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Mike Tyson: Punches, Prison and Pygmalion Effect

ET Cases, 9 pages
AUTHOR(S) : Deepti Nair and Dr. Nagendra V. Chowdary

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Mike Tyson: Punches, Prison and Pygmalion Effect


“My main objective is to be professional but to kill him. I want to rip out his heart and feed it to him. I want to kill people. I want to rip their stomachs out and eat their children.”


Despite his (in) famous lifestyle, varied addictions, failed marriages and jail sentences, Mike Tyson (born Michael Gerard Tyson), has been one of the most renowned heavyweight boxers of all time. Bullied as a boy, Tyson often found himself in fights with those who ridiculed his high-pitched voice and lisp. Under Cus D’Amato’s tutelage, Tyson grew up to be the youngest heavyweight boxing champion. This victory marked the beginning of Tyson’s enviable rise to success, fame and fortune. But his blatant disregard for self-control, both inside the ring and outside soon overshadowed his boxing brilliance. His aggression made his progress regressive. Coupled with years of wild partying, addictions, convictions and jail-term, Tyson became the most loved bad boy. Nevertheless, soon Tyson found himself reeling in debt and facing bankruptcy, but Tyson being Tyson fought his way back. He worked back towards regaining his glory – professional and personal – restoring his dignity and winning back the love of his family. Given his extraordinary career and life, Tyson won a place in the Boxing Hall of Fame in 2011. What reasons could have influenced Tyson’s violent and reckless behavior? Did D’Amato’s demise and the dizzying pace of his success leave Tyson disillusioned? What role did the Pygmalion effect play in shaping Tyson’s attitude and behavior? Was he a victim of his unbridled success? Was his behavior a larger-than-life manifestation of years of self-depreciation and bruised self-image?

Birth of the World Heavyweight Champion

Michael Gerard Tyson known to the world as Mike Tyson (Tyson) was born on June 30th 1966 to Lorna Tyson (Lorna) and Jimmy Kirkpatrick. An alcoholic mother with no steady means of livelihood and an absentee father, who worked as a pimp and abandoned the family when Tyson was only 2 years old was what he had for a family.

As a child, Tyson lived in condemned buildings, which lacked basic amenities including water and power supply, among other things. To add to this, the neighborhood he grew up in was notoriously famous for its crimes. Describing his neighborhood and home in Brownsville, Brooklyn, Tyson said, “…That is the kind
of life I grew up in. People in love cracking their heads and bleeding like dogs…Holy shit, I was scared to death of my family…”..........

Tyson: Professional Glory and Personal Infamy

In 1982, Tyson won the gold, second time in a row, at the Junior Olympics. What was disturbing, however, was the fact that by then Tyson had also taken up to drinking and drugs, on the sly.

March 6th 1985 marked Tyson’s debut into professional boxing against Hector Mercedes, who was knocked out in the first round by the 18 year old Tyson.

His opponents were intimidated by Tyson’s notable defensive abilities, strength and quick fists and were often scared to hit the fighter. This gave Tyson the uncanny ability to take his opponents down in just one round and thus earning him the nickname, “Iron Mike” . The ‘hit-and-away’ style of the amateurs was no match for Tyson’s ‘high-pressure’ technique. He fought 15 bouts in the same year and won every single fight either by a ‘knockout’ or a ‘technical knockout’. That year The Ring Magazine (an American Boxing magazine) named him their “Prospect of the Year”..............

Tyson and Transformation

Tyson described his avatar during his heydays as that of an ‘arrogant prick’. His self-loath had reached a point where he wanted to deface himself. At the height of his career, he had to hire bodyguards for a completely different reason as he had into an unbelievable cad. He said, “I hired bodyguards not to protect myself from the public, but to protect the public from me.”...............

Teaching Note Preview

Mike Tyson: Punches, Prison and Pygmalion Effect



This case study was written to analyse the effect and limitations of Pygmalion effect. It shall prove useful for understanding the power of reinforcement and motivation in the Organizational Behavior Course. Mike Tyson’s (Tyson) life had been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride. His surreal rise to fame and success was complimented by an equally stunning fall from glory amidst a string of personal and professional controversies. A tough and troubled upbringing in one of the poorest neighbourhood in Brooklyn coupled with frequent stints across various detention centres was what Tyson had for a childhood. However, under Cus D’Amato’s (D’Amato) guidance and tutelage, Tyson re-discovered himself. Over the years he emerged as the youngest heavyweight champion ever, marking the beginning of an immensely successful and envious career. But this success was neither long-lived nor free of its share of controversies. Tyson’s blatant disregard for self-control and his aggressive behavior further added to his fast mounting troubles. Could Tyson attain such dizzying levels of success without his coach and mentor Cus D’Amato? What effect did Pygmalion effect have on Tyson? Why couldn’t it be sustained in the long-run? What kind of behavior, professional and personal, is expected from sporting personalities pursuing ‘violent’ sports like boxing, wrestling, etc.?

Prerequisite Conceptual Understanding

This Case study’s discussion presupposes a prerequisite conceptual understanding of the following:

a) Pygmalion Effect and
b) Emotional Intelligence

Accordingly, the following two articles are mandatory background readings for this case study. Also, students should be encouraged to watch Sony Picture’s Tyson documentary

  • • J. Sterling Livingston, “Pygmalion in Management”, Harvard Business Review, September-October 1988
  • • Daniel Goleman, “What Makes a Leader”, Harvard Business Review, November-December 1998
  • • Tyson, Sony Pictures Classic, September 14th 2008


Expected Learning Outcomes

  • • Understand the antecedents and influencing factors of Mike Tyson’s socially controversial and unacceptable behavior and discuss the role of his mentor in his early-life transformation
  • • Discuss the relationship between some of the ‘violent’ sports and the expected behaviors of such sports personalities and the influence on their personal lives
  • • Discuss and debate on how and how not the Pygmalion effect worked in shaping the life of Boxing Hall of Fame’s star, Mike Tyson and to analyze the limitations of Pygmalion effect


The following series of questions were addressed during the classroom discussion:

  • 1. What kind of influence did Tyson’s ‘forgettable’ and ‘disturbed’ childhood have on his personality?
  • 2. Trace Tyson’s transformation from his tough childhood to his interaction with Cus D’Amato followed by his unmatched rise to fame and subsequent downfall. What lessons does Tyson’s life offer w.r.t. managing oneself?
  • 3. What role did Cus D’Amato play in Tyson’s transformation? What impact did D’Amato’s death have on Tyson’s professional and personal life?
  • 4. According to you, why was Tyson influenced by Mohammed Ali to pursue a career in boxing? Was this choice reflective of his ‘innate violent urges’?
  • 5. ..............................


Assignment Questions

The classroom discussion broadly answered the following questions which in-turn helped achieve the three pedagogical objectives listed above.

  • I. Describe Mike Tyson’s personality before Cus D’Amato’s presence in his life. What lessons does his life provide with respect to managing oneself?
  • II. Do you think there is a relationship between the nature of the sport and the expected behavior of sports personalities? Does the nature of the sport play a role in influencing and shaping the behavior of such sporting icons?
  • III. ..........................



Exhibit (TN)-I: The Board Plan

Exhibit (TN)-II: Tyson’s Transformation & Its Effects

Exhibit (TN)-III: Tyson’s Professional Success vs Personal Behavior

Exhibit (TN)-IV: Sports: Aggression vs Need for Physical Overpowering Matrix

Exhibit (TN)-V: Tyson and EI

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Product code: OB-1-0024, OB-1-0024A


This case study can be used to highlight the importance of the concept of Pygmalion Effect and to analyze the five elements of Emotional Intelligence, which are responsible in shaping up an individual's behavior and professional success. Structured around the life of boxing champion Mike Tyson, this case study helps in understanding how Pygmalion Effect may or may not have the desired effect. Felon, famed boxer, addict, philosopher - Mike Tyson's life had been a roller-coaster ride defying expectations and conventional wisdom. The world would never have expected the youngest heavyweight boxing champion to be a boy with a tough and troubled childhood. No one would have imagined Tyson to have been brought up in a broken home in the poorest neighborhood in Brooklyn with numerous stints across various detention centres.

Could Tyson attain such dizzying levels of success without his coach and mentor, Cus D'Amato? The surreal rise to fame and glory, followed by a shameful downfall marred with controversies only to be completed by an unbelievable transformation. Tyson's life has been a tumultuous journey beyond imagination. Was Tyson's troubled childhood responsible for his recklessly violent behavior both, inside and outside the ring? What impact did Pygmalion effect have on Tyson? What kind of behavior, professional and personal, is expected from sporting personalities pursuing 'violent' sports like boxing, wrestling, etc.?

Pedagogical Objectives

  • To understand the antecedents and influencing factors of Mike Tyson's socially controversial and unacceptable behaviour and discuss the role of mentor in his early-life transformation
  • To discuss the relationship between some of the 'violent' sports and the expected behaviours of such sports personalities and the influence on their personal lives.
  • To discuss and debate on how and how not the Pygmalion effect worked on shaping the life of Boxing Hall of Fame's star, Mike Tyson and to analyze the limitations of Pygmalion effect

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- Abstract
- Case Study
- Teaching Note (**ONLY for Academicians)

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