Training Mike Tyson

By Thomas Hauser
Sooner or later, most people around Mike Tyson become "former." That's true of his wives, managers, television networks, and promoters. It's also true of his trainers.

Over the years, nine men have had a significant voice in training Tyson. Listed in chronological order, they are Cus D'Amato, Teddy Atlas, Kevin Rooney, Jay Bright, Aaron Snowell, Rich Giachetti, Tommy Brooks, Stacey McKinley, and Ronnie Shields.

Now Tyson is in search of trainer number 10. Buddy McGirt is one name that has been prominently mentioned. As the days pass, there may well be more. Meanwhile, yours truly has contacted 10 of the best known trainers in boxing.

Donald Turner trained Evander Holyfield for both of his victories over Tyson.

Kevin Rooney trained Tyson through the Michael Spinks fight. Tyson's record with Rooney was a 35 and 0 with 31 knockouts.

Teddy Atlas helped train Tyson as an amateur when he was with Cus D'Amato.

Lou Duva trained Tyrell Biggs when he fought Tyson.

Alton Merkerson has been with Roy Jones, Jr. dating back to Jones's days as an amateur.

Angelo Dundee was in Trevor Berbick's corner the night Tyson won the WBC heavyweight title. Later, he trained Pinklon Thomas for his bout against Tyson.

Floyd Mayweather, Sr. trains Oscar De La Hoya and describes himself as "the greatest trainer in the world."

Emanuel Steward readied Lennox Lewis for Lewis-Tyson.

Gil Clancy is a longtime trainer and one of the most respected voices in boxing.

Bouie Fisher helped mold Bernard Hopkins, and he was briefly in the gym with Tyson when Mike was young.

Here's what each of these men had to say when asked how they'd respond if Mike Tyson called and asked them to train him.

DONALD TURNER: Evander is my guy, and I'm not the type of person to be jumping around. So as long as Evander is fighting, it would be impossible. But if Evander retired and Tyson called, I'd give it a try. I wouldn't bother asking questions -- "Are you gonna do this? Will you do that?" -- because when you ask a guy questions like that, he'll tell you what you want to hear. And I wouldn't try to run his life outside the ring. Mike Tyson been the same way outside the ring his whole career. These things you read about in the papers now didn't just start happening. As for what I'd do with him inside the ring, Tyson has been fighting for a long time. He knows what he has to do. Train hard; that's number one. Mike trained a lot harder when he was young than he does now. And in all honesty, I'd go to Kevin Rooney and ask him to help me. What you want, really, is to get Mike back to the way he was when he was with Kevin. Don't teach him anything new. When a guy already knows how to fight, a trainer is there to remind him of what he knows; not to reinvent the man as a fighter. If Mike went back to the program that Cus D'Amato started him on when he was young, he could be a top fighter again. In fact, very few people can beat him as he is now.

KEVIN ROONEY: Yeah; if Mike called me, I'd do it. But I'd tell him, "You have to trust me." And we'd have to go back to the way things were. Mike's not the same fighter he used to be, and there are reasons for that. Mike's thing is, he's the boss. And I'd tell him, "You're the boss of your own life; but when you're in training camp, I'm the boss." Mike always had a tendency to be lazy, but I knew how to motivate him. And it's obvious that he doesn't train like he used to anymore. Against Lewis, in the biggest fight of his life, Mike was only in shape to fight one round. So I'd tell him, "When you're in training camp, you don't hang around strip clubs. Mike, get up and run. Mike, we're sparring 10 rounds today." And I'd get rid of the bums that are around him. None of them were there when he was on the road to greatness, and he doesn't need any of them now. He'd be better off spending time with Steve Lott, who was loyal and a true friend and wasn't just there for the money. But the key to it all is that Mike has lost his desire. Cus used to say that, once a fighter loses his desire, it's all downhill. Mike has to get his desire back, and he's got to get it back soon because things are getting near the end. It's not too late for him to beat the guys who are out there now, because there's not much out there. But in terms of being great again, it's close to over. And that's a shame, because Mike was on the road to being the greatest fighter who ever lived. The plan was for him to go 50 and 0, beat Rocky Marciano's record, and retire. But that didn't happen and he's a lost soul now.

TEDDY ATLAS: I'd probably dismiss it and say I'm not interested. If Tyson called, if he kept me on the phone long enough, most likely I'd ask, "Why are you calling me? Why do you want me to train you? What's different now?" I'm hesitating a bit talking to you because I want to be certain about my answer. If he kept calling, if I believed he was sincere in seeking help, if we met face to face and so on and so on; I'd try to keep an open mind. But that's fantasy because I know Mike Tyson and that's not who he is. He's afraid to face the truth that his existence has no decent meaning the way he is now. There might be moments when he wishes he had certain qualities that he doesn't, but he never follows through on it. And he surrounds himself with enablers who steer him away from the truth because he wants it that way. So I'd say, "No, I'm not interested." The practical line for someone who wanted to take the job would be to detach from Tyson outside the gym and only worry about what he does inside the ring. But if you do that, you're closing your eyes to the fact that the things he does outside the gym effect him in the ring because they're connected to his discipline and state of mind. Tyson is weak in the ring because he's weak outside the ring. He compromises in the ring because he compromises outside the ring. You could bring back Ray Arcel and Eddie Futch, God bless them, and I could humbly assist them, and Tyson still wouldn't be a decent person or a great fighter. There's a lot of guys he can still beat. Against anyone, there's always a chance he'll get lucky. But count me out. I'd get a big payday if I trained him, but I'd be risking the loss of everything I've tried to stand for my entire life. I'd feel dirty. It has to do with where I am as a person now and the history between us and where Tyson is now both athletically and as a person. It wouldn't make me a hero to say no. It wouldn't make me better than anyone else, but it would make me who I am. People weigh things differently; I understand that. Someone else who's a decent honorable person might take the job, but I wouldn't.

LOU DUVA : I'd take a shot at it. At least, I'd see if I could. But first, I'd sit down with Mike and call it the way I see it. You know, it's a bad history for trainers and Tyson. My son-in-law [Tommy Brooks] had trouble with him. He didn't listen to Ronnie Shields before the Lewis fight or during the Lewis fight either. And if you can't get his attention, forget it; don't take the job, because there's no way you'll be able to handle him. I'm a pretty good motivator and I fight for my guys, but there's more to motivation than hollering at someone. So I'd sit down with Mike and ask, "What do you want out of yourself? What are you willing to do to get it? Let's make a deal. You listen to me and you do what I tell you to do." If he thinks he's down to his last chance, maybe he'd do it. But you have to understand; a new trainer isn't the answer. The changes have to start with Tyson. The only guy who can really help Mike Tyson is Mike Tyson. And one thing more; Mike Tyson is only part of the problem. The other part is the character of the people he has around him. Mike looks for crutches and, outside the ring, they provide them. Then, inside the ring, he's on his own where they can't help him. So I'd tell Mike to stand on his own two feet; get rid of the bums. And if he didn't, I'd walk. Would he do it? I don't know. I'm not sure Mike can be honest with anyone, including himself, about what has to be done to turn his life around. And even if I took the job, you have to figure that, with Mike's history, sooner or later something bad would happen.

ALTON MERKERSON: I'd have to talk with Roy first. I have an exclusive contract with Roy where I don't train anyone else without his consent. But if Roy said yes, I'd be interested. I think Tyson is great for boxing, and my feeling is Mike isn't a bad guy. For sure, he's not as bad as his image. Some of things he's done don't sit well with me. Biting Holyfield, hitting guys after the bell; you know the things I'm talking about. But everybody is a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, including me. Some people just go off the deep end faster than others. I wouldn't ask Mike questions before we started. I'd tell him how things have to be and see what kind of feedback I got. I'd say to him, "This is the way we do things. You have to walk a straight line. If you want me to train you, you have to trust me." Then I'd see how we connected and if we could learn to read each other. I wouldn't insist that he come to Pensacola to train, but the atmosphere here would be good for him. Boxing isn't all done in the ring. The atmosphere he hangs around in and the people he socializes with take away from his success because they affect the attitude he brings to the gym. If we started working together, I wouldn't dictate to him, and I wouldn't let him dictate to me. There has to be compromise. I'll give you an example. If I told Mike to jump rope and he said, "Coach Merk; my ankle is hurting," I might say, "Okay, let's do the treadmill instead." That's a compromise. But if Mike told me, "I ain't jumping no damn rope," that would be a problem. As for the fighting end of things, Tyson has a lot of strong points and you have to work off what he does well. Roy thinks a lot during a fight. Tyson isn't like that. Mike's not going to change his fight plan during a fight. His strong point is delivering punishment, so you improve his defense, which has gotten sloppy lately, and let him fight the way he does. Expose him to a few new things, but go back to what he used to do well.

ANGELO DUNDEE: There are things I used to do that I don't want to do anymore. I don't want every-day responsibilities, and training Mike Tyson is a fulltime job. He needs guidance all the time and, even then, you can't be with him every minute and Mike has that self-destruct thing that sometimes gets him in trouble. I don't say anything bad about anyone; never have and never will. But you know the old saying, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." Mike would have to prove to me that he wants to do things for himself. That's what makes a fighter. If he did that, I still wouldn't want the main responsibility, but I'd be willing to become part of a team. First though, I'd want to know if it was a good team and what the overall situation was. Hey, I wish the guy luck. I thought he was going to beat Lennox Lewis.

FLOYD MAYWEATHER, SR: Tyson has always been a nice guy to me. When I see him, we talk; he gives me a hug. But I can't say what he's really like. I know something is off-balance, but I don't know what the problem is. I haven't been with the top heavyweights before; but if you're a good trainer, you can train anyone. And I could make Mike a better fighter than he is now. I'd be able to train him because I got so many things to show him. I could get him enthusiastic again because he'd understand that he's learning again. I'd give him challenges. And if he's still a fighter, he'd want to meet those challenges. But fighting isn't just physical; it's mental too. A lot of boxing has to do with the way a person lives; and the street life and boxing don't mix. If you're on the edge all the time, you can't focus to do what you have to do to be great. So I'd tell Mike, "I can't change your life, but I can make suggestions. And my number one suggestion is that you get some discipline. Some fighters are willing to make sacrifices, and some fighters aren't. I want to work with fighters who make sacrifices, so it's up to you." I'd also tell him, "Right now, you run your camp and you tell people what to do. My thing is, I run the camp. So you do it my way, or it's better for both of us if you find someone else." You gotta understand; it's not just about the money. I'm trying to establish myself and my own legacy.

EMANUEL STEWARD: That's a very interesting question. I'd ask Lennox first, of course. And Lennox is an unusual person when it comes to things like that. He might say, "Mike and I aren't really going to fight each other again, so do it." If that was the case, I'd seriously consider it. Properly trained, Mike has a few good fights left in him. But I'd have to have control over a lot of things; who he fights, who's in camp with him. I wouldn't try to control his lifestyle. You can't do that with anyone, and particularly not with a fighter. What I'd do is spend a lot of time with him, talking, doing things together. I've done that with most of the fighters I've worked with, and I've never had a problem with supposedly troubled young men. In the ring, I'd go back to some of the things Mike did before. A lot of those things are gone forever because it was youth instinct that allowed Mike to do them. He'll never have the same speed and intensity that he had when he was young. But his punching power is still there. And some of what he's lost, he can make up for with experience and better use of his jab. Once you get beyond Lennox and Wladimir Klitschko, the heavyweight division isn't exactly laden with talent. There's still room for Tyson at the top.

GIL CLANCY: I was asked once before, years ago; not by Tyson but by some of the people around him. I didn't want to do it then, and I wouldn't want to do it now. I don't think Tyson can control himself, and I don't think anyone else can control him either. It's as simple as that.

BOUIE FISHER: If Mike asked, I'd be honored. I'd accept it. You know, I was in Mike's camp a long time ago, before he started having problems. I had a fighter, Jesse Ferguson, who became one of his sparring partners. Normally, they didn't let other trainers into Mike's camp. But I was allowed in because we all got along and they needed good sparring. Mike was always respectful to me, and I'd welcome the opportunity to spend some time with him again. He has a heart. He's not a monster. And if a relationship clicks, you can always work things out. So I'd start by suggesting, "Let's talk; and let's get some more people you can talk with so you have peace of mind." The professional term is "counseling." And I'd tell him, "You were once a dedicated fighter. You wanted to be a champion and you lived that lifestyle. Let's go back to living that way again." Maybe, somewhere down the line, it will happen. But Mike only has a few years left to salvage his legacy.
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