Tyson still makes Green's blood boil
Mitch Green is one of the few pugs to go the distance in Iron Mike's '80s heyday. Today, a destitute Green wants another shot.
They go by many labels. The polite terms are trial horses, steppingstones, gatekeepers, B-sides. Others would dare to call them palookas, bums, stiffs, pugs, cadavers, cannon fodder though maybe not to their faces.
These are the sort of men, practically anonymous to all but the staunchest fight fans, who compose the early portion of every champion's career. They build up confidence. They build up a record. And then when their usefulness has been exhausted, they usually fade away.
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Mike Tyson had the most prominent career launch of any non-Olympic fighter. The buzz generated by his early fights the relentlessness, the explosive power, the don't-blink knockouts made Kid Dynamite a crossover sensation.
Even so, a quick glance at those early bouts will conjure up memories of well, not much. Most of the names won't register.
Who are these guys? Where are they now?
Some, like Tyson's first professional foe Hector Mercedes, are tough to locate. Some, like Mitch "Blood" Green, are easier. Joe Ribalta won't do interviews without getting paid. Reggie Gross was imprisoned on murder charges.
Tyson will try to patch up his sagging career against Kevin McBride on Saturday night in Washington, D.C. This will mark Tyson's first appearance since losing to Danny Williams last summer.
So the time seems fitting since McBride is about the same caliber of fighter upon which a 19-year-old Tyson feasted regularly back in the day to track down some of those men who gamely stepped into the ring to face a skyrocketing phenom and helped create a legend.
A weak, raspy voice, barely audible over the blaring television in the background, picked up the phone.
"I'm looking for Mitch Green. Is this him?"
"I'm calling from ESPN.com. I'm working on a story on some of Mike Tyson's early opponents, and "
"Tyson's a knucklehead!" Green shouted, instantly evolving into a Chris Rock character from "Saturday Night Live." The TV quickly was muted. "Come on, man! He's getting knocked out by bums. That's all I can say about that because you're not giving me any money for this. I can't talk about that knucklehead. But I got a lot to say."
Mitch "Blood" Green is flat broke. He's not afraid to admit it because if he doesn't let you know, you wouldn't think to offer him some money.
But if charisma were currency, Green would be watching "Judge Judy" while sitting on a beanbag chair stuffed with large bills.
Green, 48, lives alone in Queens and has no apparent means of income aside from receiving $5 for every autograph he sells on a Web page constructed in his honor. Benefactors apparently help him pay his bills.
Fans are still drawn to Green and his wacky tales, his hilarious one-liners and outrageous statements.
"I'm like a politician in Harlem," Green said. "Every time I go out it's "What's up, Mitch? Mitch, Mitch, Mitch! Bop, bop, bop! Blood, Blood, Blood!"
He does magic tricks for kids on the streets, and he's still famous enough to bail himself out of trouble with the law sometimes with a funny story or an autograph. He has been in and out of jail more often than Sideshow Bob and reportedly has had his driver's license suspended 54 times. But he recently avoided a ticket for turnstile jumping on the subway when two undercover cops accepted a signature instead.
Green fought Tyson twice. The first time was in May 1986. Green dropped a lopsided 10-round decision but became only the second opponent to last that long with Kid Dynamite, who rose to 21-0.
The second time, two years later, Tyson infamously brawled Green in front of a Harlem clothing store just before dawn.
Green is still begging to complete the trilogy, even though he hasn't fought since 2002, when he picked up a title from something known as the World Boxing Syndicate by beating Danny Wofford, a pug who came into the fight with a record of 17-94-2.
"Tyson's a punk. That boy is scared to death of me," said Green, who went 18-6 but fought only seven times in 16 years after losing to Tyson. "It's a damn shame Tyson's scared of me like that. We could make a lot of money. Aw, man!
"I could tattoo all these chumps. I could beat both them bums. Tyson's fighting a bride. Ha! It's like they're getting married. They'll be hugging and kissing.
"You know, you asking me a lot of questions. I should get paid for this."
Toward the end of the uncompensated interview, Green started to feel antsy. All that boxing talk was giving him ideas, awakening dormant desires.
"I haven't been to the gym lately, but I'm going," he said. "I might just get me a fight.
"Sure you can't give me a couple dollars for this? I'm tapped."
Tim Graham covers boxing for The Buffalo News and is a contributor to ESPN.com.