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Sunday, July 6, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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In Catskill, They Knew Mike Tyson At The Start

AP

CATSKILL, N.Y. - Mike Tyson once called this sleepy Hudson Valley village home, learning his trade at the Cus D'Amato Boxing Club.

Kevin Rooney trained the fighter in those days. That was in the late '80s, when Tyson's star was rising and he would soon become the youngest heavyweight champion. .

"He annihilated everybody," Rooney said Tuesday. "Mike Tyson could have stepped in the ring with Ali, Marciano, Louis, Dempsey, Frazier, Foreman and held his own."

That was before last Saturday night's disqualification for biting off a chunk of Evander Holyfield's ear.

"Mike Tyson today is a footnote," Rooney said. "He lost his mind. Tyson took a walk off the deep end for five minutes. He took the lazy way out. He didn't want to be knocked out. Holyfield was the better man. Tyson hasn't looked good since he left this gym."

At that time, he trained under the watchful eyes of Rooney and Bill Cayton, as well as his late mentor D'Amato, and his late co-manager Jim Jacobs.

On Monday, Tyson apologized to Holyfield and boxing fans, and said he would accept whatever punishment the Nevada State Athletics Commission doled out. Rooney said Tyson has been in turmoil since joining promoter Don King after the deaths of D'Amato and Jacobs.

"He's surrounded by nonboxing people and that crook Don King is counting the money for him," he said. "The only way is he has to fire everybody. Get rid of Don King."

Phone calls to Tyson and King representatives were not returned.

"Tyson has to go up to a mountain by himself and see if he can remember anything that Cus told him or he could come back to the gym and apologize for the way he treated me, which he'll never do," Rooney said.

Rooney sued Tyson for $49 million in past and projected earnings after Tyson fired him in 1988 for making statements about Tyson's personal life. Rooney claimed Tyson reneged on a 1982 handshake deal that promised him 10 percent of the fighter's earnings for the rest of his career. A federal judge threw out a jury's $4.4 million judgment.

But Rooney said he would take Tyson back. "There's a soft spot inside me. We've been through a lot," he said.

Catskill also has been through a lot. D'Amato brought Tyson, a 14-year-old former Brooklyn thief, to town in 1980 after he was paroled from a juvenile detention hall. In 1985, Tyson said, "My life begins here."

Some residents feel that once Tyson got a taste of wealth and fame, he outgrew these sentiments.

Patrick Burke, owner of Burke's Tavern, said Tyson bit Holyfield because "he was a punk before and he's a punk now."

Burke said Tyson never had much regard for Catskill.

"He never spent a dime in it. He never did anything for the people that he left behind," Burke said.

Tyson used to be a friendly person who made conversation with neighbors and was a good role model for children, said Linda Bacucci, a reporter for the Greenville Local, who has lived in the area for 14 years.

She said she lost all respect for the boxer after seeing him and former wife Robin Givens in a pizza shop.

"This little boy came with his little nose pressed up against the window. He asked for an autograph and Mike said `Get away from me. I haven't got any time for you,' " Bacucci said.

Saturday night's incident reinforced Bacucci's feelings toward Tyson.

"He should never, never, never be allowed to fight again. He's cannibalistic," she said.

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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