The Root Interview: Reggie 'Rock' Bythewood on Tupac and Tyson

The filmmaker explores a surprising friendship between the boxer and the rapper in his new documentary, "One Night in Vegas."

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For hip-hop fans, Sept. 7, 1996, is often referred to as the day that rapper-actor-activist Tupac Shakur was shot while leaving the Mike Tyson-Bruce Seldon fight. It was the last time that Shakur would be seen alive, and Mike Tyson's final exit from the ring as a revered boxing champion. A huge boxing fan, filmmaker Reggie "Rock" Bythewood wanted to explore what happened that night in terms of Tyson's career.

What unfolded was the story of a great friendship between Tyson and Shakur -- two men who rose from poverty to stardom battling their inner demons and the penal system along the way. It is this tale that Bythewood explores in the "ESPN 30 for 30" documentary One Night in Vegas, directed by Bythewood.

The film will debut on the anniversary of the day that Tupac was shot (he died six days later from his gunshot wounds at the University Medical Center in Nevada), and the last time that Mike Tyson was a de facto champion. Those who watched the fight, which lasted just under two minutes, will remember that Tyson entered the ring to an untitled Tupac song, which was written specifically for the boxer.

The affinity between the giants of hip-hop and boxing is the center of the documentary, but you will find more. One Night in Vegas, which has a hip-hop aesthetic, is full of surprises, like the fact that both men had a close relationship with Dr. Maya Angelou. "My favorite moments in the film are with Dr. Angelou," Bythewood says. "She had a relationship with Pac, whom she met on the set of Poetic Justice, and [with] Tyson, whom she visited in prison. It's really amazing to hear her tell her stories. She discussed literature and philosophy with Tyson, which was quite unexpected."

Tyson also reveals how much he has changed in the 14 years since Tupac's murder and how he wishes the rapper had had the same opportunity to grow. Tupac's last recording session was of the untitled song for Tyson's fight against Seldon. There are so many "lasts" in this documentary, which has many unexpected elements -- including an interview with the person who took the last photo of the rapper alive.

Bythewood is no stranger to hip-hop or film. He served as supervising producer on New York Undercover and co-wrote Notorious. He also wrote and directed Biker Boyz; the documentary Daddy's Girl: Daughter of the Greatest, about Laila Ali; and the critically acclaimed HBO movie Dancing in September.

Despite his résumé, Bythewood says that this is the first time he felt he could make the film that he wanted to make. "The documentary just feels so uncompromising. I feel like I did when I was just starting out at 20 years old," he says. "There was no attempt to make something for the ESPN audience. I just wanted to make a great film. It has spoken word in it and everything. I kept saying to myself, I cannot believe we got away with it."

One Night in Vegas debuts on ESPN tonight (Tuesday, Sept. 7) at 8 p.m. EST.

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