Mike Tyson punctuated his mystique as the Baddest Man on the Planet in the 90s by owning and raising three tigers as pets, going as far as even inviting the tigers to sleep next to him in bed.
With the recent release of the hit Netflix series “Tiger King” documenting the underground world of owning and breeding the big cats, Tyson regretted his past days as an owner of a tiger himself.
“I was foolish,” Tyson said on an Instagram Live session as musician Fat Joe lobbed questions at him. “There's no way you can domesticate these cats 100 percent. No way that's going to happen. They'll kill you by accident, especially when you're playing rough with them, you're punching them back. They get hyped up, hit you back and you're dead.
“I used to sleep with them. I'm just happy I educated myself. It was late. But I was doing the wrong sh-t. I shouldn't have had them in my house, believing they were domesticated. I was wrong.”
Following the nationwide buzz of the Netflix series, Tyson took to social media and posted a picture of his tiger on a chain link leash as well with the caption “the original tiger king.”
Tyson also explained how he acquired the tigers through a mutual friend just as he was being released from prison in March 1995. He thought the animals would look “cool” riding along as his friends in his exotic cars.
“I was talking to one of my friends who I bought cars from, and he was saying one of my friends owed him money,” Tyson said. “He said, ‘If he doesn’t pay, I’m going to take some of these cars and trade them in for animals,’ and I said, ‘What kind of animals?’ He said, ‘Horses and stuff.’ And he said, ‘They have some nice tigers and lions, too. If you got one of those, that would be cool in your Ferrari … I said, ‘That’s true. Why don’t you order me a couple and I’ll be getting out in a couple months.’ So, when I got out, I came home and I had two cubs.”
Tyson's affinity for tigers was much publicized during his heyday, and the animals even made an appearance in the hit movie “The Hangover,” which also starred Tyson.
One of the tigers also bit off the arm of a trespasser onto Tyson’s property years back.
“The tiger didn’t know the lady, so it was a bad accident,” said Tyson. “They tried to [sue me] until they found out she tried to jump over the fence … When I saw what the tiger did to her hand, I had a lot of money back then, so I gave her $250,000. She was just f---ked up. You couldn’t believe what they can do to a person’s flesh. I had no idea. They are incredibly quick for being up to 600 pounds. They kill you in like three seconds with one swing.”
The former heavyweight champion was spending $4,000 a month to care for his three white Bengal tigers before declaring bankruptcy in 2003, per the Mother Nature Network.
Tyson had a tiger as a pet for over 15 years before eventually having to move away from them. He sold one of his tigers to artist Roy Cooper, who inked Tyson’s famous face tattoo.
Manouk Akopyan is a sports journalist and member of the Boxing Writers Assn. of America since 2011. He has written for the likes of the LA Times, Guardian, USA Today, Philadelphia Inquirer, Men’s Health and NFL.com and currently does TV commentary for combat sports programming that airs on Fox Sports and hosts his own radio show in Los Angeles. He can be reached on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube at @ManoukAkopyan or via email at manouk[dot]akopyan[at]gmail.com.