‘One Night In Vegas’ explores Tupac and Mike Tyson’s friendship

Reggie Rock Bythewood’s new documentary One Night In Vegas premiers tonight as part of ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentary series. The film takes a look at the friendship between Tupac and Mike Tyson, as well as the events of that night that saw the boxer’s final championship win and the iconic rapper’s slaying:

On the evening of Sept. 7, 1996, Mike Tyson attempted to take Bruce Seldon’s WBA title at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. At this point in his career, Tyson’s fights had become somewhat of a cultural phenomenon, where the ever present hype of the professional boxing scene would come face to face with the worlds of big business, Hollywood, and hip hop. Sitting ringside was controversial rapper Tupac Shakur. Shakur and Tyson were friends, a feeling of kinship linked them as each rose to stardom from poverty only to be thrown in prison. Following Tyson’s victory, Shakur and “Iron Mike” were to celebrate at an after party, but the rap star never arrived. Shakur was brutally gunned down later that night, and the scene in Las Vegas quickly turned from would-be celebratory revelry to ill fated and inopportune tragedy. Director Reggie Bythewood, with the full cooperation of Mike Tyson, tells not only the story of that infamous night but of the remarkable friendship between Tyson and Tupac.

Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Bythewood about the film and the controversial icons:

One night, Mike was going in to the Palladium (night club) in Hollywood. And he sees this little skinny guy fighting with the bouncers, who don’t want to let him in because of how he was dressed. He tells them “Hey, let the little guy in” and it was ‘Pac. That’s where their friendship started. The night before the big fight, ‘Pac was in the studio recording a song for Mike’s entrance in to the ring.

There’s always been a relationship between athletes and entertainers. Look at Joe Louis and Frank Sinatra, they were buddies. The interesting thing about Mike was that rappers seemed to look up to him. He seemed to embody Hip-Hop, more than any other boxer prior to that.  I don’t remember anyone else coming in to the ring to Hip-Hop before him.

My goal is to honestly reflect (Tyson and Tupac’s) worlds. I make no attempt to paint them as choir boys. One sister, Joan Morgan, makes some really interesting comments about these issues. Sonja Steptoe speaks about that. You had a lot of Black women who supported Mike. There was a day in the courtroom in his trial where you had a row of White men who were holding up signs that say “No means no” and on the other side, a group of Black women who had “Free Mike” signs. Sonja received a lot of letters from Black women after doing an article about the case where people called her a ‘sellout’.

Not every intelligent woman thinks that ‘Pac was guilty. There were a lot of women who don’t think he was and others who think he was and that (his actions) were unforgivable. It is indeed complicated (but) this isn’t what the film is all about. Going back to the trial, there was a lot of racism coming not from Desiree (Washington)’s lawyers, but from Mike’s. They basically said he wasn’t smart enough to be accountable for his actions. Even people who felt he was guilty took issue with this. A lot of people identify with Mike as a guy who came from the gutter. He was the Hip-Hop champion. He was the people’s hero and a lot of people can’t let their heroes go.

When talking about that night (in the film), Mike says that he wishes that ‘Pac had stayed home and watched the fight on television. It happens that this is the last night that Mike walks in the ring and walks out a champion. If Pac hadn’t gotten killed, would Tyson have won against Holyfield? Who knows? It’s not for me to say.

People looked at Mike and ‘Pac like superheroes. The reality is they were mortals. (In the film) we see that side of them. You’ll see a few different things about their worlds. For example, Maya Angelou visiting Mike in jail, ‘Pac’s relationship with Maya. It’s like a character study. Mike is the most dynamic boxer post (Muhammad) Ali, but that night was the last time he walked out of the ring a champion. People will discover the really strong friendship between these two men.

One Night In Vegas debuts tonight, September 7th at 8pm on ESPN. It will re-air on the following dates and times:

Tuesday Sep 7: 11pm ESPN 2

Thursday Sep 9: 10pm ESPN Classic

Thursday Sep 30: 9pm ESPN 2

Sunday Oct 24: 10pm ESPN

Sunday Nov 28: 3:30pm ESPN Classic


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