This is the story of two men from very different worlds united in their love of pigeons and all that is tranquil and beautiful about a Birmingham tumbler at its very best. In one corner is Mike Tyson, he of Las Vegas, millions and the occasional pet white tiger, and in the other corner is Horace Potts from Bloxwich, a town of contrasts in the Black Country. It is a story of devotion to pigeons and somewhere in the ornithological mix there is probably a moral or two or three.
In Mike Tyson’s company it is possible to view the very extremes of human nature. It is possible to watch Tyson lose control, both in the ring and at a variety of hearings and meetings, and it is possible to watch the very best and worst people fighting for his attention. He met with Kings and thieves, as Muhammad Ali might say.
A few weeks ago I was talking to Tyson about his fight with Roy Jones and about the millions he can make for charities. I asked him if he regretted not giving his many millions away to people when he was fighting. He laughed a deep, deep growling laugh and said: “I did give millions away to people!” Well, they certainly took it or took something else. The want was always very great when people surrounded Tyson during his fighting days.
I have seen the innocent side and the dark side of the Mike Tyson miracle pool, gazed intently at the craziness of bright lights, mirages and other lunacy in his world. It was a spectator sport in many ways.
Once, a few days before he dismantled and came close to seriously injuring Frans Botha, at the MGM, back in 1997, I was witness to the type of thing he had to deal with every day for decades. The training camp for fight week was part of the MGM complex, a small city of tents, barriers, a ring and several golf buggies to move the trainers, fighters safely and speedily across the vast spaces.
One morning at the table where the media had to stop before getting access, there was a guy arguing his case for entry. He looked down on his luck, twitchy, smelly and agitated; fresh and dirty from a bad night he was telling everybody: “Man, Mike is expecting me.” He was detained at the gate, but an hour later he was in the media tent loading a plastic plate with about ten inches of sandwiches. An hour later he was calling Crocodile from behind the barrier – you remember Crocodile, aka Steve Fitch? He was Tyson’s camouflage-wearing cheer leader and the best in the business at what he did.
Sure enough, Croc knew him, he was escorted through the lines and introduced to Mike, who bowed in deference. Five minutes later the same man was riding in the first of the golf buggies, next to Tyson and sipping from a bottle of water. He came like a pauper, sweat beading his head, his cap out and he left like a king, chest out and swapping war stories with the Champ. The next day, I swear, he had a tracksuit and a towel. That type of stuff was daily.
In 2009 there was another tiny Tyson miracle and this time the location was not Las Vegas, but Bloxwich in the Black Country. It was early November, Tyson was on tour in Britain; it was about friendship, healing and his new wife and baby child had come on the tour to add a calm missing in so much of his life.
In Bloxwich, a town like a thousand others, lived a pigeon breeder, a man of fame in the private world of pigeon fanciers, a man of great renown and a man that Tyson made homage to. The man’s name was Horace Potts – he was a hero to Tyson and I’m not making this up. Four years earlier, during a conversation in a fur-lined Humvee driving through Doncaster, Tyson had told me about Potts. I filed Horace away – ‘Tyson’s pigeon geezer’, or something like that.
In 2009 there was an emotional stop at the Johnny Owen statue in Merthyr Tydfil, where for a moment the town fell silent as Tyson placed flowers at the base. He knew the Lupe Pintor fight, every detail, every sickening last punch. After the moment of respect at the statue there was a drive out of Wales and directly to the home of Horace Potts in Bloxwich.
On that tour, a halfway point between lunacy and sobriety, the bad people flocked to Tyson’s side once again. They came in search of his friendship, his endorsement, his love, his money, his soul. At breakfast, before he came down, they all found positions to pounce. It was a ritual of the damned, played out at the Holiday Inn in Newport. They waited for the lift doors to ping open. I swear the lift’s light gave him a halo when he emerged.
Nine years earlier I watched Tyson leave the Grosvenor Hotel in London’s Park Lane for a morning walk; Croc, a cleric and Anthony Pitts, his main security guy, by his side. He would return with twenty people, all hungry and all promised tickets for either Julius Francis in Manchester or Lou Savarese in Glasgow. The management had prostitutes removed from suites where they had set up citadels of hope and desired cash. I was witness to an eviction, not pleasant. The Tyson hustle was big business.
Tyson left the Matchstick Man gazing out on a shopping precinct that afternoon in Wales and made his way to the promised sanctuary of the pigeon coops in the garden of Potts.
Horace Potts never wanted anything from Mike Tyson, they just shared a love of Birmingham tumblers and Birmingham rollers. They were two adult men, who when alone with their beloved pigeons coo-cooed sweet nothings to their little birds.
Tyson was truly transformed the moment he held a pigeon. I saw it in a hotel in Louisville when he had a dozen birds flying and poohing wild in his bedroom. He sat on the bed, missed the pooh and started to coo. And he slept in that room at night, birds resting on his head and bulk. He lost to Danny Williams four nights later – I saw both of those things, equally bizarre.
It must be lovely for Tyson to be in the company of somebody like Potts, a man who makes no demands, wants nothing, needs nothing. Imagine going through life, going through about 500 million dollars, prison, fame, infamy, sex scandals and some of the most memorable fights in history and only have the company of birds as a civilising influence.
Tyson not being wanted would be a last, great miracle in his life.