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Hit or miss, Mike Tyson keeps firing combos at sold-out MGM show

Those who venture to the MGM Underground for the “Undisputed Truth” surely know who Mike Tyson is.

But a reference to a certain 1970s TV doctor sometimes misses the mark.

“I have audiences with a lot of younger European fans, and God, I’m looking out there and asking myself, ‘Is there any American over 50 in the house?’ ” the great pugilist-turned-monologist explains. “I have to explain stuff I shouldn’t have to explain. I have to explain who Marcus Welby is!”

In a moment lost on a young, international audience, the 50-year-old Tyson tells a story involving “Marcus Welby, M.D.” midway through his autobiographical one-man show at Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club. It’s an unexpected, though scripted, moment in which Tyson describes his sexual behavior as a young man. Behavior that manifested itself even during something as seemingly innocent as the medical drama starring Robert Young.

Much of Tyson’s show is a trek though a life we know so well, but loaded with moments that catch the audience off guard. In boxing it would be akin to switching to southpaw in the middle of a bout, and Tyson is fine with that.

“It’s all about keeping people entertained, making the show funny and explosive and unexpected,” says Tyson, the former heavyweight champion once revered as the “Baddest Man on the Planet.” “People come and love it.

That’s about all I can tell you.”

What we know about Tyson’s stage performance — as he nears the end of his second series of shows — is he’s a hit. That’s no small achievement in Las Vegas, where many professional entertainers struggle to sell tickets.

“We sell out every show,” says Tyson’s Las Vegas producer, Adam Steck, president and CEO of S.P.I. Entertainment, who rents the 250-seat space from Garrett. “It’s a very underground experience in this room, and the fact that Mike is so close works in his favor. It’s a different kind of experience.”

Tyson developed the narrative arc with the help of his wife, Kiki, who keeps him on the mark by delivering cues through an earpiece. So when Tyson asks, “Who is this guy?” referring to the man purported to be his father, a photo of the guy in question appears on the video panel.

Simple, except that Tyson’s 10 p.m. show is often peppered with liquid-courage-enabled folks who want to verbally spar with the champ.

“The rowdier the better,” Tyson says of his crowds. “I’m very aggressive with my audiences. Every now and then someone will jump on stage, and I’ll just give them a hug. I had a woman the other night try to jump up and she fell all the way down, like she got knocked out. That was a rare thing.”

The original version of Tyson’s show lumbered along at more than 2½ hours, an eternity for a Strip audience. Whittling the performance to a tight 1 hour, 20 minutes, however, led to some curious editing decisions.

For example, in a show boasting to be the undisputed truth about Tyson’s life, there is only fleeting reference — in the form of a mug shot — to Tyson’s 1992 rape conviction. The singularly most famous moment of his ring career, biting Evander Holyfield’s ears, is also brushed aside in a couple of sentences.

Instead, Tyson spends several minutes detailing the night he saved his girlfriend’s mom from choking on a hot dog (the lead-up to that event is a stupefying account of Tyson trying to have sexual relations with the daughter). And while “Bite Night” is largely ignored, Tyson spends another lengthy stretch detailing his 1988 Harlem street fight with boxer Mitch Green.

In that segment, Tyson dons a dreadlocked wig to mock Green and performs some choreography to recount that humorous, yet hardly relevant, moment in his life.

Tyson said he made those script decisions just to be funny.

“With Mitch, he’s just an outrageous character, more outrageous than Evander and Lennox (Lewis) combined,” he says. “I have had a lot of dark times, but I don’t want the whole show to be dark. It is supposed to be entertaining, and I’ve talked all about the rape, Evander, the biting, many times already. This show has a lot of new stories people haven’t heard.”

Tyson — who reportedly blew through a $400 million fortune before filing for bankruptcy in 2003 — has taken advantage of other show-business opportunities recently, notably portraying an unscrupulous property developer in last year’s international martial-arts hit “Ip Man 3.” He also recently finished the film “Soul Business,” directed by Gabriela Tagliavini (“Without Men,” “Perfect Lover”), and the animated series “Mike Tyson Mysteries” continues to run on Adult Swim.

Tyson says he hasn’t decided yet about staying on at the MGM once his current run ends Oct. 23. “I’m ready for anything,” he says. “I don’t think of re-signing; I don’t think of not re-signing.”

He won’t get rich with these shows, but Tyson says, “I can keep myself sharp by being on stage. It’s like sparring in boxing: If someone wants to call me to go to Canada or China or Venezuela for a movie, I’ll be ready.”

John Katsilometes’ column runs Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday in the A section and Friday in Neon. He also hosts “Kats! On The Radio” at 8 p.m. Wednesdays on KUNV-FM, 91.5, and appears at 11 a.m. Wednesday with Dayna Roselli on KTNV-TV, Channel 13. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter and @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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