Trainer Rooney tries to refocus, but Tyson past is tough to shake

June 25, 1993|By Vic Ziegel | Vic Ziegel,New York Daily News

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- No, says Kevin Rooney, he doesn't have Mike Tyson on the short list of his champions. He could talk about Tyson all night, for 40 nights, but Tyson's in a cell now, and Rooney is here, with a view of the ocean and Wimbledon on the TV.

If the trainer wants to, he can take the elevator 16 floors to the lobby and find the blackjack tables. Rooney could always find a blackjack table.

He's here to train Vinny Pazienza, who's fighting Lloyd Honeyghan 12 rounds tomorrow night for absolutely nothing but a few dollars and the chance to win a title down the road.

Back on that same road is Evander Holyfield, the former heavyweight champ who's in the main event against Alex Stewart. Of the four, only Stewart has never had a title. Whenever he gets close to the road, somebody always cuts him off and knocks him down.

That isn't Rooney's problem. He's innovative and talented and enthusiastic and outspoken. Three out of four, the first three, weren't enough when he was working with Tyson.

Tyson's ex-wife, Robin Givens, "started turning his brain around," Rooney said, and Don King "finished the job." Rooney made about a million dollars, maybe more, when he became Tyson's trainer after the death of Cus D'Amato. "Mike belonged to Cus," Rooney insists. "I just finished what Cus started."

He didn't think the finish line would come as quickly as it did. He bought a clothing store, and it folded. He bought thoroughbreds, and they might as well have been the clothing store. He likes to gamble, sue him. His former wife did.

"A few bad investments," he said yesterday, sitting on the bed in his hotel room, ignoring the tennis match. "I was living in the fast lane. But I was gonna cut back with my foolishness in the casinos."

He was still with Tyson then, and their last fight together might have been Tyson's best night in a ring, the one-round wipeout of Michael Spinks five Junes ago. "I can save money, I'm a big saver," Rooney says. "But I was counting on the money I was gonna make with Tyson in the next two, three years. About $5 million."

When the Tyson checks were still coming in, and too large to stay in the wallet, Rooney went to the Keeneland horse sales. This is a Staten Island guy who used to play poker for nickels and dimes, at 13, in back of the Immaculate Conception School.

There he was at a Kentucky horse auction, and a man with a little hammer was asking for somebody, anybody, to bid fifty. Thousand, that is. Rooney raised his hand.

His adviser -- who was helping him separate the Alydars from the alleycats -- almost passed out. Finally, the yearling they wanted, a Fappiano, came along. He was Rooney's for $60,000. Horse ran once, won by 14 lengths, paid a lousy six bucks, and broke down almost immediately.

"They told me that could happen with the Fappianos," Rooney says now.

Before that, he bought a horse from Donald Trump. Forget the name, the horse never made it to the races. But he did run up bills. The next one was Paul's Way, because his partner was Paul Anka. Won a few allowance races in New York -- "paid $17 once," Rooney said, "and I had some serious money on him" -- and then stopped winning.

The $60,000 yearling, the one he called Rooney's Champion, was his last big bite. "Everything went bad that fall," he said. "That's when Tyson got stupid," and fired him. "Everybody expected me to check into a mental hospital, to fall off the earth, to blow my brains out. I just pulled my pants up and went back into the gym."

Pazienza came his way two years after losing the lightweight title. Rooney trained him to the junior-middleweight title, and now thinks the middleweight division is where he belongs.

Back home, Catskill, N.Y., he has a 20-year-old heavyweight named Jeremy Williams, an undefeated pro, and Hasim ("I don't know his last name"), a 20-year-old amateur who was boxing only five months when he lost, but came close, to the third-ranked amateur in the world. "A big kid," Rooney says, "big fists, 6-3, 240, but not 240 fat, 240 big."

One other thing. He doesn't think much of what's out there. Riddick Bowe? "He fought two dead bodies and gained weight in both fights. He's not learning anything good fighting turkeys."

Lennox Lewis? "Everybody made a big deal of him knocking out Razor Ruddock. He doesn't put a chill up my spine."

Holyfield? "He fought the wrong fight against Bowe. Shoulda boxed him. But he's got a big heart. Like my guy, Vinny."

There was one last piece of business about his old guy, Tyson. What will happen, I asked, when he leaves prison?

"Mike's a hard guy to read," Rooney said. "He could be building up a lot of anger in there. Which, if he wants to fight, could be good for him. The thing about prison is that it builds either better people or better criminals."

He glanced at the tennis and came back to Tyson. "I don't know which way Mike will turn."

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