The idea of Mike Tyson — perhaps history’s most feared boxer — making a foray into the New York/New Jersey pigeon-racing scene may strike some as odd.
But the 44-year-old Brooklyn native kept a pigeon coop growing up in rough-and-tumble Brownsville. His attempt to try to learn racing — in which homing pigeons are dispatched from cages 100 miles away and timed in their speedy return to competing coops — is the subject of “Taking on Tyson,” a new six-part reality series debuting Sunday on Animal Planet.
“I’m Mike Tyson, the guy that won the title, won the Golden Glove, been in prison, did all this stuff,” he told amNewYork recently in a phone interview from Las Vegas, where he lives. “But this is who I am: I’m the pigeon guy. ... If I was 60 years old and lived in New York, I’d be ... on the roof with some birds.”
The former heavyweight champion, who retired in 2005, was as earnest and self-contradicting as ever during the interview.
When I think of pigeons, I think of ...
“Sky rats,” exactly.
I imagine you don’t take kindly to that? The people that fly pigeons, we don’t like them either, because we think they give our [homing] birds a bad name. ... They’re called rock pigeons. We call them “rats,” but the original term that Darwin gave them was “rock pigeon.”
You had never raced pigeons before, just collected and kept them, right?
All my friends did and I had the dynamics of racing down, but I never did the footwork ... the feeding, the diet and all this stuff. ... It gets overbearing.
So why make the switch to racing?
When we’re on the roof with our birds, it’s a whole different energy when we’re with the homers. We’re up there, it’s almost like a therapy session.
Is it a high-stakes game?
Even at low money, like $1,000, it’s always been high-stakes because it’s a lot about bragging rights involved. ... The guys with the best birds are like a local celebrity in the neighborhood.
Has this show been therapeutic for you?
No ... but it’s been pretty profitable for me. I was able to pay my bills, keep the wolves off my door. They’re always lurking around somewhere trying to make a snack out of you.
Do you look back at your career with regrets?
I don’t look back at all.
Fights don’t replay in your mind?
No, no ... I have a 2-year-old and a 2-week-old. So if my wife’s breast-feeding, and she got sleep in her eye, and the other baby’s yelling and screaming, “I want you to hold me too!” — I don’t have nobody there to talk about my glamorous stories with, you know? ... The heavyweight Iron Mike is not a big talk subject over here.
On TV: “Taking on Tyson” premieres Sunday at 10 p.m., on Animal Planet.