulfils the brief perfectly alongside Trevante Rhodes, who simply seems to disappear inside his performance, moving beyond vocal imitation into an uncharted physicality.

Mike -- “MONSTER” - Episode 102 -- Cus D’amato discovers Mike at 13, gives him discipline, extremely honed skills and an ego, transforming Mike into the youngest Heavyweight Champion of all time. But at what cost? Mike Tyson (Trevante Rhodes), shown. (Photo by: Patrick Harbron/Hulu)
Mike Tyson (Trevante Rhodes), in Mike. (Patrick Harbron/Hulu)

Beyond his confessional charisma, which comes across so readily in those spotlight moments, Rhodes has also nailed the arrogance, insolence and simmering aggression so essential amongst fighters. As Tyson’s track record for first round knockouts makes him wealthier than Midas at barely twenty, Mike then takes its time documenting a descent into excess.

Custom-made limousines with hot tubs, fleets of luxury cars for friends and family all follow, not to mention dozens of women fawning over the heavyweight legend. As the money comes pouring in and natural causes separates Tyson from D’Amato, Russell Hornsby (Fences) steps up as boxing promoter Don King. King not only ups the money-making potential of the Tyson brand at a crucial juncture, but creates a boatload of new problems to boot.

Mike -- “MONSTER” - Episode 102 -- Cus D’amato discovers Mike at 13, gives him discipline, extremely honed skills and an ego, transforming Mike into the youngest Heavyweight Champion of all time. But at what cost? Mike Tyson (Trevante Rhodes), and Don King (Russell Hornsby), shown. (Photo by: Patrick Harbron/Hulu)
Mike Tyson (Trevante Rhodes), and Don King (Russell Hornsby), in Mike. (Patrick Harbron/Hulu)

Walking on screen with all the bravado and high-end hairspray for which Don King was famous, Russell Hornsby leaves scorch marks in his wake as he chews every inch of scenery. In direct correlation, Rhodes rises to meet the challenge of this masterful performance through sheer animal magnetism. Meaning that the further into Mike audiences go the more complex this series becomes, as an ill-fated marriage to Robin Givens (Laura Harrier) and a rape conviction through Desiree Washington (Li Eubanks) shatter his public image.

With Margot Robbie amongst the executive producers, Mike was never going to shy away from controversy in depicting his life. Similar to Bombshell, which explored sexual harassment at the Fox network under Roger Eames, Mike benefits in the same manner.

Mike -- “JAILBIRD” - Episode 106 -- Mike reflects on his 3 years behind bars at the Indiana Department of Corrections. Ray Ray (Diesel Madkins) and Mike Tyson (Trevante Rhodes), shown. (Photo by: Alfonso Bresciani/Hulu)
Mike reflects on his 3 years behind bars at the Indiana Department of Corrections. Ray Ray (Diesel Madkins) and Mike Tyson (Trevante Rhodes). (Alfonso Bresciani/Hulu)

However with this series much of what goes on played out in public under the watchful gaze of celebrity columnists. This means Mike serves as a reminder to a new generation of transgressions for which this man has already paid his penance.

That being said, this dramatisation is in no way a hall pass for the former champion, either advocating his actions or exonerating him from blame.

What Karin Gist and Steven Rogers have offered audiences instead, is an examination of a boxing icon who ultimately lived his life, made his choices and sought to learn from them.

Mike is available to stream on Disney+ from 8 September. Watch a trailer below.