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8 Thoughts on Mike Tyson’s Unexpectedly Fascinating Pigeon-Racing Career

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The former heavyweight champion finds a new passion in Animal Planet's Taking on Tyson.

Animal Planet's new show, Taking on Tyson, offers a look into the life of Mike Tyson through a surprising prism — his love for pigeons. The erratic boxer wants to leave his checkered past behind him, and finds solace in his pigeons. But ever competitive, he decides to enter the proverbially cutthroat world of pigeon racing, which is when the pilot begins.

1. Mike Tyson has a sensitive side.
Surprise! Okay, you already knew he was odd (perhaps criminally so), but the show offers a look at the softer side of Iron Mike, which turns out to be as strange as it is affecting. He comes from one of those really bleak, gentrification-free parts of Brooklyn and was bullied as a child. This turned him into a bit of an introvert, and pigeons were the few sources of love he had growing up.

2. While Tyson's a reflective person, he's hard-pressed to explain why he has so many pigeons.
In fairness, it's understandable that explaining would be tough, because this man has a shit-ton of pigeons. Tyson owns at least two sizable bird coops in the tri-state area, each full of pigeons.

3. His first fight was over a pigeon.
Once as a boy on his way home from school, Tyson encountered a bully who took one of his pigeons from him, snapping the winged creature in half. This inspired the first of many fistfights, which Tyson eventually converted into a successful career as a boxer and cameo actor in The Hangover. In that light, his serious destructive power seems like a way to compensate for some extreme sensitivity.

4. Tyson may identify with these birds on more than one level.
After Tyson lost to Lennox Lewis in his last major match, he flew straight back to his coop to wallow with his birds. In a similar fashion, homing pigeons, if released in the wild, instinctively fly back to their coop, wherever it is. In fact, that's the basis for pigeon racing: whichever flock makes it back to their respective coop fastest wins.

5. Pigeon racing is alarmingly popular.
Apparently there's a vibrant pigeon industry in New York and New Jersey, and Tyson is one its most devout patrons. Here I was, living in New York, completely unaware that pigeon racing had become a regional calling card, with former heavyweight champion of the world Mike Tyson among its foremost practitioners. I feel so out of touch!

6. Tyson wants to become a pigeon-racing heavyweight, but he can't do it alone. (Metaphor alert!)
Pigeon racing isn't easy, and it takes a lot of practice and conditioning. So Tyson hires a team — a coach, a veteran racer, and a couple of coop caretakers. From the sense the show gives you, they might be the closest thing the guy has to friends.

7. Nobody makes any ear-biting jokes.
At least not in the pilot — but we've got a whole season left!

8. Pigeon racing is interesting in its own right, but Tyson makes it fascinating.
Some writers have said that the show would be just as interesting without the boxer — it's pretty fascinating just to get a window on this almost unknown sport. Still, while there are undoubtedly other watchable and colorful pigeon racers out there, Mike's connection to the birds seems deeply genuine and affecting in a way that you just might not feel if the show had a different lead. Also, I can't think of one other pigeon racer with a face tattoo.