Kevin Rooney Interview
(Mike Tyson's Ex-Trainer)

Can you even imagine what it was like to be in Mike Tyson’s corner at the beginning of his career?

No imagining on Kevin Rooney’s part. He was there.

We caught up with Kevin Rooney recently to ask him about those days and his new gig-----playing host at The Laugh Factory comedy club’s “Punch lines” for sports writers and fighters.

Q – Kevin, what’s this “Punch line” Show all about? Is it something like the old Dean Martin t.v. “Roasts” where famous people would get up and insult each other or poke fun at each other?
A – That’s a good analogy, ‘cause I really don’t know. I’m like the commentator. I’m like the guy in the middle. We got the great Burt Suger. We got Vito Auntefurmo, former Middleweight Champion of the world. We got Iran Barkley, former Super Middleweight Champion of the World and then there’s another guy I can’t remember his name. But, it’s Comedy Central, so I guess these guys are suppose to be telling jokes at each other or something. But, being boxing maybe these guys will be swinging it out. (Laughs).

Q – And you’re right in the middle! Great place to be Kevin!
A – I know how to weave and slip. (Laughs). So, I’ll be on my toes for that. If I land a shot they’ll feel it and that should put them out. It’s Comedy Central. To tell you the truth, I really don’t know. This is the first time for me. My agent that I had for 2 years, it’s the first gig he’s gotten me. (Laughs). So, I’m going down tomorrow. I’ll be in my suit lookin’ like a gentleman and see what happens. But, I really don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s gonna be like a spontaneous thing. People are going to be talking stuff and whatever. I really don’t know what’s going to go on. Once I get down there and I got a handle on it then I can see the format if you know what I’m saying. I’m supposed to be the guy that’s leading everybody and then I’ll take that leadership role. Hey-----be quiet! Answer the question. You answer it back. Next question. (Laughs).

Q – Whose idea was it to put something like this on?
A – Comedy Central’s, which is good for boxing. That’s what we need. We’re not getting any publicity anymore. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it you, what’s wrong right now is that ABC, CBS and NBC don’t show any fights anymore. Now, I don’t know how long you’ve been in the fight game, how long you’ve been interested in it, or how old you are, but back in the 60’s, 70’s and then in the middle 80’s, you would see a fight on t.v. on the weekend. People would sit down, sit on their couch, have a beer and wanna watch a fight. You don’t see that no more. Everything is Pay Per View. They want you to pay $50 to see a couple of mediocre guys. When Tyson was on there or Riddick Bowe, or Hopkins and Taylor-----but now, everything’s so spread out. ESPN does their Friday night shows but they do half a year and then they take off. What I’m saying, what is missing and hurting the boxing industry is that ABC, CBS, and NBC do not show ‘live’ fights anymore. On the weekends, Saturday afternoon. 1 o’clock, 3 o’clock, 5 o’clock, 7 o’clock we’re gonna be showing a ‘live’ from Philadelphia, from New York, from Atlantic City, from Nevada. So and so is fighting so and so for a title or title elimination, and this is what is hurting the game. Everyone went to Pay Per View. Were gonna have a Big Fight. You can buy it for $50. And then the logical fan says wait a minute! Why do I want to pay $50 to see these 2 guys fight? I’m watching it on HBO the next day!

Q – What happened to Boxing? Mike Tyson retires, and even the fights on HBO are few and far between.
A – Well o.k. what the Heavyweight Division doesn’t have is a Rocky Marciano, a Joe Frazier, a Muhammad Ali, and a Mike Tyson. All those guys I just mentioned they were gonna put a hurtin’ on you. They’d just go in and they were gentlemen about it. Alright. I knocked you out. Sorry, but that’s just the breaks. (Laughs). That’s what the public wants to see. You got these European fighters now, but, they’re from a different school. It’s like tap, tap, don’t hurt me. I won’t hurt you. If you can out point me, good for you. Where, back in 1976, up in Montreal when Sugar Ray Leonard and Tommy Heerns and the other little kid who was a 112 pounds, I forgot his name. They went out there and won 5 Gold medals. They were ripping ass. Ever since then, in my opinion, we’ve been catering to European nations. This is the way we’re gonna fight. No-----this is America! American people are like-----let’s mix it up. I’m gonna knock you out or you’re gonna knock me out-----either way, that’s what the people want to see. They don’t want to see this tap, tap and the referee jump in and break, break and give ‘em all those hand signals. The Fight Game has gone south as far as I’m concerned. For that reason we’re being guided by the Europeans, their ways and rules. What do you mean? This is the United States of America. We do what we want to do. Somewhere it got mixed up. You know, it all comes down to money. Some Big Shot here in the U.S.A. -----There’s been so many scandals in the Amateurs for the last 10-15 years, people got fired ‘cause they were stealing money out there in Colorado. That’s a problem. Get rid of everybody. Let’s just go back to the basics.

Q – Besides this “Punch lines” Show, what do you do with your time?
A – I own a gym. I have 3 professional fighters. One kid is 18-1. He’s fighting for the USBA Middleweight Championship. He’s fighting this guy Willie Grubbs out of Philly. He’s 19-1, with 15 knock-outs. My kids 18-1, with 13 knock-outs. My kid hits hard. I expect him to win and that will get him in the Top 15 in the world and hopefully the Top 10 and then by the end of the year I’ll be hoping that Taylor will step up and take a shot at my kid. (Laughs). I got another kid who’s 7-1. I got a Heavyweight who’s 23-1. He’s like a little on the green side but, he’s a very, very tough kid and he’s got a lot of heart. Thomas Hays is his name. He’s 23-1. The one loss is like a B.S. loss. He should never have had the loss. He should be 24-0. He was fighting this kid. He was winning the fight and then he got hit and lost the decision. But, they robbed us. (Laughs). That’s the way the game goes. I still run my gym. I got a few young kids that come in, but, I’ve reached the point where o.k. let me put it this way, here in Catskill, I’ve had a couple of kids, this one kid that was and excellent, excellent athlete. He was a basketball player on the high school team, star guard. He has so much potential. I just brought him down to Kingston last week to spar with these other kids and he sparred with ‘em and right away he said now. I’m sore. (Laughs). If you follow what I’m sayin’, boxing is a hard game and it’s hard to get a young kid to stick with it is really what it comes down to. I’m just spinning my wheels, but, I’m always looking out. I learned from Cus D’Amato. You gotta help everybody and anybody as long as they’re honest and truthful. That’s my philosophy.

Q – How did you get to be a trainer? Were you an ex-boxer?
A – I was an ex-professional fighter. I was a 5 time Golden Glove Champion. My record as a pro was 21-4-1, with I don’t know, 10 or 12 knockouts. Looking back I should have fought as a Middleweight. I fought my whole career as a Welterweight. I had no regrets. I was around the great Cus D’Amato. This guy was a genius. Right after he died I had a job in one of those correctional facilities in Catskill, Catskill Green Correctional. I said I gotta remember what Cus taught me. So, I started teaching all these guys. Then I had Tyson. Cus died and Tyson was 11-0. I finished the job. Then he went with King and Kevin Rooney was out and then Mike Tyson took the downfall where he should have stayed with the people that Cus D’Amato had put in place-----Bill Cayton, Jimmy Jacobs, Kevin Rooney and Steve Watt. Jimmy died, then Mike married Robin. Then they started making all these false accusations. They made a score. They were out for a score and they made a score on Tyson. Then Don King stepped into the picture. Then Mike left Bill Clayton and tried to fire Kevin Rooney. But, I sued and I won my lawsuit against him. We were asking for $49 million dollars. The jury only gave me $4 million dollars. (Laughs). They should’ve gave me $18 million dollars. So, that’s that.

Q – How much did you have to give to your lawyer?
A – I gave half to my lawyer, the rest to the government and I had at one time back in 1996, 1997, I had a little money in my back account. But-----this is now. So, the money’s gone.

Q – What did you have, a little over $1 million dollars?
A – Actually I had a little under $1 million dollars. Then, I got hit in 1996, 1997, whenever it was, I had to pay $800,000 to the government. They took $1.9 million on the back-end, so I feel like I kind of got screwed. (Laughs). But, I’m not gonna cry about it.

Q – As long as we’re talking about money, people will say Mike Tyson earned between $200-$400 million dollars in his career. On paper he made that money-----but did Mike Tyson really ever see any of that money?
A – O.K. Here we go. When Mike went with Don King and then went with Shelly Finkel, at that point Mike was suing Don King for $125 million dollars. He was claiming that King had robbed him of $100 million dollars. And what does Shelly Finkel do? He settles the case for $14 million dollars over a 3 year period. I think the period is already up. I think it was back in the late 90’s, early 2000, 2001. That’s what the great Shelly Finkel negotiated with Don King. Shelly don’t care. He was just looking to make money, and he was making money with Tyson. Tyson was getting the money once in awhile from Shelly. He wasn’t out and out robbin’ him. He made that deal with Tyson when he had a $100 million dollar lawsuit and guess what? When I sued him (Tyson) and won the jury gave me $4 million. With interest and penalties that $4 million was $8.7 million dollars. Now, if you got $100 million dollars lawsuit against Don King, definitely $150-$200 million dollars-----take it to court and testify and Tyson would have won. He would have had a ton of money. No-----the great Shelly Finkel made him settle for $14 million dollars where he’s paid off in increments of $3 million here, $3 million there, for, I don’t know, 2 or 3 years, is how I remember it. Anyway, Mike was a money machine. King has screwed every fighter he’s ever been with. Larry Holmes. Berbeck Tucker. The whole 9 yards. Muhammad Ali. King was a bookmaker. He used to run numbers. He’s very smart when it comes to numbers. (Laughs). He knows what he’s doing. He’s a thief, and he got away with it. He went to trial twice and he beat the Federal government. They were tryin’ like hell to get him.

Q – Are you in contact with Mike Tyson today? Do you ever speak to him?
A – No. He never calls me. He knows where I live. I’m living in the same house when I was with Mike back in the early 80’s. He’s living out in Phoenix or something. Mike is now supposedly doing like an exhibition tour. He’s sparring with people. He’s going across Europe. He’s fighting guys for like 3 or 4 rounds. Like they did in the old days when Joe Louis did that back in the 30’s and 40’s. The last time I heard he’s got some promoter out of Vegas that was gonna take him on a world tour. I’m guessin’ he’s gonna make $50,000-----$100,000. I don’t really know how many people are gonna show up. He’s still an attraction. People are still memorized by him. Once he went with Don King, then Don King took over and Don King was the boss and Mike became second-hand nothing. When he was with Jimmy Jacobs, Bill Cayton, and Steve Watt, he was the man. He was the first guy to make the most money when he fought Spinks. He got $21 million dollars to do that back in the 80’s. When he got out of jail, he was fighting for $30 million dollars here, $30 million dollars there. Mike just went through the money. We all go through money. You got money one day. You got nothing the next day. (Laughs). That’s how it is.

Q – Had Jimmy Jacobs not died, Mike’s story would’ve been different wouldn’t it?
A – Let’s put it this way, first, if Cus had stayed alive, none of this would’ve happened. Cus knew what he was doing. But, he put Jimmy Jacobs and Bill Cayton in charge. Once Cus died, then it was Bill Cayton, and Jimmy Jacobs. But, Bill Cayton was really the brains behind the whole operation. Bill Cayton was a very honest man, had a lot of integrity. But Jimmy was more like a jock, an athlete ‘cause he was a handball player, where Bill was like a businessman. But Jimmy was like, ‘How you doin?’ What’s up? How’s it going? Jimmy was more street-wise then Bill. Bill had been a businessman his whole life. Once Jimmy died, Robin Givens and her mother Ruth Roper stepped in and tried to grab all his money. But, Jimmy Jacobs and Bill Cayton had tied all that money up where nobody could touch it, nobody but Mike. It was his money. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is Bill was the brains behind the whole operation. He was a very, very smart mand and an honest man. But once Jimmy died and the women started blaming Bill that he was robbing this and robbing that-----Mike apparently fell for that. But, I believe deep in his heart he knew it wasn’t true. But, he went along with it. Bill fought to make the Spinks fight where he got $21 million dollars-----at that point the largest purse that anyone had ever got. People don’t recognize Bill ‘cause he was like the Quiet man. He was like Behind-the-scenes where Jimmy was like an Up-Front man. But, Bill was an excellent, excellent manager and businessman. He knew where the money was, let’s put it that way.

Q – If Mike knew deep in his heart that Bill Cayton was not cheating him, why then did he drop him and go with Don King?
A – Well, on the one hand, you gotta give Don King, I hate to say it, credit for being able to reach out to Mike Tyson, who has lost Jimmy, lost Cus and he wasn’t that involved with Bill. What I’ve said do you before is Bill was the guy that was calling all the shots from behind-the-scenes. Jimmy was the up-front man and everything was going good. Once Mike married Robin and this is after his fight in Japan, the woman tried to get a hold of all of Mike’s money and because of Bill Cayton, he had all the money locked up. The only person that could, take any money out of Mike Tyson’s accounts was Mike Tyson. The women tried to grab all that money and they weren’t able to do that. Eventually, it went into the Spinks fight and then for a little bit King was out and then Mike went to Europe with Robin and came back. They broke up and Mike went with King.

Q – So, why don’t you and Bill Cayton team up? You’ve got the boxers, he’s got the business know-how.
A – Well, Bill passed away. He’s dead now.

Q – That would be a big reason why it would never happen.
A – Right. (Laughs).

Q – I didn’t hear about his death. When did he die?
A – He died about half a year ago. He was a great, great businessman. He worked his way up from nothing. He became a multi-millionaire. He had a son Brian who made his own millions, in computers, back in the early 80’s or whenever it was. Him and Steve Watt are like handling the business. They’re both smart and they’re both honest people.

Q – Becoming a trainer like Kevin Rooney is not something you can go to school to learn is it?
A – You gotta be around gyms and see what’s goin’ on. It’s actually easier to become a second or a trainer to get a license. I’m working with Joe Smith over here. That’s one thing. It’s another thing to actually know what you’re doing. I was educated under Cus D’Amato. So, I was educated under the absolute best. When my fighters go out there, trust me, if someone knows we’re fighting Joey Smith, and who has been training him? Kevin Rooney. People will stop and think about it, and say wait a second I don’t know if I want to fight this guy. I try to teach my kids to be elusive. Move your head. Punch and move. Move and punch. Move and punch. You’ll frustrate the hell out of the guy who’s throwing punches.

Q – What does a second do?
A – I’m there in the corner, working the corner telling the fighter what he’s doing wrong, what he’s doing good and what he should be doing, (Laughs), if you know what I’m saying.

Q – How did you and Cus know that Mike Tyson had what it takes to become Heavyweight Champion of the world?
A – Well, he was very smart. Cus bled out his brain to him-----do this, how to throw upper cuts, how to step to the side, how to move your head, how to rest. Be exciting. Any fighter in any division-----you gotta be exciting. People want to see someone get knocked out, let’s face it. That’s the way it is. Under Cus’s system you can do it in a very, very intelligent way, where you’re not getting hurt and the only person getting hurt is the opponent. Mike picked that up right away. I remember he used to stand in front of the mirror throwing uppercuts for like 15 minutes. We had to bring sparring partners in from Philly, New York. They were paid. There was this one time that this kid came in and I don’t really remember where he was from. I think it was Philly, but, I’m not really sure. (Laughs). He gets in the ring in Cus’s old gym, my gym now. I run it. The bell rings, first round. Mike goes out there and rips, rips body shots. The guy and this is a fact, he puts up his hands, ‘That’s enough’ and he was a tall guy and walked out of the ring. He put the ropes down and walked right out the front door. He said, ‘I’m not sparring with you’. (Laughs). In the first round I was like Whoa! Whoa! What is this? He didn’t even get paid. I believe he was getting $600-$1,000 a week sparring with Mike. (Laughs). ‘Whoa-----I’m outta here’. (Laughs). I’ll never forget it. He hopped right over the rope and out of the door. (Laughs). That was funny. That was funny. I guess this guy don’t want to fight. I guess he don’t want to make any money. Mike knocked a lot of guys out when he was sparring. A lot of guys. Kids, men, whatever you want to call them. Knocked ‘em out cold. I would tell him Mike use your jab, don’t be trying to hurt the guy, but I guess Mike had that little bit of anger thing in him I guess.

© Gary James All Rights Reserved