In a story of devotion to pigeons and somewhere in the ornithological mix probably a moral or two, Steve Bunce describes Mike Tyson’s unusual friendship with Horace Potts
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
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
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
Tyson not being
wanted would be a last, great miracle in his life.