Mike Tyson ... "He does take responsibility for not being a great person at times, but he’ll never admit to that rape." Photo: Getty Images
'What the ---- is this bull----?" Eyes on mine, Mike Tyson slams his fist down on the leather sofa. Then he smiles - a smile that travels slowly up from those sadistic-looking incisors to the flames tattooed over his left eye.
"That was what I was like back then. I had this rage inside and suddenly I'd lose it. But I couldn't be a nice guy and accomplish what I accomplished. I wanted the people who got in the ring with me to think they were dealing with a savage. I wanted them to show me some respect."
I would drink $3000 bottles of Louis XVIII brandy all day long and take an eight-ball of cocaine a night. To me the women were nothing. Not even human beings - not at that stage in my life
I must have been in more intimidating situations, but right now, sitting opposite the one-time World Heavyweight Champion in the living room of his Vegas mansion, I can't think of any.
This man bit off Evander Holyfield's earlobe and attempted to break both Francois Botha's arms during a fight. This man is a convicted rapist; he has Mao's face tattooed on his right bicep.
Talk to those who know him best, however, and he is a changed man: a devoted husband and father of eight who, at 45, has been sober for over three years.
"It's about control," says Tyson, his lisp giving him a curiously childlike air. "Every day, it's about control. Although I don't think the rage will ever be gone, I do know that I don't want to get into trouble any more. I want my wife and children to respect me. I want to build a healthy, functional foundation for us and the kids."
Healthy and functional - if atypical - is how this family home appears. When his daughter, Milan, runs into the room, Tyson's pantomime growls are a source of pure delight to the four year-old. Upstairs in the nursery, Tyson's 16-month-old son, Morocco, is asleep, and out in the back garden, the former boxer keeps a hundred racing pigeons.
It seems odd to start a new life in Sin City, but rather than distance themselves from Tyson's squalid past, he and Kiki - his 35-year-old wife of three years - have chosen to embrace the former boxer's infamy.
Mike Tyson Cares
The couple have set up a foundation, Mike Tyson Cares, supporting underprivileged children and victims of spousal abuse.
And in The Undisputed Truth, the biographic one-man show that Tyson is due to take to Broadway next year, no subject is off limits.
Illustrated by video footage, the former boxer details his 30-year drug and alcohol addictions and psychotic episodes in and out of the ring.
He admits to a penchant for Japanese prostitutes, and even makes a veiled reference to Desiree Washington, the 18-year-old beauty queen he has always denied raping.
"It's therapeutic to talk about what I've lived through in front of hundreds of people," he explains.
"And when you've been in rehab, you're very comfortable talking about yourself."
Stints in clinics over the years have helped, but Tyson is wary of being overconfident.
"I'm a major league relapse artist.
I'll do two years and then think, '---- it'."
There's been enough tragedy in Tyson's life to explain the madness.
His mother died when he was 16, his sister when she was 25, and in a freak accident three years ago his four-year-old daughter, Exodus, strangled herself on a treadmill cord.
Still, it's the little things that tip him over the edge. The last time he hit a man (a photographer at Los Angeles Airport two-and-a-half years ago), he was "looking for a reason to punch somebody. My wife had upset me and that guy just gave me the opportunity to lash out."
Whether it was the culmination of his barbaric childhood, becoming, at 20, the youngest world heavyweight champion there has ever been, or the death of Cus D'Amato, the trainer who plucked a teenage Tyson from the Brooklyn slums and became his mentor and surrogate father, Tyson had embarked on a steady decline by 1985.
Three years in prison, where he converted to Islam, only made things worse.
Mission to self destruct
After his release in 1995 the boxer was on a mission to self-destruct.
"I would drink $3000 bottles of Louis XVIII brandy all day long and take an eight-ball of cocaine a night." And the women?
"To me the women were nothing," he says tonelessly.
"Not even human beings - not at that stage in my life."
Drunk and power-crazed, Tyson would charter jets to England, Paris and Switzerland for the day. By 2003, he had squandered his $300 million fortune and been declared bankrupt.
"Celebrity wasn't a big thing in the 1980s. It was the money that was a problem," he says, staring into the mid-distance. Money meant as much cocaine as he could take.
"Drugs give you everything you want," he says, "but they take so much in return. Still, my mother was an addict and my father was an addict. That was the world I came from."
Tyson was less than one year old when he first tasted alcohol.
Fed liquor and drugs
"My mother would feed me liquor and drugs to get me to sleep," he says. He was two when his father, Jimmy Kirkpatrick, abandoned him and his two siblings, Rodney and Denise, and Tyson remembers the Brooklyn home the family moved into "smelling of sewage and weed" and being "full of whores and pimps".
School wasn't the haven it should have been. "I was a fat kid with acne all over my face, so I got the ---- kicked out of me."
Tyson would get there late to avoid the bullies and run home as quickly as he could afterwards. Then one day he hit back. How did it feel to throw a punch?
"It felt really good - so good that I couldn't wait until the next day so that I could do it again. People wouldn't do it if it didn't feel so good."
With Kiki in the next room, he lowers his voice when I ask how many women he's slept with.
"I never counted. But I had no concept of love before, so if a woman liked to kiss me and do nice things to me, I saw that as her loving me and me loving her. Hell, I've been in love with every prostitute I ever slept with. I had a pretty primitive view of things back then."
These days he seems more confident about staying faithful than staying sober.
"You will never see me alone in a car with a woman - let alone touching one. No. It's me and Kiki now and we're devoted to one another."
When Tyson wanders outside to check on his pigeons, Kiki - the beautiful daughter of a Muslim cleric who first met her husband 17 years ago - tells me she's finally got what she wanted.
"I honestly never thought he could give this to me," she smiles, gesturing at her husband, the house, the tranquil atmosphere.
"I kept on fighting because Mike's heart is so pure."
Many women - certainly those who came across Tyson during what he calls "the savage years" - would find that hard to believe. His first wife, Monica Turner, accused him of adultery; his second wife, Robin Givens, described marriage to Tyson as "torture, pure hell".
Has Kiki ever felt scared of him?
"Yes," she nods. "We tried to live together when I was 26 and he left me for some whore. But at that point I heard that he was bipolar..."
And since then?
"We've been in each other's faces but I've never felt that he was going to hit me."
She looks through the French windows at her husband.
"He does take responsibility for not being a great person at times, but he'll never admit to that rape.
"Mike admits that he was a womaniser and that he's done some deplorable things that he probably should have gone to prison for - but he didn't do that thing."
Discipline of Islam
It was in part for Kiki that Tyson converted to Islam, but mostly because he likes the discipline.
These days he goes to bed at 7pm and gets up at 2am to work out in the gym downstairs.
He rarely goes out and he prays twice a day. "I'm pretty extreme and I want to do the right thing. That's why I work on my temper; that's why I pray."
In one of the many asides that indicate an untapped intelligence, Tyson tells me that he has adapted the religion to suit his own aims.
"It's like when the Chinese became communist - they couldn't live like the Russians so they took communism on, but from a different perspective."
Ask him if he'll ever box again and Tyson gives a hoarse laugh.
"Oh, that's over. You could offer me a billion dollars and I'd still say no. I have to be the best at something, otherwise I won't do it. I'm too vain to be humiliated."
Milan is back, wanting to play, but before I leave I'm curious to know one thing. Does he wish his mother had lived to see him become a world champion?
Mother didn't like him
"I don't know," he says uneasily. "My mother didn't like me much. She always thought I was a braggart. She didn't think that I could do it."
His face brightens.
"My father was impressed, though."
Smiling, he tells me about his father's reappearance when he was 23.
"I was a success with a big-time apartment and a big-time doorman. He came to see me and he said, 'You're the big man, aren't you? The big man.'
"Funny, isn't it? That all that stuff would give someone the impression that you were important." And with that, Tyson wanders back outside to his pigeons.