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Last month, a short time after 45-year-old Mitch "Blood" Green won a title belt from something called the World Boxing Syndicate for beating a palooka who had 92 prior defeats, he showed up at Madison Square Garden for the Golden Gloves finals and, of course, all hell broke loose.
During an intermission between fights, the Daily News' Bill Gallo stepped into the ring to call up champs and celebrities, including Zab Judah, Mark Breland, and Sugar Ray Robinson's son, Ray Jr. All Gallo had to do was announce, "Is there a Mitch Green in the room?" The 6-foot-5 Green bounded up the steps and into the ring, shadowboxing from ring post to ring post. The crowd of 5000 went nuts. "Mitch Green, as you all remember, fought Mike Tyson twice!" Gallo announced. "Once going the distance with him in the ring, the other time with him in the street!" Upon hearing Tyson's name, Green screamed at Gallo, who added with a smile, "Both times he lost!" Green started yelling into Gallo's microphone, "And new . . . and new . . . ," referring to his recently becoming a "world champion," but Gallo probably didn't know what Green was talking about and ignored him. Green eventually was dragged out of the ring and went back to his seat, where he happily spent the rest of the night signing autographs for a line of fans.
In 1986, Green, a four-time Golden Gloves champ and top-10 heavyweight contender, lost a 10-round decision to Tyson. He didn't really make his name until two years later, when Tyson KO'd him for free in front of a Harlem clothing store at 5 a.m. Green and his stitches made the covers of New York's tabloids, and for a while you couldn't read a Tyson story without bumping into Green's name. He called Tyson a "homo" every chance he got and turned out to be the perfect foil (and comic relief) for the Tyson soap opera.
As a boxer, Green was forgettable, but for the public, his personality was irresistible. The public personas of the Michael Jordans and Tiger Woodses have become so predictablethey're fearful of missteps that might cost them product endorsements. Green was, and still is, the antithesis of today's image-conscious athlete.
He still has a gift for attracting attention. Maybe that's why, at his advanced age, he's been given another chance to make something of himself. It also explains why those involved in resurrecting his career today make sure a car service picks him up every day and delivers him safely to Gleason's Gym when he's in training. His driver's license was suspended 54 times, so he can't drive to work, and forget about the subways. "Someone on the train," said Ed Post, his trainer and advisor, "will say, 'Hey, Tyson's on top, where are you?' and he gets furious."
It's a valid question. Today Green lives in a house in Queens by himself and is barely in boxing. Promoters stopped using him because when he wasn't in jail, he was pulling out of fights. That's what happens when you stick up gas stations and then fill up other people's tanks with gas for an hour, or when you bust up a department store office only days before you're supposed to fight Shannon Briggs at the Garden. Ed Post said Green has survived over the years selling autographs and on money generated by his Web site, but others help. Ex-fighter Gerry Cooney (who runs F.I.S.T., which helps retired fighters find work) pays Green's phone bills, and Bruce Silverglade, the owner of Gleason's Gym, also lends a hand.
Green himself won't talk about the details. "I can deal with the struggling," he told the Voice in a ramble-on interview. "You want to talk about it, but I don't. That's not what I want people to know. I don't want people to know about my struggles. People want to hear controversy. Lennox Lewis got a boyfriend. He got knocked out two times. The man's been knocked out two times! He doesn't care. Knock me out. I don't care. I just want the money."
Earlier this year, he was offered a March 9 fight for the World Boxing Syndicate's super heavyweight title at the Annandale Sports Center in Springfield, Virginia. The WBS was created last summer by a group of investors who wanted to see their local fighters get some big fights. Mark Chang, the ratings chairman for the group, needed a fighter with name recognition, and Green (18-6-1, 11 KO's) fit the bill. The fight was for chump change. Green's opponent, the aptly nicknamed "Experienced" Danny Wofford (what else do you call a guy with a 17-92 record?), made $2000. Green's people handled his end. "He was just interested in the title," Chang told the Voice.
Green hadn't trained for a fight in four years, but Ed Post, a glass-half-full kind of guy, said the transformation was easy. "The excitement of the phone call of getting the fight excited Mitch," Post said. "So I said, 'Let's go to the gym,' and he said, 'All right!' The trick was getting him there that first day."
For six straight weeks, Green was a fixture at Gleason's. "The people in the gym loved it," said Post. "When Mitch comes in, it's a completely different sound. You know there's a terror here! Fighters yell, 'Yeah, give him another right hand, Mitch!' They get excited when he trains."
A couple of the boxers, including Sherif Younan and his little boy, Junior, who had been running around the gym wearing a Mitch "Blood" Green T-shirt, made the six-hour drive to Virginia for the bout. "I had to go," Younan said. "He and my son are friends." Green didn't disappoint. He took his trademark toothpick out of his mouth, slipped it in his sock, said "No problem," and pounded out a 12-round decision.
The win attracted little attention, apart from a Washington Times story begging for another Tyson-Green bout. When Green returned to New York, there wasn't exactly a ticker-tape parade waiting for him, but the fighters and trainers at Gleason were happy to see him, and they all huddled around to get a glimpse of his title belt.
"You have to understand," said Silverglade, "this is a guy who lives to talk, who always finds something to brag about. For Mitch, the ego is very important. This gives him the perfect ammunition. He lives for this. It wasn't a big money fight, but it was something."
Green walked around hugging everybody, posing for pictures like it was old times. Younan's son wrapped the belt around his body and ran around with his arms raised. Then someone yelled out, "Tyson's next!" and Green turned around and suddenly it was 1988 all over again. "Yeah, I want Tyson!" he screamed. "I want Cicely Tyson!"
Finally, an old-timer watching the whole scene declared, "Goddammit! Mitch Green got himself a championship belt!" And everybody laughed, including Green, because it was all so ridiculous.