10 Questions for Mike Tyson

Former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson discusses fear, love and his new Animal Planet series, Taking On Tyson

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Jared McMillenWonderful Machine for TIME

The show is about your love for pigeons. What inspired your interest in them?

Charlotte Stine, LONG LAKE, ILL.

One day, as a kid, these guys were bullying me and had me carry milk crates to an abandoned building. We went on the roof, and I saw this box with pigeons in it. I never saw the bird before, and I was like, Wow, this is what I want to do.

Is it true that the first fight you were in was because of a pigeon?

Somebody tried to steal my pigeon and broke its neck and hit me in the face with the dead bird. I fought him--just flailing away. I hit him more than he hit me, so I guess I won. That's how it goes.

What makes a good fighter?

Ange Cicin-Sain, VENICE, CALIF.

A good fighter is not necessarily the greatest fighter that ever lived. A good fighter has to be diligent and committed--doing what you hate to do but doing it like you like love it, always testing yourself and forcing yourself to the limit.

How do you feel after knocking out an opponent?


Job accomplished. This is what you've practiced. When I was a kid and I knocked a guy out, I would jump up and be excited. My mentor Cus D'Amato would say, Why are you excited? You anticipated this. Anything different would be a failure.

Is it more important to be respected or feared?

If we lived in a utopian world, it would be better to be respected. But since we don't, it's better to be feared. I like being both, but [if I had to choose], I would like to be respected. Respect is more powerful than love.

Your career seems back on track after much turmoil. Who is your trusted adviser?

Sharon Melnick, WELLINGTON, FLA.

My nucleus is just my wife and me. We work out everything together as a family. Before, it was just about Mike.

If you had made better choices, do you think you would've been the greatest fighter ever?

Michael Lawrence, LAS VEGAS

I don't know, but I should have made better decisions. We can't dwell on the past.

What was the hardest period of your life?


A few years ago, when I didn't care anymore and I was gambling with life. I was out there doing whatever I wanted with whoever I wanted. I don't know who that guy is anymore.

How has converting to Islam helped?

Hasan Kilic, ANKARA

Being a Muslim is who I am as a person. But let's say there wasn't Islam. Just that spirit, just for me to have my everyday [routines] helps. I have to be constantly on the move, or else the machine is going to break. I'm a realist. I deal with the world coming at me. It comes at me fast--faster sometimes than I can say my prayers. God will have to forgive me if I forgot a few things. I hope he does, at least.

What will people remember about you in 50 years?

Michael Madsen, CHICAGO

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