The Three Who Molded Mike Tyson - Boxing
By Ken Hissner, Doghouse Boxing (June 17, 2008)  
In 1981, I made a trip from a Pennsylvania suburb to Park Avenue in New York for two purposes. I would give the name of Tyrell Biggs to an associate of Cus D'Amato's and hope to look at the world's largest boxing film collection while there. None other than Jim Jacobs, who was then managing world champion Wilfredo Benitez, greeted me, a stranger, with open arms. First, he said, "Cus and I have a young heavyweight named Mike Tyson." I said, "I never heard of him." Mike was 15 at the time. Little did we know that these two amateurs (Biggs and Tyson) would be fighting each other in 1987 for
Tyson's world title. Noticing that I was looking at his open walk-in bank vault out of the corner of my eye, he asked, "What did you think you were going to do. Watch fight films here?" I nodded yes.

"They were not here anymore, but were in a real bank vault," Jacobs said. He then proceeded to invite me to lunch. Just outside the restaurant, his charming wife Lorraine was walking by. He introduced me. Then, he and I went inside. He proceeded to tell me how he avoided putting Benitez in with Tommy Hearns for less money, but a better chance of victory by fighting Maurice Hope for the junior middleweight title. The Puerto Rican people loved him for that. I didn't have to be around him long to realize he was a genius with a lot of integrity.

A year later, I am in Scranton, Pennsylvania and met D'Amato and his fighter Kevin Rooney at the commissioner's office. I invited myself to Catskill and they were very open to it. By the way, I would put Rooney in a fight in Scranton several years later in a rematch with Terry Crawley. Upon my visit to Catskill, I was introduced to a somewhat elderly Camile Oswald who ran the house there. She was from the old European school and believed that everybody should chip in when it comes to chores. You had to fall in love with her and respect her. She was the boss of the house without a doubt.

I kept D'Amato up from 9 pm to 3 am talking boxing. I caught heck the next day from Oswald and was told never to keep him up that late again. I felt like I was back in high school, but she was right. I found D'Amato to be the same genius that Jacobs was and just as nice. Then, I told him about my visit with Jacobs. I would meet Tyson who I also liked very much. We sat in his bedroom watching fights like Henry Armstrong vs. Ceferino Garcia and Billy Conn vs. Joe Louis I. Tyson loved the old timers like Jack Dempsey. I believe it was Dempsey that Tyson would imitate with no robe and no socks. He was very knowledgeable of the old time fighters.

D'Amato would ask me to send up someone to spar with this 16-year-old kid. I was able to get a hold of Jimmy Young who agreed to go up to Catskill for $500.00 a week. Only thing is I got a phone call three days after his arrival asking me, "What the hell are you doing to me?" I said, "What are you talking about?" He said, "This kid is beating the s--t out of me!" With Young being a jokester, I first thought he was kidding. "Beating the s--t out of you? He's a 16-year-old amateur," I replied. Young was gone the next day. I then knew Jacobs and D'Amato had a sure fire prospect in Tyson. In other visits, I would meet Davey Hilton, Sr. and his three sons Davey, Jr., Alex, and Matthew. Hilton always wanted D'Amato to train him, so he brought his sons there.

I kept up with Oswald over the years by telephone. In 1988, when Tyson was training in Atlantic City for his fight against Michael Spinks, I visited him. Rooney took me back to the dressing room after working out. Tyson would give me a friendly hug upon seeing me and lifted me right off the ground like I was nothing. We mostly talked about the late D'Amato. Later, upon getting home, I sent him a picture from a Sunday School class of David and Goliath along with scripture from the book of Proverbs on pride and wrote that the only thing that could beat him would be his own pride. I called Oswald and asked if he got it and she told me, "Ken, do you know how expensive it is to answer everyone's letters?"

Years later, when Tyson was in prison, I called her trying to get his address. She told me a funny story. "Mike would call me everyday from the road no matter what. So, one day he called and I wasn't thinking when I asked him where he was," Oswald said. Tyson replied, "Camile, I'm in prison." In spite of everything that Tyson had gone through, I could still see the side of him that had respect and concern for this elderly woman.

I sent a letter off to Tyson advising him to get Jesse Reed as his trainer (Reed was asked later which is a story in itself per Reed) and fight Bert Cooper, Tim Witherspoon, and Buster Mathis, Jr. when he got out of prison. The latter's dad was trained by D'Amato, though unbeaten, but not much of a puncher. He did fight Mathis Jr. in Philly.

Though I would never see any of these people again, I always thought Tyson had three of the nicest people guiding his life in Jim, Cus, and Camile. After Jacob's death, he would take another route. I remember Tyson's first round destruction of Marvis Frazier when he raised his hands in victory and Jacobs walked over to him and whispered in his ear and the arms came down. Jacobs wouldn't tolerate belittling an opponent. It was little things like this that I saw down to the death of Oswald that had me shaking my head thinking that if Tyson could have only had those three with him for a little longer, what a different path he could have taken.

Ken at:

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