Mike Tyson (Michael Jai White) sits in a courtroom and reflects on what he's done to get to that point. Flashing back to his childhood in New York, a young Tyson gets caught up in gangs and is arrested many times for violent behavior.
Several years later, Tyson is in a boys' home when boxing manager Cuz D'Amato (George C. Scott) sees him training at a local gym, and offers to take Tyson into a group home with other aspiring boxers. With the help of Cuz and his trainer Kevin Rooney (Clark Gregg), Tyson quickly establishes himself as a force to be reckoned with, and is chosen as a contender for the USA Junior Olympics, where he easily dominates his opponent. However, Tyson's many scandals and rebellious behavior keep getting him into trouble with the law and members of Cuz's family, and Cuz's untimely passing leaves a hole in Tyson's life.
As Tyson wins the World Heavyweight Championship, the people Cuz warned Tyson about begin to work their way into his inner circle, including Robin Givens (Kristen Johnston), an actress who preys on Tyson's sympathy and attempts to control his finances, and famed boxing promoter Don King (Paul Winfield), who steals Tyson from his previous manager Bill Cayton. Tyson's fall from grace culminates in him losing a match against Buster Douglas and being accused of raping a Miss Teen America contestant.
The film was an adaptation of the 1987 book Fire and Fear: The Inside Story of Mike Tyson, and aired a month after Tyson's release from prison in 1995.
The film provides examples of:
- Anachronism Stew: A minor example - the design and nutritional information on the tubs of Breyers Ice Cream (which Cuz and Tyson eat) are clearly from the 1990's, despite the scenes in which they appear happening in 1982.
- Animal Motifs: Tyson and birds. He raises pigeons during his teenage and young adult years, and releases a flock of them into the sky after Cuz's death. When he is being led out of the court at the end of the film, he pauses to look up, where he sees a flock of seagulls in the sky.
- As Himself: Mills Lane (later Judge) appears in his role as a referee in several matchups.
- Auto Erotica: Tyson and Robin consummate their relationship in the back of a limousine after the Spinks fight.
- Berserk Button:
- Kevin's comment about Robin faking her pregnancy causes Tyson to go on a rampage and viciously beat several boxers in the training gym.
- Any time someone insults Robin to Tyson's face, even after they've divorced.
- Big Applesauce: A large portion of the film takes place in New York, specifically the Catskill Region.
- Book Ends: The film starts and ends with Tyson sitting in the courtroom, waiting to hear the verdict in the rape trial.
- Country Matters: Tyson uses the word to insult Robin on his way out of the house after their last fight. Discussed later, when King says, "you don't call a coloured woman the 'c'-word!"
- Downer Ending: Everyone in the film gets this. Camille and Kevin are heartbroken when she sees Tyson's fall from grace. Tyson himself is charged with rape and is sentenced to prison. In the final text screens, it's revealed that Kevin sued Tyson for damages after being unfairly let go, and Don King is still Tyson's promoter (though being investigated for fraud).
- Dark and Troubled Past: Mike's numerous arrests and convictions as a child are covered in a brief montage of voiceovers.
- Even Evil Has Standards: King highly disapproves of Robin's actions, and tells his subordinates that he's shocked that Tyson hasn't left her already.
- Evil Mentor: Don King, who steals Tyson away from Bill Cayton and runs his matches himself.
- Femme Fatale: Robin Givens, who is shown to be incredibly vain and opportunistic. As soon as she gets married to Tyson, she immediately tries to take control of his financial affairs. Her behavior is so bad that even Don King makes note of it.Don King: This is a woman with larceny in her heart.
- Cuz having to pause while walking up the stairs foreshadows his eventual heart problems.
- Jimmy threatens to kill Tyson after the latter makes a move on his (underage) sister-in-law, with Tyson accusing that she made a move on him.
- How We Got Here: The film begins with Tyson sitting alone in a courtroom, then flashes back to show the events leading up to his arrest and trial.
- Karma Houdini: We never find out who was constantly eating Cuz's ice cream before Tyson came to live in the house.
- Kick the Morality Pet: Subverted. Kevin deliberately goads Tyson after the latter fails to show up for practice multiple times. Tyson responds by brutally beating several other boxers, then ignores Kevin to focus on the huge payday King is offering via the fights. Although it would be expected that Tyson would eventually come to his senses... he doesn't, and King fires Cayton and Kevin during a later match.
- Large Ham: Paul Winfield (as Don King) chews the scenery in every scene he appears in.
- Manipulative Bastard:
- Don King, full stop. In the scene where he invites Tyson to join him in his limo, a sinister musical cue plays as he rolls down the limo window, smiles maliciously at Kevin and Cayton, and rolls the window back up before the limo drives off.
- Both Robin and her mother. In the scene where he calls her and asks her out on a date, she and her mother eye each other deviously. Later, both of them concoct a fake pregnancy scheme to get more sympathy from Mike, manage his finances and rake him over the coals in the Barbara Walters interview.
- Meaningful Echo:
- Tyson remembers Cuz yelling about eating his ice cream when he returns to Camille's house near the end of the film.
- In the final scene, as Tyson is led out of the courthouse after his conviction, he pauses to look up at the sky, where a flock of birds are flying through the air, much like his release of the pigeons to honor Cuz after his death.
- A Minor Kidroduction: The first major scene is of Tyson's childhood, where he botches a gang initiation ritual.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown:
- After Tyson acts distracted through several rounds in the Spinks fight, Kevin tells him that Robin is going to sleep with "the champ", regardless of whether it's Tyson or Spinks. Tyson then delivers a punishing series of blows to Spinks and clinches the title defense.
- After Kevin says that everyone knows about Robin's miscarriage except for Tyson, the latter brutally beats several boxers as a way to let out his rage.
- Shotgun Wedding: Tyson and Robin get married in secret, with only Kevin and Bill Cayton knowing anything about it.
- So Proud of You: Cuz and the rest of the family after Tyson wins the Junior Olympics.
- Steel Eardrums: Jimmy fires a gun right beside Tyson's head while threatening him to stay away from Jamey. Aside from rubbing his ear afterwards, Tyson suffers no hearing loss or pain from the gunshot being so close to him.
- Surprise Pregnancy: Played with. Robin fakes her pregnancy so that she can get married to Tyson immediately, and uses it to engender sympathy from him and his associates.
- Title Drop: Though not word-for-word, Jimmy tells Tyson to "add fear to the fire" just before his match at the Junior Olympics.
- Toxic Friend Influence:
- Rory continually accuses Tyson of "selling out to the white man", and even has him doing drugs after his World Heavyweight Championship win.
- The film also repeatedly emphasizes that Cuz was the only thing standing between Tyson and other negative influences. After Cuz's death, Tyson becomes rebellious and prone to dealing with unscrupulous people like Don King and Robin Givens.
- Tragic Hero: Tyson becomes this, as the negative influences eventually take their toll on him and result in him losing his fight against Buster Douglas, then giving in to temptation and raping a Miss America Teen contestant.
- Training Montage: As Tyson trains at Cuz's house, and later, as he prepares for the Junior Olympics.