Five early foes recall fighting Tyson
In the 1980s, Mike Tyson built his legend on victories over some brave men who withstood his flurries as long as they could. Where are they now?
They go by many labels. The polite terms are trial horses, stepping-stones, 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.
|Tyson At 20|
• Rafael: Meltdown | Return | Upset |Apex | Crown
• Rafael: 20 topics | McBride | Fenech | Camp
• Graham: Nelson | Hosea/Scaff | Long | Jaco | Green
• Gallery | Vote | Torres: Respect | Bayless: Marketer
• Tyson KOs: ESPN360 | Oddcast: Rafael preview
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 fighters, 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. 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."
The popular barroom debate generally starts with the following question: "How much money would you need to get in the ring with Mike Tyson?"
David Jaco's figure was not a king's ransom.
He took $5,000 to fight Tyson in January 1986. Tyson was only 15-0 at the time, but he had started to create a global ruckus with his thunderous hands and lightning-quick knockouts. Four months earlier, he had blitzed Michael Johnson in 39 seconds. Three months prior, he annihilated Robert Colay in 37 seconds.
But Jaco didn't care. He needed money quick, or else he would lose his family.
"That $5,000 I made from Tyson changed my life," the 48-year-old Jaco said from his home in Sarasota, Fla. "Who would think that kind of money could do that?"
Jaco was divorced in 1979 but stayed with his ex-wife, who had custody of their twin sons, in hopes of reconciling. He described his ex-wife as a hopeless drug addict, and when she split the Toledo area and took the boys to Florida, he was terrified.
But before he could track her down, he needed cash. And before he could get the cash, he had to survive Tyson.
|“||And I said 'What the hell are you talking about?' He said 'You've been down three times!' I said 'Bull----! I've only been down twice!' ”|
|— David Jaco, recalling his debate with the referee who ended his fight with Mike Tyson after three first-round knockdowns|
Jaco was an imposing presence at 6-foot-6 and 217 pounds. He had a respectable record of 19-5 with 15 KOs and had already issued Razor Ruddock's first defeat.
Jaco wasn't about to spoil Tyson's unblemished record, too.
"He was quick, like a cat," Jaco said. "He came in so low to the ground. I was bent over, trying to hit him. But he just came up and bang, bang. He was for real back then."
The fight ended at 2:16 of the first round because of the three-knockdown rule.
"The referee came up to me and said 'Nice fight, David,' " Jaco recalled. "And I said, 'What the hell are you talking about?' He said 'You've been down three times!' I said, 'Bull----! I've only been down twice!' "
Jaco took his purse and bolted for Florida. He eventually won custody of his sons, met a registered nurse and was remarried in 1992. He and his second wife had four daughters between 1993 and '99.
He retired in 1994 after losing seven consecutive bouts, giving him a record of 24-25-1 with 19 knockouts.
"I went from boxing to being Mr. Mom for the first six years of our marriage. What can I say? My wife pays the mortgage," said Jaco, who last year put 26,000 miles on his Dodge Durango transporting injured workman's compensation candidates to hospitals throughout Florida.
His sons, Aaron and Adam, became prizefighters. A rotator cuff injury prematurely ended Adam's career, but now he trains and manages his brother. Aaron, a light heavyweight, is 13-0 with 4 KOs.
"I don't want to see him get all tore up for nothing," Jaco said. "I hope someone takes notice and helps him make some money so he can get out."
Jaco's ledger also lists defeats against Carl Williams, Tony Tucker, Buster Douglas, Mike Weaver, Oliver McCall, George Foreman and Tommy Morrison.
"People hear all the big names I fought and say, 'Wow, you got money.' I don't got no money because I never made no money," Jaco said. "I'm one of those guys on the B side. I was a palooka. I was put in there as a stepping-stone, for a win.
"But for an old palooka, life is pretty good. I got a nice house, a good woman, four new daughters and a great job."
Donnie Long, even though he doesn't follow boxing anymore, is familiar with the sordid nature of Mike Tyson.
Long knows about the rape conviction and the numerous allegations of similar incidents. He is aware of the assaults, the ear-biting incident, the alleged marijuana usage, and on and on and on.
Long, the ninth opponent of Kid Dynamite's pro career, has faith Tyson can be rehabilitated despite zero supporting evidence over the years.
Stranger things have happened.
Watch the Mike Tyson-Donnie Long fight.
• Mike Tyson v. Donnie Long, Oct. 1985
Long knows this because his life story might be the strangest of them all. If this can be possible, anything is.
The convicted murderer and drug trafficker, who used to wear a dog collar at Akron's North High and once stabbed a classmate in the schoolyard, now is the associate minister at Mount Lebanon Baptist Church in Akron, Ohio.
And five years ago, after his first week at Mount Lebanon, the former boxer was reunited with a woman he hadn't seen in decades. A month later, he married her while on parole for murdering her brother.
Donnie and Margaret Long never really dated and never were engaged. One afternoon, they were downtown and impulsively walked into the courthouse, where a judge, who had no idea he might be an accessory to a parole violation, married them.
"I asked her 'What will your family think?'" the 48-year-old Long recalled. "And she said 'I'll do what I want to do!' We said we better not tell everybody. We waited a couple weeks because we didn't want anybody to have a heart attack."
Long was only 18 years old when he killed Jeffrie Boyd during an altercation in an Akron pool joint in 1975. Long claimed self-defense, that he was cornered and was only trying to fire a warning shot when the bullet struck Boyd dead.
"My mother had some of the worst kids in Akron," Long said. "I was probably every bit of Jason, Chucky and Freddy Krueger all rolled into one."
Long's sentence was 15 years to life, but a higher court released him in 1981 on grounds his trial was unconstitutional. He began his boxing career in earnest that year and won his first dozen fights before losing to James Broad. "The Master of Disaster" rebounded in his next appearance, beating Dino Dennis on national TV.
But the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision again and sent Long back to prison in 1984. He said he got a second chance to make good in the ring when he was released in 1985.
Long won his first two bouts and received a $5,000 invitation to fight Tyson in Atlantic City in November 1985.
"I remember going to the fight, and I remember waking up in the hospital," Long said. "As far as the actual fight, I can't tell you a single thing."
Tyson floored Long three times in 88 seconds.
"After I fought Mike Tyson, my whole career went down the drain," Long said. "I went from thinking I was somebody great to being lost in the wilderness. I lost my faith in myself. I thought I was a loser and a failure again. I went back to the streets and the destruction."
He fought seven more times after the Tyson defeat, winning only once and taking lumps against Francesco Damiani, Renaldo Snipes and Buster Douglas. Long retired with a 16-10 mark.
Long also had a side job pushing drugs. He was charged with five counts of drug trafficking in 1988 and went on the lam for five years. He hid in Alabama for a while, but eventually decided to take control of his life and turn himself in to police.
The man who used to wear a dog collar to school even surprised himself when recounting his life story to a reporter for the first time. He vowed all the old memories would be locked away at the end of the phone call. There won't be any more interviews about boxing.
Then Long imparted one last thought: "Through boxing, I learned to prepare for the battle of life. I can withstand against any storm. God knows how to put the puzzle together."
The name of the referee was longer than the fight. Tyson needed barely more than two minutes to beat William Hosea, who was counted out by Harry Papacharalambaugh on June 28, 1986.
"I had bad shoes, and I was slipping all over the canvas," Hosea said. "I went down and was waiting to get up, and then the ref had to stop counting to send Tyson to a neutral corner. I misjudged the timing of it, and when he got to 10, I wasn't up yet.
"I just wanted to get through that first round and get my shoes taped up. That was then."
This is now. Hosea's brush with greatness came when Tyson was considered a star. The sledgehammer-fisted prodigy was only five months and five victories away from becoming the youngest champ in heavyweight history when Hosea took the fight.
"For all of my fights, I got nervous just because of the unexpected," said Hosea, who easily could be the guy next door in Small Town, U.S.A. "You can get hurt. Anything can happen. But I wasn't really thinking about Tyson as a heavy hitter. I just knew he could fight, and I had been training hard because of that.
"The thought of beating him was great. It definitely would have changed my life."
Hosea estimated his share of the purse was about $10,000. The money didn't last long, but the recognition sure did, especially in Bloomington, Ill., a city of about 65,000 people, where he's a jack-of-all-trades for the Western Avenue Community Center.
"It gave me fame around here," said the twice-married father of five sons and five daughters, ranging in age from 5 to 31. "A lot of people come to the center to meet me. Most of the time when I'm out, if I go to a show with my friends or something, I'll hear people say 'That's William Hosea. He fought Mike Tyson.' It feels kinda nice to be remembered."
In Hosea's next match, former WBC champion Pinklon Thomas sent him into retirement with a seventh-round stoppage. But Hosea returned to the ring more than five years later as a favor to his cousin, a local club fighter who was putting together a card and needed help generating attention. Lyle McDowell topped Hosea on a six-round decision, while his cousin's opponent didn't even show up.
Hosea (11-7, 10 KOs) never fought again, and knows he will forever be linked with Tyson, as another mere notch toward a world title belt. But Hosea's thankful he at least had the chance.
"Most of the fighters from my generation are on bad times, but I'm doing pretty good," Hosea said. "I'm still in good shape. I'm thankful I had the opportunity I did, coming out of a little town like Bloomington. I feel blessed I got to do what I did. Sometimes I think I'd like to turn back time and do things differently, but I'm happy."
For a brief spell, Scaff lived with Tyson at Cus D'Amato's compound in the Catskills. Slammin' Sammy had been rung up a couple months earlier as victim No. 14 when he was invited to help Tyson prepare for Jesse Ferguson at $500 a week.
Scaff remembers the routine and the chores that were required around the house. But nothing really sticks out in his mind when he recalls the man-child who was four months away from his 20th birthday and just nine months shy of claiming the world title.
"At that time, he was pretty quiet and kept to himself," Scaff said.
They said the same things about Jeffrey Dahmer.
See Mike Tyson KO Lorenzo Boyd.
• Mike Tyson vs Lorenzo Boyd
The December 1985 Scaff-Tyson match lasted a grand total of 79 seconds. Tyson didn't record a knockdown, but a wicked double left hook shattered Scaff's face.
"I met him more than halfway across the ring to get an early jump on him," Scaff said from his home in Flatwoods, Ky., where he lives comfortably with his third wife, two dogs and three cats. "He didn't knock me out, but he broke my nose. I was really gushing blood."
Scaff was the quintessential cannon fodder opponent for young prospects.
He took fights on short notice and was willing to travel. In between, he fattened up his record in Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio. He never trained full-time. He said he was 75-5 as an amateur and once lost to Greg Page in the finals of the Louisville Golden Gloves, but he left the ring to complete a four-year apprenticeship to become a pipe fitter and welder, a job he still does today.
"That was always my handicap," said Scaff, who also lost to Tim Witherspoon and Mitch Green. "I had a family, so I had to work. I went to work tired, and I trained tired. I just wish I had gone straight from amateurs to the pros."
He went on to win the West Virginia state heavyweight title, but retired with a record of 21-14 after losing three straight matches, including a first-round knockout by Adilson Rodrigues in Brazil, for which Scaff earned a career-high $11,000 in 1988.
Scaff judged fights in Kentucky and West Virginia for a while, but hasn't paid much attention to the sport lately. He had to ask who Tyson was fighting and when.
"I'm getting just about burnt out on boxing," Scaff said, with a hint of resignation. "Everyone I fought is either retired or dead. I'm just not as excited to follow it as I used to be."
Conroy Nelson guessed he's only about four pounds heavier than the night he fought Mike Tyson two decades ago. The cheerful 6-foot-6 Jamaican, however, isn't sure because he certainly doesn't own a scale and he can't afford to see a doctor.
"I need help, but nobody is around when the fun stops," Nelson said. "I can't even purchase a prescription. It's money I don't have. Right now I'm just in Jamaica all alone, trying to make a go of it."
See Mike Tyson defeat Larry Holmes.
• Mike Tyson vs Larry Holmes
Tyson's 13th professional foe lives alone in a hut he constructed himself in St. Mary, near the chic resort town of Ocho Rios. The frame is made of bamboo, the roof of zinc. The floor is dirt. No plumbing. No electricity. No windowpanes.
Nelson has no income aside from the tomatoes, corn, bananas, mangoes and sugar cane he grows and sells to neighbors and friends. He said he eats only "what I catch and what I dig." He doesn't own a car. He barely can afford the occasional $10 U.S. fee for minutes on his cell phone.
He retired in 1998 with a record of 21-24-2 and 13 knockouts. He fought Trevor Berbick, Razor Ruddock, Alex Stewart, Bert Cooper, Herbie Hide and Riddick Bowe, losing to them all. Nelson also made some scratch playing bit roles in a few movies.
Now he has virtually nothing, alleging his former handlers "took me for a ride and had a good time with my money." He's desperate for an honest manager or a promoter to give him a couple fights at the purported age of 44.
"I'm down and out," said Nelson, who despite his destitution has one of those personalities so distinct you can almost hear him smiling through the phone. "People forget. I'm just trying to come out of the bush and get a little money."
Nelson guessed he made about $5,000 to face a relatively unknown Tyson in November 1985. Tyson recorded a second-round technical knockout for his 13th victory. It was his first bout in seven outings that lasted longer than 1:28.
"When I fought Mike Tyson it was on a week's notice," Nelson said. "We set up training camp in a car garage, set up a couple heavy bags. I wasn't totally ready to fight, but the money was there.
"At the time, I said to myself "I'lll go in there and box him. He's a shorter guy.' Usually my jab is pretty good, but the way that he avoided the jab ruined the plan I had for him. He set the pace for himself. He ducked underneath it and came up with a body shot, a left hook. Then it was bam, bam, bam! I was on the ropes, and he broke my nose. The referee came over and my eyes were watering. I wanted to continue, but I couldn't see."
Nelson revealed last week something he insisted he never told anyone outside of his family, not even his own handlers. He said he had been out of the ring for the 14 months prior to the Tyson fight because he had been diagnosed with skin cancer on his right hand, and three inches of skin had been taken off his hip for the graft.
His history of cancer frightens him. He noted he hasn't been to a doctor in years because he said Jamaica's health care is not offered to the indigent like it is in the U.S.
"Trevor Berbick is down here and he's looking to make a comeback," Nelson said. "He's over 50 years old, and if I can talk to him and say 'Let's get it on!' I would come out of retirement. I'm broke. I need a fight. Bro, I think I got one more kick left."
Tim Graham covers boxing for The Buffalo News and is a contributor to ESPN.com.
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