Mike Tyson’s life has been described as a circus at times, but it’s becoming apparent that zoo analogies work just as well. The former heavyweight boxing champion’s fascination with tigers has been documented, but those stories pale when compared to the one about the time Tyson wanted to fight a gorilla.
The time Mike Tyson brought Robin Givens to the zoo
Beating Trevor Berbick, James Smith, Tony Tucker, and Michael Spinks in a span of 19 months earned Mike Tyson all the world’s major heavyweight boxing championships before his 22nd birthday in 1988. When you’re that good at such a young age, the combination of wealth and fame can lead to some wild adventures, like the story Tyson told about a visit to a New York zoo.
Tyson was nearing the end of his reign as the world champion but was still undefeated in the ring and was married to Robin Givens, which would make the timeframe for the story 1988 or ’89.
The zoo was supposed to be closed but Tyson arranged for a private tour for himself and Givens, the model and actress best known at the time for her role in the TV sitcom “Head of the Class.”
“I paid a worker at New York’s zoo to re-open it just for me and Robin. When we got to the gorilla cage there was one big silverback gorilla there just bullying all the other gorillas. They were so powerful, but their eyes were like an innocent infant. I offered the attendant $10,000 to open the cage and let smash that silverback’s snot box.”
Adult silverbacks can range in weight from 300 to 600 pounds and can dead-lift weights far beyond what humans are capable of lifting, so it was fortunate for Tyson that the zoo attendant declined to open the enclosure to let the champ take a swing at the silverback.
Mike Tyson’s fascination with tigers
Part of the plotline in the 2009 film The Hangover involved figuring out how a tiger got into a Las Vegas hotel room. As the story progressed, it turned out the animal had been stolen from Mike Tyson, who played himself in the movie.
It was more than just a crazy idea thrown into the screenplay for a laugh. Tyson owned three tigers in real life. He reportedly was serving a jail sentence when he agreed to buy his first tiger, Kenya, which he would keep for more than 15 years.
By the time he had acquired two more Bengal tigers, the boxer was spending $4,000 a month caring for the animals.
The gorilla story sounds about right
At the height of his boxing career, Tyson was justifiably labeled “The Baddest Man on the Planet,” so the idea that he would offer to pay $10,000 to step into a zoo enclosure to fight a silverback gorilla sounds about right.
Tyson won his first 19 professional fights by knockout, including 12 in the first round and four others before the end of the third round. He became the heavyweight division’s lineal champion by defeating Michael Spinks in 91 seconds on June 27, 1988, and made two more successful title defenses before his shocking loss to Buster Douglas in Tokyo on Feb. 11, 1990.