You may not be a fan of Mike Tyson but by the end of Hulu’s “Mike,” you’ll feel you understand the controversial former heavyweight champ a lot better.
Premiering Thursday, the eight-episode unauthorized biographical drama from creator Steven Rogers (“I, Tonya”) fairly steps inside the head of Tyson to tell the story of a Brooklyn youth who overcame his troubled upbringing to become one of the greatest heavyweights in the history of the sport, only to be brought down by personal turmoil and a prison sentence for rape.
The series uses the device of Tyson’s (Trevante Rhodes, “Moonlight”) 2012 one-man Broadway show “Undisputed Truth — or Undisputed Troof” as a stepping-off point into his career and life and the people in them, including trainer Cus D’Amato (Harvey Keitel, “Lansky”), ex-wife Robin Givens (Laura Harrier, “Hollywood”), boxing promoter Don King (Russell Hornsby, “The Hate U Give”) and the woman he was convicted of raping, Desiree Washington (Li Eubanks, “If Not Now, When?”).
Along the way, it offers an examination of class and race in America, the power of the media, misogyny, the wealth divide and the promise of the American dream as it follows the story someone who went from beloved athlete to pariah and back.
Of course, using real-life pugilists as fodder for drama is nothing new in the entertainment realm, as the following productions prove.
“Raging Bull” (1980): Not unlike “Mike,” Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-nominated drama delved into the psyche of 1950s middleweight champ Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro in an Oscar-winning turn), whose violent tendencies and temper helps lead him to the top of his profession while destroying his personal life. Cathy Moriarty also received an Oscar nod in her feature film debut.
“Ali” (2001): Director Michael Mann’s drama focused on the eventful period of 1964 to 1974, when the former Cassius Clay (Will Smith) first won the heavyweight title, converted to Islam, publicly criticized the Vietnam War, was banned from boxing, returned to fight Joe Frazier and eventually reclaimed the belt in 1974.
“Chuck” (2016): Liev Schreiber fairly disappears into the skin of “The Bayonne Bleeder” Chuck Wepner in this drama about the itinerant New Jersey fighter who received a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fight Muhammad Ali for the heavyweight championship in 1975, a story that inspired the lead character in the “Rocky” movies. Schreiber’s then-wife Naomi Watts played Wepner’s love interest.
“Hands of Stone” (2016): The relationship between the Panamanian fighter (Edgar Ramirez), who won belts in four weight classes, and his trainer Ray Arcel (De Niro) is central to this drama from writer/director Jonathan Jakubowicz.