Animal Planet has long been a network about people and their pets, so why not boxer Mike Tyson and his pet pigeons? The animal-oriented cable channel answers that question with “Taking on Tyson,” a new six-part series about Iron Mike and his beloved birds, premiering March 6.
Animal Planet hopes curious viewers will flock to this new series for a glimpse of this once-ferocious fighter’s softer side. “I have a pretty colorful past so you’re going to find out some interesting things about me too,” Tyson told reporters Friday at the annual winter press tour of TV scribes in Pasadena, Calif.
“But the main insight is the birds and what they mean in our lives,” he said, referring to himself and his team of pigeon caretakers – people you’ll see on the show. “Even though I might be out there fighting and getting locked up, this is what we do. This is no hobby.” Locked up? Among other things, Tyson served three years in prison (on a 10-year sentence) from 1992 to ’95 for rape.
Ever since he was a boy, Tyson, 44, kept pigeons as pets. In fact, legend has it that the first punch he ever threw was aimed at a neighborhood bully who killed one of Tyson’s pigeons (reportedly by yanking off its head) and threw it in his face.
The keeping of pigeons is not an unusual pastime in New York City. Pigeon coops built on the roofs of apartment buildings – such as the coop Tyson has apparently maintained for decades in his native Brooklyn – are a common sight throughout the city’s neighborhoods, particularly in the ethnic communities of the outer boroughs – Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx. Pigeon-keepers can be seen exercising and training their flocks to fly in circles and other patterns (guiding their flight by waving a broomstick), and then returning faithfully to their coops. Marlon Brando immortalized this urban hobby in the 1954 film “On the Waterfront,” when his character, Terry Malloy, was seen caring for a rooftop pigeon flock.
Pigeon enthusiasts have also been known to race them, which is the plot line of “Taking on Tyson.” In the show, you’ll see the former heavyweight boxing champ once known as “the baddest man on the planet” racing his pigeons for the very first time.
“The first thing I ever loved in my life was a pigeon,” Tyson says in a press release from Animal Planet about the show. “I don’t know why. … I feel ridiculous trying to explain it. Pigeons are a part of my life. It’s a constant with my sanity in a weird way; this is just what I do. If I’m lucky enough to die an old man, I’m going to have birds.”