“This is where it all started” says the former ‘baddest man on the planet’ as he he points to an alley in the Brownsville neighbourhood of Brooklyn. “Right here.” Mike Tyson is recalling the moment when as an 11 year-old kid, he got into his first fight with a bully who ripped the head off his favourite pigeon. Suffice to say, that was probably the last time the luckless yob bothered the future heavyweight champion of the world. “I hated my childhood, but I had some pride that day,” he says poignantly. More televisual curiosity than hard-hitting documentary, Taking On Tyson is a disarmingly arbitrary piece of programming (‘Iron Mike’ loves pigeons – who knew?) but the man himself is as oddly fascinating as ever.
One of the most controversial and intriguing sports personalities of the last couple of decades, Tyson is still an object of media wonder nearly five years after leaving the ring for good. Boxing fans will have lapped up More4’s excellent documentary last November, but his story of success, failure, women, jail, money, debt, fighting, sex, islam, money and everything else in between is well-known to most of us. The bloke is as emotionally fragile as he is physically fearsome, but while this documentary touches on his many regrets, it is also an ode to a man who seems to have found some sort of peace after a life of crime, personal demons and reckless excess.
To many people, pigeons are nothing but crap-manufacturing chip-stealing pests, but to Mr Tyson they are the one thing in his life that he has constantly felt comfortable with. “I got a private jet straight to New York to see my pigeons straight after I was knocked out by Lennox Lewis in 2002,” explains Tyson as he introduces us to his sanctuary in the industrial heart of Jersey City. He’s owned the coop for 30 years and claims he’s had some of the birds since he was 14 years of age (Old Aged Pigeons? Anyone?) but now he will be racing his birds competitively for the first time ever and he’s recruited some of his old friends from the projects to help him take a new title. “It’s like an amateur boxer stepping into the ring for the first time,” explains a tangibly nervous Mike before the birds are released.