The Tiger King docuseries may be the most-talked-about show right now, but long before Joe Exotic made his Netflix debut, there was another man known for domesticating tigers: the one and only Mike Tyson. The boxer made an unforgettable cameo with a tiger in the 2009 film The Hangover. In real life, the former heavyweight champion had three Bengal tigers as pets. In a March 30, 2020 Instagram, he jokingly declared himself “the original #tigerking.” However, those days are long gone.
On Instagram Live in late March, Tyson admitted (via Insider), “I was foolish. There’s no way you’re gonna domesticate these cats 100%, there’s no way that’s gonna happen.” The boxer explained, “They’ll kill you by accident… especially when you’re playing rough with them, you’re punching them. They’re getting hyped back, and they hit you back, and you’re dead.”
Even so, he wasn’t even afraid. Tyson shared, “I loved them. I used to sleep with them. I’m just happy I educated myself, it was late but… I was doing the wrong s***. I shouldn’t have had them in my house… I was wrong.”
The good times ended when Tyson’s 500-pound tiger named Kenya bit a woman. He recalled, “When I saw what the tiger did to her hand, I had a lot of money back then, so I gave her $250,000.” In a 2019 GQ interview, Tyson confirmed Kenya, who he’d had for about 16 years, actually bit that woman’s arm off. Ultimately, he gave up having tigers as pets.
Mike Tyson bought tiger cubs from prison
Owning a tiger as a pet is unusual in its own right, but the origin story of Mike Tyson’s tigers makes this whole thing even more interesting. In 2019, Tyson appeared on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast and recalled, “So I’m in prison, I’m talking to my car dealer at the time.” A car dealer making the short list of people willing to accept collect calls from prison is yet another interesting sidebar to this story.
The athlete shared, “He has some cars that belong to a friend of mine that’s a friend of ours. He’s discussing, ‘If he doesn’t pay for these cars, I’m going to sell these cars to somebody and get some horses.’ I said, ‘What, you can get horses? And trade horses in for cars?’ Because I had a lot of cars, I’d probably get some horses too. And he said, ‘Yeah man, you can get cougars, lions, tigers. I know this guy that has exotic animals.'” Casual.
So, Tyson asked the car dealer to get him some tigers for when he came home from prison, where he was serving a sentence for a rape conviction. He recalled, “When I came home, I had those cubs there waiting for me.”
Now, he’s the proud owner of a large dog named Mars. While the boxer reveled in his close bond with the big cats for many years, it seems like he has recognized the error of his ways.
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