Published: June 9, 2005
June 8, 2005
Photo: Lisa Scott
No matter how much time has transpired, fight fans and media alike will
forever link the names of Kevin Rooney and Mike Tyson. Beginning in
1982, Rooney coached Tyson during his amateur career, being the ears,
eyes and physical entity for the then living legend, Cus D’Amato – the
savior of a 14 year old Brownsville street thug and creator of the most
destructive fighter the heavyweight division has ever known… ‘Iron’
After the death of D’Amato in 1985, Rooney effectively steered the ship
into port by taking over where D’Amato left off. He led Tyson to an
undefeated professional record of 35 wins, with 31 knockouts – beating
Trevor Berbick astoundingly for the WBC title in 1986. The following
year, Tyson beat James ‘Bonecrusher’ Smith for the WBA title and Tony
Tucker for the IBF championship.
Defenses against Pinklon Thomas, Tyrell Biggs, Larry Holmes and Michael
Spinks cemented Tyson’s legacy as the most devastating and intriguing
heavyweight fighter since Muhammad Ali.
The following year, Rooney was fired right after Tyson’s fight with
Spinks in 1988 and the two have been estranged ever since. Their separation
has seen the decline in Tyson’s skills and motivation… with the once
‘Baddest Man on the Planet’ suddenly equipped with only 3 rounds of
energy, no D’Amato defense and a prayer for a one punch knockout.
Tyson’s demise has prompted the staunchest ‘Iron’ Mike fan to proclaim
‘If Tyson would only got back with Rooney…’ Yet, there appears to
be no hope for a re-union to ever take place again, even though Tyson
continues to bounce around from trainer to trainer. The wayward son,
gone astray of the D’Amato style and principle.
Nevertheless, people will always consider Rooney to be the official
adjudicator of Tyson’s ring performances. Fightnews spoke to Rooney
about Tyson’s upcoming fight with Kevin McBride this Saturday on Showtime
What do you think of Kevin McBride as an opponent for Tyson?
I was at McBride’s last fight against Kevin Montiy in March at Foxwoods.
It wasn’t a bad fight and it was kind of entertaining. I’m betting that
McBride is training verrrry hard for this. He seems like he’s a tough
Irishman who’ll hang in there and take a beating. But… my bet is that
Mike will take him out in the first round. McBride comes right at you.
He’s not a boxer. He’ll just stand there and jab and that’s perfect
for Mike. Hopefully, Mike is training just as hard and has the desire
to win. But Mike needs to move his head more! He moves it a little bit,
but then forgets about it. He also doesn’t throw combinations anymore.
Instead, he looks to land one big punch and that’s not good.
McBride is 7 inches taller than Tyson, has an 11 inch reach
advantage and is 8 years younger. Could this still be a factor against
The height could be a problem. If Mike stays on the outside and lets
himself get peppered with jabs, he’s gonna have a problem. Mike has
to be aggressive and get inside McBride’s jab. Once he’s inside, he
should rip a hook to the body and then an uppercut or a hook to the
head. Another thing, Mike doesn’t use his jab anymore. When I was coaching
Mike, I always told him to ‘get in there and use your jab.’ Mike had
a nice hard jab and a lot of his taller opponents (like Biggs, Holmes
and Spinks) never expected it. It was a secret weapon.
You and Cus worked on the mental side of Tyson – giving him
tremendous confidence against his opponents. How crucial was that for
Tyson prior to a fight?
It was the number one thing! Boxing is 80% mental and 20% physical.
Every fighter has fear and doubts. But Cus always said that ‘fear feeds
the fuel.’ And once you learn to control the fear, then the fear becomes
your friend and will help you. If you let the fear take over, you freeze
up and you’re gonna have a problem.
Tyson has stated publicly that he went into a deep depression while
recuperating from knee surgery and had never experienced so much pain
before in his life. After such an injury, many athletes become gun shy
and overly cautious about giving 100% – for fear of re-injuring themselves.
Do you think Tyson’s injury will have a lingering effect on him?
It could have an effect. But personally… I don’t think it will. The
Mike Tyson that I knew, wouldn’t let something like that get to him.
After fighting for 4 rigorous rounds with the knee injury, Tyson
recently acknowledged that, as he sat on the canvas receiving the 10
count he thought: “F*** this, I’m in too much pain.” Throughout
history, many fighters have fought with similar injuries. Does the fact
that what Tyson did send out some sort of signal?
No. Absolutely not. If it were a shoulder injury, it would have been
different. When your knee is torn… that hurts like hell! You can’t
throw your punches the same way anymore and you have to put all your
weight on your other foot and that makes you off balance. There was
no point in him continuing. It doesn’t make him a quitter. The fact
that he injured himself in the first round and fought for three more
rounds… shows that he had heart. Mike has always had heart. He probably
made the injury worse by doing what he did.
You are the last remaining practitioner of the Cus D’Amato style
– a style that fit perfectly for Tyson. Ever since you and he split
17 years ago, Mike has not been the same fighter and has been bouncing
around from trainer to trainer. What transpired between you two that
has become so irreparable? What happened?
What happened was, when Mike got with Don King, King got into Mike’s
head and filled his brain with bullshit. Soon after, Mike fired Bill
(Cayton). Then, I got fired. So… I sued him in 1989 for breach of
an oral contract. Then, Mike said ‘Kevin Rooney will never work my corner
again.’ Look. I had an agreement with Mike and he admitted it in court.
I was to be his trainer for the remainder of his pro career. It was
never really about the money because the government grabbed most of
it from me anyway! It was just the principle. If someone gives me their
word and tells me they’re gonna do something, I expect it to happen.
I’ve never been a guy who’ll say: ‘Wait a minute, lets put this in writing.’
I’m old school and Cus was the same way. Mike and I have had a long
history together and accomplished a lot in this sport and that can never
be erased. Mike was wrong for what he did to me. But, I still love him
and I wish him well. I’ll never have a bad word to say about him. A
while back, someone told me that Mike came to Catskill looking for me.
What he wanted, I have no idea.
During training for the Spinks fight, was there any friction
between you and Mike that would have indicated that you were going to
No! Everything was smooth. It was a regular training camp! I was completely
blind sided and stunned when they fired me. It felt like I had been
stabbed in the back.
After 17 years, do you think Mike is still angered by your lawsuit
I have no idea. I don’t know what Mike thinks. Mike is still surrounded
by people who’ve spread rumors about me. Vicious rumors that have gotten
back to me like… I’m a big drunk… I drink all day long — I never
do anything. It’s all bullshit! Of course I’ll have a couple of beers
– just like everyone else! But when it comes time to take care of business,
I take care of business! If you’ve got idle time on your hands, you
indulge. And, Mike of all people… KNOWS this.
In fact, before Cus died, he told Bill and Jimmy (Jacobs): ‘Keep Mike
active. When he’s not in the gym and not working out hard, he’s going
to get into trouble.’ After Mike won the title, we had him fighting
every three months and he was always in shape. When Jimmy died, Bill
had a plan to keep Mike busy by doing a World Tour. It was going to
be five fights around the world, with the first fight being in England
against Frank Bruno and the last one here in the U.S. with Holyfield.
But, that got all screwed up when Mike fired Bill. After that, King
had Mike fighting once or twice a year… and looked what happened.
Listen. Boxing is a backstabbing business. I’m your friend today and
your enemy tomorrow. Everyone is jealous of everyone else and everything
is political – especially when you have a fighter that can command millions
of dollars a fight. People will do whatever it takes to muscle in on
that. That’s when the rumors start flying and things get dirty. Another
rumor about me was: ‘Kevin Rooney is his own man and won’t listen to
anyone.’ Excuse me?! I’m the head trainer and I know what it takes to
get my fighter ready. You’re the manager? Good, then you do YOUR job….
and I’ll do MY job. Then it’s up to Mike to go out there and make us
both look good. Boxing is a tough racket. But I’m still in the game
and I’ve got some fighters with great potential. However, I’m still
looking for a heavyweight. (Laughing)
A couple of months ago, there was some talk that you were asked
to train Andrew Golota for his fight with Lamon Brewster. What happened
Yeah. I was asked if I could go out to Chicago to work with Golota and
I said that I was interested. I’ve got a heavyweight fighter in Chicago
(Thomas Hayes) and we could have gotten some good sparring. But no one
ever got back to me. Apparently they decided to stay with Sam. But that’s
how the fight game is.
After McBride, who do you think Tyson should fight next?
Even though he took a beating from Vitali Klitschko, I think Mike should
fight Danny Williams next. He should take a week off and get right back
into camp for a July or August fight date with Danny. Mike has been
on the shelf a little too long and fighting Danny could be another little
tune up for him. Plus, Mike could get redemption from that loss. After
that, I’d have him go for a title. In fact, I’d have him fight Ruiz
in a heartbeat! Then Chris Byrd, then Vitali. Byrd might be a little
difficult because he’s a mover and a good southpaw boxer. But Mike could
walk right through him because Byrd doesn’t have a punch. Hopefully
by that time, Mike would’ve made 100 million dollars and he can retire
and enjoy life.
What about James Toney? How do you think that would play out?
Mike is too strong for Toney. Mike would probably knock him out. Toney
is a slick fighter and he’s got heart, but Mike is just too strong for
him. Just like Mike is too strong for Byrd, Klitschko, Ruiz and every
other heavyweight fighter that’s out there.
What are your thoughts on Steroid use in boxing?
As far as I’m concerned, if you’re a guy who can fight, like Mike —
what would be the reason for taking drugs if you’re a dynamite puncher?
Also, I don’t care what type of steroid you’re taking, there’s no way
you can beat a guy like ‘Smokin’ Joe Frazier who’s coming after you…
winging punches. No steroid in the world can help you handle something
like that! Steroids may make you bigger, but they don’t make you better.
Just because your muscles get bigger doesn’t make you a powerful puncher.
A perfect example would be the fight between Oscar de la Hoya and Fernando
Vargas. There’s the proof in the pudding right there.
You have a spacious gym located in a nice, quite area in the
Catskill mountains. Many pro fighters come to train there for the seclusion
and privacy – most recently Omar Sheika for his IBF title fight with
Jeff Lacy. I heard a rumor that you were approached by a promoter to
be a house trainer for their up and coming East coast fighters at your
gym. What is this all about? Do you care to comment?
No. I don’t care to comment.
Bill Cayton is being inducted into the Hall of Fame in Canastota
this year. Are you going to be there?
Of course! I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for Bill.
He was the most honest man in boxing. He never screwed ANYONE. It just
wasn’t his way. He grew up in the depression and became a salesman,
then got into advertising. He was a man of his word and if he said he
would pay you 10 million, he would pay you. I know a lot of other managers
who are always trying to get over on their fighters… and for a LOT
less money too. Bill had a lot of respect for Cus and said many times
that Cus had the greatest mind in boxing and was the greatest trainer.
Between him, Cus and Jimmy, it was the perfect team. In fact, the IBHOF
nominated Jimmy in 1993 and Cus in 1995.
la Hoya has predicted that his promotional company Golden Boy will ultimately
be the one to add respectability to the sport. What do you think?
I sure as hell hope so! Oscar seems to be off to a good start. There’s
the proper way of doing things and the ‘get over’ way of doing things.
And that’s what’s wrong with boxing. Even though there are some honest
people in boxing, the sport has always been a lot like prostitution.
Promoters put fighters under contract, tell them what to do and only
give them enough to keep their belly full and their houses paid for.
In the end, fighters are left with very little and the promoter has
made the bulk of the money by doing the least amount of work – especially
if he’s got a fighter that everyone wants to see. It’s the fighter who
always gets the short end of the stick and he’s the one who makes it
all happen. I would love to see Oscar and Bernard Hopkins change things
Cus tried to change things around in the 1950’s. Back then, the mob
worked underground and they had front men as promoters. They were able
to reap the benefits by controlling all the fighters and the titles…
especially the heavyweight title because it was the most prestigious.
So, when Cus discovered Floyd Patterson and turned him into a champion,
he refused to deal with those promoters. He had the heavyweight champ
and was able to call the shots. Cus chose to work with different promoters
who weren’t connected. He treated everyone fairly and made sure they
made money. In fact, Floyd was the very first fighter to ever earn a
1 million dollar purse! Also, Cus wasn’t friendly with anyone because
he didn’t want to have to return favors and vice versa. Everything was
strictly business. Anyway, that paved the way for guys like Muhammad
Ali to make big money. After Cus died, Jimmy, Bill and myself, tried
to finish Cus’ belief that he had another heavyweight champ in Mike
Tyson that would have the leverage to clean up the game again. But when
Jimmy died, King moved in on Tyson and, well… you know what happened
after that. Hopefully, Mike can still make an impact within the heavyweight
division. Personally? I think he can.