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Life in the fast lane

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There are plenty of parallels between Mike Tyson’s ‘Undisputed Truth’ and Tom Carroll’s ‘TC’, co-written with his brother Nick.

Both are biographies of men who ascended to the pinnacle of their chosen sports, boxing and surfing, at an early age, who enjoyed wealth, fame and status before burning out early and descending into drug addiction.

But while Carroll’s book is written with the wisdom and distance of four years sobriety under his belt, Tyson’s stream-of-consciousness rant was penned, at least partly, during a relapse and smacks of a man who should have waited another few years — or, at the very least, edited a bit more sparingly.

Nudging 600 pages, Tyson’s book — co-written with Larry Sloman — is a chronological catalogue of his life and crimes. For someone who rarely had to go the distance in the ring, he was determined to do it with this tome.

undisputed-truthAfter becoming the youngest-ever heavyweight champion at the age of 20 in 1986, Tyson ruled for four years, although there was always enough evidence of manic behaviour to suggest he wouldn’t be around for long.

He was under-prepared when knocked out in 1990 by Buster Douglas, kick-starting a downward spiral marked by his imprisonment for rape, KO defeats to Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis, drug-fuelled rants on TV and more brushes with the law than any man has a right to.

His cocaine and alcohol abuse exacerbated his depression, and Tyson was caught in the vice for many years.

Although he has arrested the slide in recent years (documentaries, TV programs on pigeons, one-man shows, parts in ‘The Hangover’ movies), prompting some scribes to proclaim him reinvented, Tyson’s grip on life still appears tenuous.

The most interesting passages in the book come when Tyson talks of his early days as a young hoodlum in Brownsville, his relationship with his mother and siblings as well as, most interesting of all, the bond he shared with Cus D’Amato, the elderly trainer who became his guardian and mentor.

But most of the book, even for a boxing nut like myself, is hard going. Tyson’s reputation for carnal excess makes the guys in Motley Crue look like saints, but hearing him detail his conquests is tiresome.

His descriptions of his early amateur bouts are most visceral, but plenty of his later bouts (Larry Holmes, Michael Spinks) get buried in the rubble of the chaos going on at the time.

The feeling I got upon finishing Tyson’s book was similar to that nagging impression Ben Cousins’ biography left me with — the job’s only half done. Sometimes books rushed into print to cash in are counterproductive, for reader and writer.

Tyson has plenty of distance still to travel in his recovery, and ‘Undisputed Truth’ will be a clearer, more concise and more enjoyable read once he’s established that space.

Carroll, like Tyson, was an 80s icon. A surfing prodigy from Newport in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, he won the first ever ASP World Surfing title in 1983/84 and repeated the feat the following year. tc

He never scaled those heights again and, similarly to Tyson, began a slow slide into drug abuse, in this case ice.

‘TC’ is written in two distinct voices, with Tom and his brother Nick taking turns to narrate the story, differentiated by the use of separate fonts.

Tom’s voice is conversational, like listening to a yarn down the pub, while Nick — a surfing writer of some renown that I, in my ignorance of the sport, was not aware of — offers the broad strokes with some brilliant prose.

Tom’s tone is more urgent, but no less articulate, and it was engrossing to read his thoughts on his career, and then offer some perspective on his addiction and subsequent recovery.

‘TC’ is unflinching and has a supporting cast brimming with great characters. You really get a feel for the camaraderie among not only the Northern Beaches surfing community, but on the World Tour as well.

A book about brothers, fame, the quest for recognition and the slow, gnawing pain that seeps in when it begins fading away, ‘TC’ is well worth a look.