Mike Tyson fact check: What’s real, what’s not in the wild new Hulu drama
Spoiler alert! This story contains details from the first two episodes of the Hulu miniseries “Mike.”
Hold onto your ears.
Hulu’s “Mike” (first two episodes now streaming; new episodes released Thursdays) is a bite-sized look at heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson (played as an adult by “Moonlight” star Trevante Rhodes). Told over eight half-hour episodes that frequently break the fourth wall by addressing viewers, the miniseries tracks Tyson’s meteoric rise and wild, turbulent life outside the ring.
Tyson, 56, has vehemently slammed the drama, writing on Instagram earlier this month that Hulu “stole my life story.” Here’s what the series gets right and wrong about the sports legend and “The Hangover” star.
‘They stole my life story’:Mike Tyson calls Hulu a ‘slave master’ over unauthorized show
Did a childhood bully really behead Tyson’s pet pigeon?
The show begins with young Mike (Zaiden James) growing up in a rough Brooklyn neighborhood, where he gets picked on by other kids for his lisp and weight. In one early scene, a bully rips the head off one of Mike’s beloved pet pigeons and throws the blood on him. Enraged, Mike beats up the boy and discovers his knack for fighting.
It’s a story that the real Tyson has recounted many times in interviews and on his Twitter account, writing in 2013 that it was “love at first fight.” Not only did the incident plant a seed for his future boxing career, but it also sheds light on his lifelong obsession with fowl: At one point, Tyson owned as many as 2,500 birds in various locations, according to Reuters. He even starred in the Animal Planet docuseries “Taking on Tyson” in 2011, which followed his 300 competitive racing pigeons.
Did he actually discuss his sex life on ‘The Joan Rivers Show?’
In the last scene of the second episode, 20-year-old Mike (Rhodes) becomes the youngest heavyweight champion in the world when he beats then-champ Trevor Berbick during a 1986 fight. Before the hotly anticipated showdown, Mike sits for an interview with talk show host Joan Rivers (Coley Campany), who playfully probes him on his sex and dating life.
Their real-life conversation is recreated almost verbatim in the series. “When you go into training, do you give up sex? Because my husband always tells me he’s in training,” Rivers joked, before asking Tyson whether women “throw themselves” at him. In response, he offered that he has “a lot of lady friends” and doesn’t forgo sex.
At the end of the interview, Rivers invites Tyson back on her show after the Berbick match – and he did return about a month later.
Did Mike really trade luxury cars for tigers?
The series jumps between the past and the present day, as Mike recounts his life story in a solo stage show, “Undisputed Truth.” In the first few minutes of Episode 1, Mike tells the audience how he once ordered pet tigers during a prison phone call with his car dealer.
Although only briefly mentioned in “Mike,” Tyson elaborated on the experience during a 2019 episode of “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast. At the tail end of his three-year prison stint for a 1992 rape conviction, Tyson learned through a well-connected friend that he could exchange his luxury vehicles for tigers.
“(I was) a young guy,” Tyson told Rogan and comedian Tom Segura. “I’m saying to myself, ‘Wow, that would be cool. Get me some cubs, man.’ “
Tyson started with two tigers, which were waiting for him when he was released from prison a couple of months later, the boxer told rapper Fat Joe during an Instagram Live chat in 2020. He eventually bought more big cats – some of which even slept in bed with him – although he’s since given the exotic animals to sanctuaries.
Did he actually curse a reporter on live TV?
The first episode focuses on Tyson’s troubled childhood: street-fighting and robbing houses at age 10 before he was sent to a juvenile detention center, where he started training to box at 13. The series aims to depict how these experiences toughened Tyson by showing a combative interview as an adult, in which a TV host (Milton L. Crosby) asks, “Is it harder for you being called a convicted rapist, or is it more nerve-wracking for you to box?” Mike proceeds to curse him out before the journalist cuts the conversation short.
Tyson really did tell off a reporter on live TV, although the actual context was quite different. In 2014, the boxer went on a Canadian news show to promote “Undisputed Truth.” Tyson met a day earlier with disgraced Toronto mayor Rob Ford, who was gunning for reelection. News anchor Nathan Downer suggested that associating with Tyson could damage Ford’s campaign.
“Some of your critics would say, ‘There’s a race for mayor. We know you’re a convicted rapist. This could hurt his campaign,’ ” Downer asked Tyson. “How would you respond to that?”
“It’s so interesting because you seem like a nice guy but you’re really a piece of (expletive),” Tyson responded, before unleashing a string of expletives. Downer ended the interview.