Mike Tyson’s Foray into Pigeon Racing
Behind the Ringside Bar and Lounge on Tonnelle Avenue in Jersey City stands a white, two-story pigeon coop with several spacious rooms. The birds can spend the day touring the city and return at night for a safe, comfortable rest with their fellow travelers.
“They always come back because they get free food, free water, and a free place to sleep. It’s like the Pigeon Hilton on Tonnelle Avenue,” said Mario Costa, owner of the Ringside Bar and Lounge.
The door to the free-standing structure proudly displays the name of this pigeon hotel as, “Tyson’s Corner”. That’s right, the owner of these pigeons and their coop is the former heavyweight boxing champion, Mike Tyson. Tyson and his pigeons will make their first television debut together on Animal Planet in March 2011.
The show, “Taking on Tyson”, will run six episodes with a focus on the ancient sport of pigeon racing. Tyson and his birds will challenge established and champion racers to non-wagering matches. “I’ve been raising pigeons all my life,” Tyson said. “In fact, this coop is the exact replica of the one I had in Catskill, New York where I trained.” Many pieces of the coop, including the door, were brought to Jersey City by Costa after Tyson’s step-mother, Camille Ewald passed away.
But training the birds to race was new to Tyson, so Costa stepped in to help. “We trained the birds little by little each day. First we would get them to fly two miles and come back, then five, then ten, until they could complete a 300 to 500 mile run like they would in a real race,” Costa said. The trick is to train them before they’re fed in the morning to ensure they will return.
Breeding is the one aspect of pigeon racing that Tyson was already familiar with from his past. “I pair all of the birds together and most of them mate for life. But some of them do cheat,” Tyson joked. “A few birds have eggs in a couple different coops.”
Tyson’s pigeon raising and new racing practices have already drawn criticism from animal activists. PETA president and co-founder, Ingrid Newkirk has called upon the Brooklyn district attorney to stop the show from filming in New York. She said the show “will do viewers and pigeons a terrible disservice…as it will sentence countless birds to a life in a cramped cage and ultimately a bad end,” in a Change.org blog post.
Tyson, as an animal-lover and vegan, was upset. “This birds are given water and food everyday. They are medicated so they don’t get sick and have plenty of space,” he said. “They aren’t mistreated.”
Tyson, Costa and their pigeons will travel across the country during the show to compete in the races. “But we will always come back to Jersey City,” Costa said. “It’s going to be our team’s hometown.”