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Posted at 5:21 AM ET, 03/ 7/2011

Mike Tyson, pigeon fancier, makes his Animal Planet debut

By Cindy Boren

Iron Mike. The guy who bit off another guy's ear. The facial tattoo. The convicted felon. Tiger owner/Phil Collins fan from "The Hangover."

Add lover of pigeons to the list of "ways to describe Mike Tyson." His not-entirely-convincing reality show, "Taking on Tyson," premiered on Sunday night on Animal Planet and will follow him around his old Brooklyn neighborhood as he races homing pigeons. Yes, pigeons. Tyson loves 'em and has since his hard-scrabble youth.

"It's just what I am as a normal person. This is what I love to do -- this is a hobby I do with childhood friends, we battle against other friends," Tyson told Entertainment Weekly. "It's a really ancient sport, before Christ even. Pigeons have had [their] place during some memorable moments in history -- the pigeons were very necessary for the Crusades....

"What was interesting was when Napoleon fought [the Duke of] Wellington, and when Wellington won the war, somebody was spying for the Rothschilds. He released a pigeon, the pigeon went back to the Rothschild's coop, and they got the information before anybody else that Wellington had won, and these guys bet their whole life fortune on the war. That's why they were able to make such a mass fortune."

Pigeons, in fact, predate pugilism for Tyson. When another kid stole his pigeon and Tyson confronted him, the kid ripped the pigeon's head off. "I said, 'Gimme my bird back,' and he said, 'You want it back?' and took it, like [acting out decapitation] and put the blood in my face and hit me with it. ... Some guy said, 'Fight him back.' So I started fighting. I couldn't fight, but I was flailing away. I hit him more than he hit me, so I guess I won."

By Cindy Boren  | March 7, 2011; 5:21 AM ET
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