BOXING

Mike Tyson Mao tattoo: what does it mean and why did he get it?

The world-famous boxer has ink markings across several areas of his anatomy, but many people are asking about the significance of the image of Chinese leader Mao Zedong.

Mike Tyson, en el pesaje de su combate ante Roy Jones Jr.
Lynn Millspaugh USA TODAY Sports

Mike Tyson returned to the boxing ring on Saturday night, at the age of 54, and fought out to what was adjudged to be a draw in the much-hyped bout against Roy Jones Jr. The two men pocketed a hefty sum for their appearances and the world could revel once again in the sight of one of the greatest fighters the heavyweight division has ever seen.

Tyson's body, and face, of ink

As well as the discussions over his punching power, social media was alive with questions over the array of tattoos that cover Tyson’s body.

“Listen, the other day, I was thinking about just getting a tattoo. I’m in such good physical condition. I was just thinking about getting my whole body inked up,” Tyson said during an interview earlier in the year.

“I saw somebody who has his whole body from neck to toe and he was fit like myself and he looked beautiful and I said ‘Wow!’ His body was all tattooed out and I thought that was beautiful.”

The Brooklyn man is passionate about ink and has everything from a tribal tattoo on his face to the an image of his ex-wife. And then there’s that one of Chairman Mao Zedong.

Why a Chairman Mao tattoo?

It's a good question.

On the bicep of his right arm the boxer has an tattoo of Chairman Mao Zedong, the former Chinese leader. Despite the obvious contradictions in the link with him and the communist icon, Tyson is said to have identified with him during his time in prison in the 1990s after he was convicted of sexually abusing an 18-year-old girl. The fighter began to read voraciously when locked up and one of the books that had a big effect on him was that of Mao, and so he decided on the tattoo.

Later, in 2006, Tyson visited the memorial museum for Chairman Mao in Tiananmen Square, Beijing. There he paid his respects at the mausoleum and reflected that: “standing in front of Chairman Mao’s remains, I felt really insignificant.”

And it was possibly the fact that Mao was a rebel who fought against the establishment of the day that most appealed to Tyson, rather than some of his harsher political decisions.

Who is Chairman Mao Zedong?

Mao was a Chinese communist leader and founder of the People's Republic of China. He was responsible for the disastrous policies of the 'Great Leap Forward' and the 'Cultural Revolution'. After two civil wars, the Communists were victorious, and on 1 October 1949 Mao proclaimed the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC).

Mao and other Communist leaders set out to reshape Chinese society. Industry came under state ownership and China's farmers began to be organised into collectives. All opposition was ruthlessly suppressed. The Chinese initially received significant help from the Soviet Union, but relations soon began to cool.

Read more about Mao’s life from the BBC’s History vaults.

What other tattoos does Tyson have?

As well as that Victor Whitmill tribal tattoo on his face and the visage of his ex-wife, Monica Turner - whom he divorced after she admitted cheating on him - Tyson also has a portrait of Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, whom he described during an interview as an "incredible" person who "had a lot" but who "sacrificed everything for the benefit of other people,” on his abdomen.

Tennis star Arthur Ashe, who won three Grand Slams and fought against racism and AIDS throughout his career, also marks the skin of the great boxer, with the text 'Days of Grace', as does the image of a dragon.