kevin Rooney Interview

By
TysonTalk

Published: October 13, 2004

With Kevin Rooney still at the helm, the spirit of the late great Cus D’Amato lives on at the Catskill Boxing Club in Catskill, NY. Located above a Police Station and a Fire Department, D’Amato opened the gym back in 1970 and it has been a breeding ground for some of the sports most notable fighters: ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson, Jose Torres, Vinny Pazienza, Edwin Rosario, Wilfredo Benetiz, Rooney himself and many, many others.

Further preserving D’Amato’s legacy, Rooney refuses to charge members gym dues or training fees, stating simply “Cus never charged people. That’s the way he did it, so I’m just continuing on with the same principle.”

Over the weekend, Fightnews visited Rooney at his gym where he currently trains three proteges: 21 year old jr. middleweight Phillip Krupp (4-0; 2 KO’s), 25 year old middleweight, Leonard ‘The Haitian Sensation’ Pierre (15-0; 10 KO’s) and 23 year old heavyweight, Thomas Hayes (15-1; 11 KO’s).

Upon entering the spacious gym, one can distinctly sense the rich history that lies within it’s walls and envision all the blood and sweat that has been absorbed into it’s foundation. The gym walls are adorned with countless fight posters and newspaper clippings of the fighters who trained there. Also in abundance are press clippings of Tyson’s amateur and pro fights. Situated on a large platform within the gym, are two large motionless heavy bags with numbers written on them. Something rarely seen in a gym. The bag(s) is called ‘The Willie’ and it was devised by D’Amato to help Jose Torres prepare for his very first light heavyweight title bout with Willie Pastrano in 1965 (Torres won by TKO9). Thus the name ‘The Willie.’ As Rooney gears up his two fighters to hit The Willie, he inserts a cassette tape of D’Amato’s voice calling out various numbers. Hearing D’Amato’s voice sound throughout the gym evokes a sense of history, loyalty and dedication to the spirit of Rooney’s mentor and to the training principles that D’Amato taught.

Rooney explains, “Cus made 7 tapes with varying degrees of skill level. But, the whole concept of The Willie is that it’s a discipline tool. It teaches you to learn to move your head and throw combinations hard and fast. I try to explain to these young kids that come in here: ‘You may think this is crazy, but if you hang with it, the end will justify the means. It’s how I was taught and it’s how Mike Tyson was taught.’

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Having sculpted Tyson from the ground up, D’Amato spent five years cultivating and molding Tyson into a brutal fighting machine whose destiny was to become the greatest heavyweight fighter that the sport has ever seen. After D’Amato’s death in November 1985, the torch was passed on to Rooney who effectively lead the 20 year old Tyson to a world championship when he annihilated WBC champ Trevor Berbick in 2 rounds. The win made Tyson the youngest heavyweight champ in history and Rooney (at 27 years old), the youngest trainer to have lead a heavyweight fighter to a world title.

Under Rooney’s guidance, Tyson earned a record of 24-0; 20 KO’s and a unification of the WBA, WBC and IBF titles by blasting his way through such opponents as: James ‘Bonecrusher’ Smith, Tony Tucker, Larry Holmes, Tony Tubbs and Michael Spinks. Humbly, Rooney states “There was only one Cus D’Amato, then there’s the rest of us. Cus was a genius. There was no better mind in boxing than Cus D’Amato.”

Immediately after Tyson’s brutal first round knockout of Spinks in 1988, Rooney was fired. So began Tyson’s turbulent and scandalous life both in and out of the ring.

When asked his opinion of Tyson’s last fight against Danny Williams in July, Rooney states, “Mike looked like he was in pretty good shape. He came out aggressive. But… he seemed like he was a little unsure of himself. He wasn’t using his jab or throwing any kind of combinations. He still has this thing where he’s only looking to land one big punch and you can’t do that.”

In that fight, Tyson injured his knee in the first round and sustained four tears to the left meniscus. By the fourth round, an exhausted Tyson slumped to the canvas and made no attempt to rise to his feet to beat the referee’s count. Of that, Rooney adds: “People are maybe saying that Mike was using his knee as an excuse. But after watching the fight I believe that he did in fact hurt his knee. After he stepped in to throw a right hand, he followed it up with a left to the body. It looked like his foot was planted when he threw that left and he twisted his knee by not pivoting with all that power behind the punch. After that, he was stepping on his left foot tenderly. In the second round, it looked like he hurt his knee again when he threw a left uppercut. Then in the fourth round, I think he just said to himself ‘***** it, my knee is killing me.’ But, Mike definitely showed heart by continuing for as long as he did. Mike has always had heart.”

During the time that Fightnews spent with Rooney, there is simply no doubt that he is ‘The Man’ in Catskill, N.Y. With a celebrity status based on genuine respect and admiration, nearly every man, woman and child greets the famed trainer upon seeing him. When spotting him walking down the street, motorists honk their car horns and yell “Rooooooney!” And, people on foot approach him with such comments as: ‘Yo Kev, when you gettin’ back with Tyson?… Hey Rooney, Mike didn’t look too good in his last fight. He should get back with you man!’

A Tyson-Rooney reunion? Just the thought can make a die hard Tyson fan salivate and shudder with excitement. Regarding that idea, Rooney estimates: “Mike still has the technique and I think if we were to get back together, I think I can do something with him and we can go for the glory. I would have to be with Mike a good 6 to 8 weeks to see how his life goes and to see what he does. His life is much different now than when I had him. He’s 38 years old and he’s got kids that live with him.”

Rooney continues, “It’s been really hard for me to watch Mike’s fights. More than anything… I get really pissed off, because I can see that he still has talent and ability. But I’m not sure if his desire to fight is there anymore… and that’s a dangerous thing. When you fight for money, that’s bad. But when you fight for the glory, that’s good… and that’s the Mike Tyson that I had back in the 80’s. He trained hard and fought for the glory. Mike was fighting the best that was out there and starchin’ them all. Now… the best that’s out there is nothing special. He can definitely beat anyone in the division, but Mike has to want it.”

Now that Tyson’s knee has mended and he’s been given medical clearance to begin training, would Tyson ever consider returning to his roots in Catskill and rejoining Rooney? If he did, it would certainly be the biggest story in boxing and the PPV buys would undoubtedly reach stratospheric proportions as fight fans would eagerly plunk down their hard earned money just to see the reunion of Tyson-Rooney… regardless of who Tyson’s opponent would be. In boxing, business is business. But in keeping with Rooney’s perseverance of D’Amato’s tradition, it would certainly be epic for the Prodigal Son to return to where it all began.