“Taking On Tyson” Shows Ex-Champ’s Love Of Pigeons

Mike Tyson and one of his pigeons
It should be no surprise to anyone paying attention that Mike Tyson has finally come to reality TV. The subject of his new show, however, might just sucker-punch you.

“The first thing I ever loved in my life was a pigeon,” the ex-boxing champ says. “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.”

That’s right, the man who once struck fear in the hearts of any heavyweight who dared challenge him — he even threatened to eat the children of one of his opponents — has a soft spot for pigeons. During his rough New York childhood, he found solace in taking care of the birds, and he never lost his love for them through his meteoric rise to fame and his spectacular fall from grace. Beginning March 6, Animal Planet will document Tyson’s ornithological passion in Taking on Tyson, which tracks his lifelong history with the birds to his current attempts to become successful in the world of pigeon racing.

In this arena — mainly the rooftops of Jersey City, N.J., and his native Brooklyn — Tyson is considered the underdog, and he enlists the help of top pigeon-racing coach Vinnie Torre to help him train and race the homing pigeons to victory.

While Tyson is the obvious selling point, and his turbulent life will be revisited from time to time, the series also aims to educate viewers on the ins and outs of pigeon racing. For instance, it’s immediately apparent that these are not the standard pigeons that live to befoul statues and burden urban dwellers. They are well-bred and often high-priced birds fitted with high-tech equipment to track their journeys over distances that can stretch over hundreds of miles.

“What we’re dealing with is the creme de la creme of the pigeon world,” Tyson says. “These are like thoroughbred pigeons. … You want your name to be attached to the best bloodline for everybody in the world wants to come and buy your birds. It’s an ego thing, but everybody in the world becomes connected that’s involved with this fraternity.”