Sunday, March 6, 2011
Iron Mike Tyson is getting ready to make his debut as a reality TV star.
Tyson, a life-long pigeon keeper, will star in a series about bird racing, The Post has learned.
"I may have stopped fighting," says the former heavyweight champ. "But I never stopped flying birds. It's my first love."
The show, to be called "Take on Tyson," pits Tyson and his birds against the best racing-pigeon owners in New York.
It is set to air on the cable channel Animal Planet sometime early next year.
The headline potential of turning the ferocious fighter into a reality TV star is not lost on Tyson himself, who has never been on a continuing series.
"I am a little worried about the sitcom effect," Tyson told The Post over the weekend.
"Mike Tyson and Animal Planet? They don't seem to go together, do they?"
Tyson served three years for rape in the mid-'90s and effectively ended his fight career two years later by biting Evander Holyfield during a bout. But he is now well on his way to remaking himself into a sensitive guy.
He cried on Oprah's show last year and starred in a stunningly candid documentary about his life, "Tyson" (which many in Hollywood believe was robbed of an Oscar nomination).
In a suprising role reversal, it is Holyfield who is in hot water these days (accusations of domestic violence, a ducked "Dr. Phil" appearance) and Tyson who is working for the channel that shows the Puppy Bowl.
The fighter says these days he owns "a few hundred birds" in two lofts, one in Brooklyn and another in Jersey City.
But he has never raced birds before.
"Taking on Tyson" begins shooting next month in Brooklyn, the network says.
For the show, Tyson turned his birds over to a cigar-smoking pigeon trainer, Vinnie Torre, who is getting them ready for the competition.
"Mike will be the underdog this time," says Marjorie Kaplan, the head of Animal Planet.
Tyson began with pigeons, he says, at age 10 or 11 in his Brownsville neighborhood, swiping milk crates for bigger kids who used them as coops for their birds.
"I cleaned cages," he says. "I was their go-fer."
In exchange, "I got the strays."
He kept his birds in a small coop attached to the windowsill of his apartment on Amboy Street for a while, he says, and later in a nearby abandoned building.
"I couldn't fly them off the roof," he explains. "Big kids would come and steal them."
And it was the birds that steered him to boxing, he says now.
"I never hurt anybody until somebody hurt one of my birds," Tyson says.
In the sport of pigeon racing, birds race distances up to 500 miles -- with thousands wagered on the outcome.
Like most reality shows, the drama won't be in who wins -- but among the hard-core Brooklyn characters who work in the rooftop world of competitive pigeon racing.
"We're just lucky to have Mike Tyson to show us around," says Kaplan.
Details are still sketchy, she says.
"We'll film and, when everyone gets back, we'll see what we have," says the network boss.