“I never hung around geeks much,” Mike Tyson tells Fast Company. But when Tyson met John and Sam Shahidi, founders of RockLive, and they flew him out to South By Southwest in Austin, Texas, to meet a herd of techies, many of whom grew up playing Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, the champ was smitten. “Afterward, when I dropped him off at the airport, he was literally teary eyed,” John Shahidi says. The heavyweight champion of the world had just been surrounded by enthusiastic gamers, programmers, and nerds. “He looked at me and said, ‘John, I’ve never done anything like this in my life.'”
In the Shahidi brothers, Tyson says, he found the perfect partners. They’d started with a silly app called RunPee, which told you what moments in movies were safe for you to miss when you had to go to the bathroom. It caught Chad Ochocinco’s eye, and the brothers soon became experts in getting big-name sports stars to collaborate with them on apps and games–without major sponsorship deals.
Mike Tyson: Main Event is their biggest hit to date. Without any marketing, the game became a Twitter sensation, garnering tweets from Ashton Kutcher, Charlie Sheen, and dozens of other celebrities. It shot to the No. 2 slot in the Apple App Store within 72 hours; it reached the top slot in the U.K.; and it has been downloaded in over 90 countries. When I first spoke to the Shahidis a month ago, the game was just two weeks old, but players were already playing a collective 10 million minutes per week.
Fast Company caught up with Tyson to talk about his new love for geeks, why this app is so meaningful to him and, how his game could soon let you take your aggressions out on Charlie Sheen, Tea Partiers, and even President Obama.
Mike, why did you decide to get aboard with this app?
I met John, and he’s just a great guy, and I met his brother, and we decided to go forward with this, full speed ahead. They’re just amazing guys.
How’d you like going to South by Southwest?
I never hung around geeks very much. That was amazing. I just think those guys were uninhibited, they were in their own world. It’s just beautiful stuff, something you never experience before. You have this opinion about geeks. My brother comes from the geeky world, he played hockey with the other guys. “What you doing playing hockey in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn?” Your mind didn’t go that far back then. You thought hockey was just isolated to one race of people.
How have your fans liked the game?
Yeah, some of them thought it was a little complicated. I guess we had to make it a little simpler. I think it’s awesome. It’s got updates.
John tells me you take an active role in shaping the game. How did being boxing champion prepare you to be a game designer?
Common sense. And what you think people may like. It’s all about catering to the people, believe it or not. That’s what life’s about, being in service to the people, people who are less fortunate.
What’s the part of the design you’re most involved with? Coming up with the bad guys?
Absolutely, 100%. Especially characters like Charlie Sheen. I see that, it makes me want to smash Charlie’s face. As a matter of fact we should get some of the people from the Tea Party in there. Might want to put President Obama in there, get those guys in there too, for if you have a pugnacious attitude towards somebody in the Obama Administration.
Are you a gamer?
I play PlayStation. My game, I just started playing, really, believe it or not. I’m a late starter, I started playing games in 2008.
What took you so long? Why didn’t you play games in the past?
Most of time I was training for a fight or had to go to court for something, so I didn’t have time to play these games.
Fair enough. You joined Twitter over the summer, and your game has really taken off through Twitter. What do you think of Twitter?
Hey, Twitter’s pretty outrageous. Like I was saying earlier, it’s just the future, and I want to be part of the future. I don’t want to be a dinosaur all my life.
You feel like a dinosaur?
It appears that way. You’re just stagnant sometimes, you become a dinosaur. It becomes difficult to broaden your horizons.
This game helps you not stagnate, you’re saying?
100%, man, this is some good stuff. I’m just enjoying this time of my life, middle age. I’m enjoying it more than I anticipated enjoying it.
What do you think about the future of technology?
I think technology is going so far that we have to hold it back some. Technology can be used to spy on us 24 hours a day. Every home, every igloo, every private place can have a bug in it.
When I was a kid I really liked to play Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! at the arcade.
Yeah, but it’s nothing like this game. It’s like night and day!
Can we talk about money for a second? My understanding is that there is, actually, some revenue share on the back end, but it’s tied solely to the performance of the game.
I don’t know anything about it. If there is, I haven’t heard of it yet. I’m sure whoever has my back knows about it.
Most games, celebrities get a big up-front sponsorship deal. Why didn’t you insist on that with this game? You could be making a killing!
Hey man, it’s not about making a killing. It’s about serving the people. It’s about serving the people.
I have a business venture that will serve the people. Would you sponsor it for me?
Long as you got my man John with you.