While many boxing mothers cringe at the thought of their son or daughter swapping leather, Ellen Greene, the mother of the red-hot undefeated middleweight “Mean” Joe Greene of Jamaica, Queens, in New York City is not one of them.
For as long as she can remember she was a boxing fan, especially of her brother-in-law Terrence Simpson, a middleweight who compiled a 8-1-1 (5 KOS) record while fighting professionally from 1981-92.
When her fighting son, the middle of her three children, was introduced to boxing at the age of five she was ecstatic.
“We had to come up with a solution to him being chased home everyday by bullies,” she explained. “His father said he had to go to the gym.”
Ellen, who is employed as a librarian’s assistant and an after-school counselor at Public School 123 in Jamaica, was surprised at how quickly her shy and retreating son took to boxing.
“Joe was always different from my other children, but I never expected this,” she said of her now 20-year-old son who would go on to become one of New York’s most lauded amateurs.
Besides being the winner of four national titles, he won the Sugar Ray Robinson Award as the most outstanding boxer in the 2004 New York City Golden Gloves tournament.
That same year he was the first New Yorker since Mike Tyson to be voted Most Valuable Boxer at the National Golden Gloves tournament in Kansas City.
He just missed out on making the 2004 Olympic team after losing a 16-13 decision to Andre Dirrell of Flint, Michigan, the eventual bronze medalist.
“He always liked to keep to himself—and still does,” continued Ellen Greene. “But he was very physical as a baby. Even at two and three, he loved to climb a lot. He’d always be hiding inside a cabinet or a stove.”
As much as he liked to climb, she says her introverted son also loved to read and to learn. He was always asking questions, and there was nothing that didn’t interest him. It seemed that whatever he was exposed to, he wanted to learn all there was to know about it.
Ellen seems to get more excited about her son’s boxing career than he does. That is obvious at the Coney Island gym where the sullen-faced Greene is put through his paces by co-trainers Joe Greene Sr., to whom Ellen is still married, Andre Rozier, who is also the owner of Havoc gym apparel, and Simpson.
“Joe is a real no-nonsense guy,” she said. “Even with all of his success, he never changed. If you don’t ask, he doesn’t respond.
“He’s not very outgoing, so when he becomes a champion he might not be a people’s champion,” she continued. “There’s not a flashy bone in his body. He would be grateful to be champion, but would let his fighting do his talking for him more than his mouth.”
Greene, who next laces up the gloves in an eight-rounder on the undercard of the John Duddy-Yory Boy Campas September 29 Madison Square Garden show that is being billed as “Shamrocks and Sombreros,” is currently 11-0 (8 KOS) as a pro.
Three weeks later, on October 19, he will again be showcased on promoter Bob Duffy’s show at the Plattduetsche Restaurant in Franklin Square, Long Island. Longtime referee Arthur Mercante, who lives in nearby Garden City, will be honored at that show for his lifelong commitment to boxing.
Besides a score of luminaries expected to be in attendance, Mercante will also be on hand to sign copies of his great new autobiography, Inside the Ropes, which was recently published by McBooks Press.
Greene’s manager, attorney Jack Stanton, whose brother Larry was a tough welterweight contender in the seventies, believes that Greene is the hottest prospect in the world right now. Greene’s mother couldn’t agree more.
“He was always a very gifted boy,” she said. “Whatever God gave him, he has run with. That is what is so extraordinary about him.”
She further explains that she is not the least bit surprised by the ambiguities of a such a mild mannered young man competing in such a violent sport.
“Joe is nicknamed after ‘Mean’ Joe Greene, the great football player,” she explained. “When he was a boy he owned his jersey. But the truth is, there is nothing mean about my son at all. Whatever aggressions he has get taken care of in the ring, never in the street.”
Her son has often stated that he is emotionless in the ring because he views boxing as nothing more than a means to an end. He wants to be a champion, so he wants to hurt his opponent before he hurts him. Never has he felt any personal animosity towards his opponents, nor does he ever expect to.
If an opponent talked trash to him, Mean Joe just assumes that he is scared. He doesn’t worry about such nuances or what is going on in his opponent’s head.
His former trainer, the esteemed Don Turner, once described Greene as “a throwback” because of his mastery of both offensive and defensive principles, as well as his ability to stay so calm in the ring.
All Greene is focused on is getting his opponent out of there as quickly as possible and moving one step closer to title contention. Never, he says, does he take the game, or too many people that are involved in it, very personally.
“He’s a little like [former heavyweight champion] Floyd Patterson,” said Ellen. “He is very withdrawn and doesn’t like a ruckus. He’s a homebody who still plays videos and chews bubblegum. One thing you never have to worry about is success going to Joe’s head.”