LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Mike Tyson — heavyweight boxing champion, convicted rapist, occasional actor and, it seems, top-flight pigeon fancier.
Tyson, 44, the boxer who famously bit off part of Evander Holyfield’s ear in a 1997 bout, shows a gentler side of himself in an upcoming TV show as a man with a lifelong passion for raising pigeons.
Not just common or garden pigeons, but racing pigeons. Or as Tyson puts it “the creme de la creme of the pigeon world. These are thoroughbred pigeons. Pigeons were mens’ first feathered friends”.
“Taking on Tyson”, which comes to the Animal Planet cable TV channel in March, is a six-part documentary in which the former world heavyweight champion returns to his Brooklyn neighborhood to race pigeons.
Tyson, nicknamed “Iron Mike” for his ferocious boxing style in the 1980s, recalls in the show how as a child he skipped school to escape bullies but found solace and tranquility raising pigeons.
His pigeon coop is now in a tall house next to the gym where he trained for his famously bruising encounters in the ring. The documentary shows Tyson and a group of other pigeon fanciers training their birds and readying them for races.
“This is what we do. Our lives are dedicated to pigeons, even when I have been fighting or getting locked up,” Tyson told TV reporters on Thursday.
“This is not no hobby. This is something we are going to do until the day we die,” he added.
Tyson was undisputed world heavyweight boxing champion in the 1980s but in 1992 he was convicted of rape and served three years in prison. He declared bankruptcy in 2003 and retired from professional boxing in 2006. Since then he has appeared in the TV shows “Entourage” and “Brothers” and had a cameo role in the 2009 hit comedy movie “The Hangover”.
“Taking on Tyson” focuses on the complex culture of pigeon racing, but is also a window into Tyson’s life now.
“There are things about my life. I had a pretty colorful past...We go to some places in the past which are a pretty dark place for me,” he said.
“Taking on Tyson” makes it debut on March 6 on Animal Planet.
Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing Bob Tourtellotte