Good for Mike:
The boxing-themed bar, in a rough stretch of this industrial town across the river from Manhattan, sits next to a gym where he’d trained with pal and owner Mario Costa. Out back, through a narrow alley, is Tyson’s Corner, a pungent coop with hundreds of pigeons — fancy roller pigeons, to be breed-exact. It’s also the setting for Taking on Tyson, Animal Planet’s six-episode series premiering Sunday (10 ET/PT) that shows Tyson facing a new avian challenge: racing homing pigeons.
“Everyone thinks pigeons are flying rats,” Tyson says. And conventional wisdom is that racing them “was hillbilly redneck (stuff). That was the first thing I would think. But it’s deeper than that. It gets very complex.” Tyson has had a soft spot for the urban birds since his days in Brooklyn as a 10-year-old “street urchin.” After stealing money to buy some pigeons, he says, he got into his first fight when a neighborhood bully took one and, taunting Tyson, ripped its head off. No such animal cruelty is on display on Tyson, a hybrid saga that traces his roots and nearly life-long love for pigeons while following his quest, under the tutelage of trainers, to learn racing.
Birds are dropped off hundreds of miles from here and then compete against formidable flocks of rivals to race home first and re-enter their coops, where counters clock their speed and competitive standing. “There are a lot of ups and downs,” he says. “It’s like fighting: You’re the man as long as you’re winning.” Besides Costa, Tyson features trainer Vinnie Torre; the Roman brothers, who care for his pigeons; and rival racers including nemesis Joe Green, who clearly gets under Tyson’s skin: “He thinks his defecation smells like perfume.”
Tyson turned down several offers to do reality shows over the years, not wanting to shine too bright a spotlight on his own troubled marriages, his jail stint and the end of his career. “All my life I’ve been used to people wanting to put the emphasis on me,” he says. For once, “I was happy to have other people share the (brunt) of criticism.”
Animal Planet chief Marjorie Kaplan says Tyson is precisely the magnet the channel needs to “make noise” as it completes a transition from series mostly about cuddly creatures to stories about the humans around them: “Larger-than-life characters whose interactions with the primal natural world reveal something about themselves.”
Tyson “didn’t expect to be as open” in the series, Kaplan says, but “there’s something lyrical about Mike coming home to race homers. He’s really taken with them.”
And the money certainly helped. Though he made a small fortune in the ring, Tyson has often talked about how he blew it all. “They paid me enough to keep the wolves (away from) my door,” he says. “I can’t see them, but they’re always lurking.”
Will you be tuning in to “Taking On Tyson”????