Rooney on Tyson!


Published: April 6, 2004

​Over the years, ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson’s legion of devoted fans have
firmly held on to a tattered thread of hope: To see their beloved
fighter resurrect his desire and regain the heavyweight championship
for a third time. Along with that hope are the unwavering contentions:
‘Mike should return to his roots… If Mike would only take his
training seriously… Mike should go back to Kevin Rooney…’

Kevin Rooney. The man who was coached as a fighter and then as a
trainer by the legendary Cus D’Amato at his fabled training camp in the
Catskill Mountains of New York – and the one who picked up where
D’Amato left off in sculpting a young Tyson into one of the most
devastating fighters the sport has ever seen.

After D’Amato’s death in November 1985, Tyson won his first
championship a year later at the age of 20 by annihilating 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 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

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.

In recent days, there have been confirmed reports that Tyson (50-4; 44
KO’s) has resumed light training on his own in Phoenix, Arizona and is
expected to fight in the coming months. Currently, Tyson has yet to
announce who will be training him.

In this exclusive interview, Fightnews spoke to Rooney to get his perspective on Tyson:

Mike has gone less than one full round in a span of nearly two years
(against Clifford Etienne). How difficult will it be for him to shake
off the ring rust?

It won’t be that difficult. If he’s been running and keeping in shape,
it won’t be a problem. He’s been doing this for so long, that it’s
almost like turning on a light switch. Mike’s not going to be as good
as he was when he was 20 or 21, but if he gets into shape and gets
prepared mentally, he’ll still be a very dangerous fighter.

Has Mike ever talked to you about training him again?

No. We’ve really had no communication. I talked to him on the phone
once, you know…’how ya doin,’ blah, blah, blah. Last summer, I heard
he came up here (Catskill) looking for me. But he knows where I live.
My house is still the same. For him not to come to my house… uh, I
don’t know. You know, I’ve always believed that you just don’t leave
people, you stay with the person who brought you to the dance. Mike and
I have a long history together and we accomplished a lot in this sport.
That’s something you just don’t walk away from.

If Mike were to ask you to train him again, would you?

If he were to ask me… sure I would. Just so I could try and bring him back to where he once was.

More quotes and pictures available in the extended section of this post (click ‘Read More‘ below).

It’s been 15 years since you’ve worked with Mike. Is it too late to pick up where you left off?

I don’t think so. If he concentrated and really trained hard, it can be
done. When we were at the peak, I had Mike sparring 10 rounds
everyday… 5 days a week! It was an all out war EVERYDAY. There was
none of that one day on and one day off crap. To be a great fighter…
you have to spar. You gotta spar everyday, day in and day out, week
after week. With Mike, I would spar him up until two or three days
before a fight.

One time in Atlantic City, Mike
had gotten a bloody nose and Jimmy (Jacobs) wanted me to stop the
sparring. I told Jimmy ‘What the fuck? If he gets a bloody nose in the
fight, you want me to stop the fight then too?!’ Then, Jimmy understood
exactly what I meant. Another time in Vegas, Mike got a little cut over
his eye a few days before a fight. But, the cut didn’t re-open because
he would move his head.

Another thing, ever since he left me, Mike stopped moving his head. All
of his trainers after me, weren’t in his mind like I was in his mind. I
was raised by Cus and I think Mike had respect for me and he knew what
I was telling him, was the right thing. The average person doesn’t know
what it takes to become a great fighter. It takes constant discipline
and repetition. Boxing is 80% mental and 20% physical. Anyone can get
in physical shape.

your departure as Mike’s coach in 1988, very few trainers have been
able to motivate him and keep him in the gym. Why do you think that is?

Mike didn’t respect those guys. He knows more than them… and he knows
it too. Those trainers that he’s had, they don’t know anything! Mike
couldn’t pull that shit with me. When it came to style, technique and
all that, he couldn’t go head to head with me. When he had those other
guys, they didn’t know what to tell him! My work with Mike had made the
phrase ‘Move your head’ common now. But, there is much more to it than
someone just saying ‘Move your head.’ When I say ‘Move your head’,
there’s a system. There’s a secret behind that. Cus was very secretive.
He always wanted to keep things secret for his own fighters.

Could Mike be so confident in his abilities that it just makes him lazy?

No. All fighters have a tendency to be lazy. Because Mike has had no
guidance since he left me, he just does what he wants! His mind set is
‘I’m the man.’ But, a lot of fighters get like that. They forget the
training that was there when they were just a little pup. Mike won’t
listen to anybody! If he felt he was in shape and needed to take off 5
or 10 pounds, he would just dry out. When I had Mike, he worked out.
There was no need to dry out! He work out hard! That’s what made him
the best fighter and youngest heavyweight champion in the world.

Two weeks before his fight with Etienne, Mike got a tattoo on his face. What did you think about that?

That’s just Mike being impulsive… and silly.

In June, Mike turns 38 years old. Since he’s not a beat up fighter, how many more years do you think he has left?

Maybe one or two. Mike should get out because I think he lost his
desire to fight. Once you lose your desire, you should get out. Right
now, he’s just fighting for the money. But on the other hand, there
really is no one out there. The heavyweight division is wide open for
him. Mike still has punching power and when you still have power,
you’re always dangerous.

What is your opinion of the heavyweight division and the future of boxing in general?

The future of boxing doesn’t look good. When was the last time the
American’s really did something in the Olympics? It was in 1976! All
those boys were kickin’ ass back then! Now, we’ve got nothing coming
out of the Olympics. And, you know something… part of that problem is
because we’re the only major league sport, whose minor league has a
different set of rules. Baseball, Football, Basketball… you name it.
They all have the same rules in their amateur and pro leagues! Boxing
is the only sport who does things differently! But, nothing is coming
out of the amateurs and that’s why we’re in the tailspin that we’re in
right now. It’s THAT, and the greedy promoters who’ve ruined the sport.

As far as the heavyweight division now, it sucks! Boxing through the
50’s and 70’s was where it was at. Guys like Tyson, Frazier, Ali,
Liston, Foreman and Marciano were killers! Today… you’ve got the
Klitschko brothers and Joe Mesi. So what! They’ll never make great
champions because they are too gentleman-like. They’re not killers!
Fighters in the 70’s and earlier were looking to take your head off!
Also, Chris Byrd… who wants to see him fight? He doesn’t knock
anybody out and he doesn’t LOOK to knock anybody out either. He just
looks to survive! He’s nothing special… with all that running around
and tap, tap, tap shit he does.

Mike’s fight against Lennox Lewis. What did you think?

Mike wasn’t in shape. If he had gotten in shape he would have beaten
Lewis. But he quit against Lewis. That whole fight sucked! Lewis didn’t
do anything great or spectacular! He hit Mike with a couple of shots
and Mike got a couple of cuts. Then, Mike tried to quit in the corner,
but they sent him out. After that, Mike just laid down. He could have
knocked Lewis out if he had only trained.

In that fight, Mike took a heck of a beating – the worst of his entire career. Do you think it affected him?

Nah! Mike quit! He gave up! He was just in it for a payday!

Although there have been many, in which fight do you think Mike threw his best punch? A punch that surprised even you!

The Spinks punch was pretty good. Mike hit him on the chin and put him
in La-La Land. Although, that was expected because Spinks was a little
nervous. But, Spinks grabbed his 13 million and got the hell out of
there and retired. But, the Trevor Berbick punch… THAT was the best!
He knocked Trevor down three times with one punch! That was a hell of a
punch. That was the best one!

Cus D’Amato. If he could see how Mike’s career turned out, what would he say?

Well, I gotta answer that in two ways. Number one: If Cus had stayed
alive, it never would have happened. Number two: I think Cus would be
very disappointed. He would have thought ‘Dammit, I didn’t have enough
time to teach Mike.’ And, I believe that. Cus and Mike were together
for almost 5 years and it took Cus almost 2 years to get Mike’s trust.
Once Cus got that trust, Mike started to go through everybody in the
amateurs. Then, when Cus died after Mike’s 11th pro fight, he told
Jimmy and Bill ‘Let’s prove Cus right.’ There was no greater mind in
boxing than Cus D’Amato. Nobody!

Even Ali sought Cus’s advice. No?

Right! He did that before his fight with George Foreman. Cus told Ali:
‘George doesn’t respect your punch, so go out there and nail him!’ If
you watch the fight, you see in the first two rounds, Ali plants
himself and nails Foreman hard with a straight hand – right on the
button! You can see the surprise in Foreman’s eyes! With 30 seconds
left in the rounds, Ali would open up on Foreman. So, after every
fuckin’ round, George is going back to his corner and they’re telling
him Ali can’t punch! That was the psychology and Cus saw that. After
the rope-a-dope, Foreman was tired and he more or less gave up.

who are big punchers usually have problems with their hands. Did Mike
have hand problems? Was it ever a concern for you as his trainer?

Mike never had any broken bones or knuckles. He never had any type of
hand problems when I was working with him. One time he had a problem
with his thumb, but he got that in a street fight with Mitch Green.

of Mitch ‘Blood’ Green, he was the first man never to touch the canvas
against Mike. Did Mike have a problem with Green’s style or did he
underestimate him?

It was Green’s style. All Green was
doing was counterpunching. He wasn’t leading. Green fought a defensive
fight and didn’t look to engage. He only looked to survive. Mike beat
the fuck outta him! When you got a guy who’s 6’4″, that doesn’t want to
lead or exchange, he’s hard to fight – and he’s definitely hard to
knock out. Also, Mitch has always been pissed off about his situation
with Don King. That’s what lead to that street fight in Harlem in front
of that clothing store. Green took a slug at Mike and Mike blasted him.

What do you think prompted Mike to bite Holyfield?

I believe Mike bit him because Holyfield kept head butting him.
Holyfield is a very dirty fighter and no one ever talks about that!
He’s very slick with those dirty tactics. Even George Foreman said that
Holyfield was the dirtiest fighter he ever fought. But in that fight,
it all started when Holyfield threw Mike up against the ropes and came
in with his head! He cut Mike. And, Holyfield kept on doing it
throughout the fight! People have to realize that the atmosphere in
that fight was really charged up. If you look closely, Mike nibbled on
his ear before he actually bit him. It was almost like a warning to
Holyfield to stop head butting. Of course, it was wrong for Mike to do
that. But back in the old days, stuff like that used to happen all the

When I was coming up, Cus showed me some tricks and how to get away
with them. Cus was from the 20’s and he knew every dirty trick in the
book! He showed me how to hold a guy a certain way… come in with your
head… put your elbow under his chin… put a thumb in the guys eye…
hit a guy low… knee him in the groin, things like that. When you’re
in close, you can do those things and get away with it. It’s hard for
the referee to see things like that. In a fight, it’s an all out war.
Although there are rules and you try to stay within those rules,
fighters… like Holyfield, do try to break those rules.

It’s been said that Holyfield had the perfect style to beat Mike. How would you have coached him against Holyfield?

I would have sent Mike right after him. Get right in Holyfield’s face!
AND, move his head more. That was Mike’s main ingredient. Moving his
head. It made him difficult to fight. When a fighter throws a punch at
another fighter, and it doesn’t land, he becomes more cautious and
won’t throw that same punch. The guy gets confused. That’s when a guy
like Mike, who’s moving his head, can land his punches and knock the
guy out. If Mike had the proper training, with me in his corner, he
would have knocked Holyfield out. There is no question about it.

loss to Buster Douglas. Many people were saddened to see him on the
canvas struggling to grab his mouthpiece. What did you think of that

I wasn’t saddened because I saw it coming. But, I
was saddened when I saw Mike’s next fight after Spinks, eight months
later. He fought Frank Bruno (their first fight) and his skills had
already become diminished. I could tell he wasn’t training like he
should. If Bruno could fight, he would have knocked Mike out that
night. Bruno landed a punch that buckled Mike, but Bruno didn’t know
what to do after that! When I saw that, I knew it wouldn’t be long
before he got knocked out. For me, that was sad… to see Mike’s skills
start to unravel.

But for Douglas, the minute I saw Mike walk into the ring, I knew he
wasn’t in shape. I saw the fat. He wasn’t ripped. I just KNEW he was
partying it up in Japan before that fight. They really like to party
over there in Japan. Believe me! I found that out when we went over to
Japan the year before to fight (Tony) Tubbs. But, we had to refrain
until AFTER the fight. It was a long plane ride over there, something
like 14 hours. When we got there, Mike slept for a while and then I
woke him up for a 3 mile run. Then, he would go to the gym and he
worked out hard. There was no fooling around before the Tubbs fight!

Two weeks before the Douglas fight, I heard Mike weighed 250 and had to
take off 30 pounds. So, he dehydrated and starved himself. In the first
few rounds, Douglas came out throwing a few jabs and you could see that
he was nervous. But, he was throwing punches and Mike wasn’t! If I had
been in Mike’s corner that night, I would have said: ‘Look Mike, you
came all the way over here and all you did was party. You’ve only got 3
or 4 rounds in you and you better throw EVERYTHING you’ve got. If you
don’t knock him out in that time, I’m throwing in the towel.’ If Mike
had done that, he could have knocked Douglas out. But, he didn’t. He
let a scared fighter get brave. Once you do that, you’ve got problems.
Brave fighters don’t go back to being scared. So, as the rounds went
on… Douglas got confident! And when Douglas got knocked on his ass,
he punched the canvas and got up. The next round, he beat the hell out
of Mike… and then stopped him.

Which fights do you feel were the best performances of Mike’s career?

Oh! There were many! When he went 10 rounds with James Tillis. It was
his first 10 round fight. Before that, he was knocking guys out in less
than 6 rounds. Another one was the fight with Mitch (Green). Mike beat
Tony Tucker in a 12 round decision, EASY. He destroyed Tyrell Biggs,
EASY. He knocked out Larry Holmes, EASY. Then it was Tubbs and then
Spinks – EASY. Mike was on the road to greatness. In his first fight
without me, he looked terrible against Bruno. Then he fought (Carl)
Williams in a controversial stoppage. And then came the Douglas fight.
So, all I have to say is… look at Mike’s record before and after me.

Mike’s rape conviction. Many people feel it was a set up. Your thoughts?

Definitely a set up! How the hell are you gonna get a TAX attorney to
defend you in a RAPE case?! Just before that happened, the rumor was
that Mike was going to leave King and go with Harold Smith. That whole
thing just didn’t add up. So… who knows.

Mike could have gone down as the greatest heavyweight ever. He could
have been undefeated in 100 fights! But, he surrounded himself with
lowlifes and jerk-offs and everyone was having a party with his money.
Mike was making a ton of money because of Jimmy and Bill (Cayton). They
are the ones who got Mike 20 million to fight Michael Spinks! It was
the biggest purse ever at the time. He made 10 million to fight Tony
Tubbs in Japan and Mike was making commercials for millions of dollars.
Then, Mike marries Robin (Givens) and King steals him away. Mike can’t
sit around and say ‘Cus never told me!’ That’s all bullshit! Mike had
the BEST team! You don’t go from the BEST to the WORST and then try to
play naive! It’s Mike’s fault and his fault alone.

You know, Mike hurt himself and stabbed me and Bill in the back when he
went with King. But, Mike was wooed away by King and I understand that.
Mike should have just stayed with the people who brought him to the
top. But, he chose to go with King. Mike blew it. He had a great run.
But, he got suckered when he went with King and he should have known
better. Now… Mike is suing him for 100 million dollars! You go figure

Trainer Kevin Rooney with Jr. Middleweight Leonard Pierre. (Photo Jocko Johnson)