Kevin Rooney Interview
(Mike Tysonís 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
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
Q – How did you get to be a trainer? Were you an
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
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
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
A – Right. (Laughs).
Q – I didn’t hear about his death. When did
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
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.
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