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Open For Business

February 27, 1989

SCHENECTADY, N.Y. (AP) _ On the night that Mike Tyson beat up English muffin Frank Bruno, the trainer he left behind was too busy with more basic boxing business to watch.

Kevin Rooney had a fighter in the finals of the Adirondack Golden Gloves Regional Tournament at a local hotel ballroom. So on this night, Kelvin Prather and not Mike Tyson, was Rooney’s priority.

″I’m really more interested in him than I am in this,″ he said, after HBO trasported him across downtown Schenectady in a limo and sat him in front of a monitor to watch the heavyweight title fight.

″This don’t mean nothin’ to me,″ Rooney bristled when the HBO people got antsy about his availablity. ″I got a kid in the last fight at the other place and I gotta be there. He’s got a chance to go on to the finals in Syracuse. I’m thinking of turning him pro, maybe by the fall.″

And, as if to prove his point, Rooney walked out on the HBO monitor before Tyson and Bruno ever made it into the ring at Las Vegas. He hustled back across town in the limo, returning to the hotel ballroom where the Golden Glove kids were beating on each other, fiercely fighting for medals, not millions.

There was no Vegas-style glitz and glitter here, no slot machines, no blinking neon lights, no wise guys, no entourages. In their place, just youngsters of every size and shape, kids nurturing a dream, accompanied by a trainer on a round trip, trying to help them. Perhaps 300 fans, most of them friends and family of the fighters, squeezed in the ballroom with the flowered wallpaper, watching the action.

In this setting, boxers take turns rooting and sometimes even working as seconds for their teammates. The referee for one fight works the corner in the next. The only connection with Tyson-Bruno was a pay phone in the lobby and Kevin Rooney wasn’t on it. Instead, he played with his children and readied Prather for a bout every bit as important to that young fighter as the action in Las Vegas was to others.

The trainer who was dismissed with Steinbrennian suddeness by Tyson, massaged Prather’s neck and back, talked softly to him as they waited for their turn, the final fight on the 20-bout card.

Rooney’s dismissal by Tyson was widely interpreted as a one-fight suspension for speaking out of turn. The trainer may have sealed the issue, however, by charging the champ with breach of contract and suing for a cool $10 million.

The suit, filed last week, was nothing personal according to Rooney. ″He’s like a brother to me,″ the trainer said. ″Sure I want him to win. He’s my fighter. I didn’t want to file a suit. It’s not about money. It’s about principle. I have a contract. He’s being brainwashed by someone who is cold- hearted. You got a contract. Be a man. Do the contract.″

Rooney is not exactly sitting, wringing his hands over the Tyson turn of events. ″I got four fighters, three amateurs and a pro,″ he said. ″Bert Cooper’s people called me last week. We’ll talk. I might take him. I’m careful about who I take. I’m open for business, but I’m not taking out help wanted ads.″

When it was time for Prather to go to work, Rooney was in the corner, banging the canvas to get his man’s attention, holding his head when the young middleweight made a mistake.

For three rounds, Prather punched and was punched and when the fight was over, he had won his trip to Syracuse and been named the outstanding boxer of the tournament. In Vegas, Mike Tyson was finished with his night’s work, too, a winner in the fifth round.

Somebody relayed the information to Rooney, who smiled thinly. ″I’m not surprised it went five,″ he said. ″Maybe if Kevin Rooney is there, it doesn’t go five. When Kevin Rooney was in the corner, Michael Spinks went 91 seconds.″

Then Kevin Rooney turned and headed out of the hotel ballroom with young Kelvin Prather in tow. On the back of his trainer’s sweatshirt, a single word was amateurly stenciled.

It said: ″Tyson.″

End Adv For Mon PMs

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