At the age of 36, heavyweight Mitchell Rose of Brooklyn, New York, is thinking about a comeback. Considering the fact that he last fought in December 1998 and left the game with a 2-9-1 (2 KOs) record, one might wonder what he is coming back to. After all, Rose recently sold one business, a liquor store, at a considerable profit, and still runs a lucrative auto body business in his native borough.
“I’ve already lost 20 pounds and still have a ways to go,” said Rose. “I’ve always known I was a lot better fighter than people think, so it’s important for me to go out as a winner, even if it is only in my mind.”
In case Rose’s name sounds familiar, he was the first man to beat Butterbean, pummeling the overeating bald man into submission in two rounds on the undercard of Oscar De La Hoya-James Leija at Madison Square Garden in December 1995. Six years later he got into the notorious dustup with Mike Tyson outside a Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn nightclub called Sugar Hill. For better or worse, those incidents put him on the fistic map.
“Beating Butterbean at the Garden was my version of the Thrilla in Manila,” said Rose. “It’s been almost ten years and I still get a lot of respect for that fight. That is one of the few times I had time to train, about five weeks, and I surprised a lot of people. It was fun to piss a lot of people off and spoil the show. It was me everyone was usually laughing at. For a guy who was always walking around down and out, that was a triumphant moment for me.”
Even though he got the worst of the Tyson debacle, he still laughs at the way things unfolded. He concedes, however, that he wasn’t laughing when Tyson charged him like a wild bull.
Things started out well when he met Iron Mike at the club and shared some champagne with him a few women. After several hours Rose left the bar and sat in his vehicle to sober up. When Tyson came out with a gaggle of girls, Rose warned him about messing with those “chicken heads” which he describes in a number of ways, all of which can be interpreted to mean women of questionable character or ill repute
What Rose construed as a friendly warning, Tyson took as an ultimate insult. He broke loose from the grasp of several security guards and came at Rose with his fists flying. Rose, who was a good enough gym fighter to spar regularly with such luminaries as Riddick Bowe, Tim Witherspoon, Bruce Seldon, Jeremy Williams, Mitch Green, Alex Stewart and Shannon Briggs—and emerge with nary a mark on his full, friendly face—grabbed the erstwhile baddest man on the planet and began grappling with him.
“I wasn’t in a boxing state of mind and he was very, very strong,” recounted Rose. “I slipped backwards on the concrete, but I wasn’t scared. I should have been, but I wasn’t. I think Mike expected me to fold and surrender. Either way, I can say I got to fight Mike Tyson. It wasn’t in the ring where I would have liked to get the payday. It was the Brooklyn way, in the street.”
Having lost to such notables as Gerald Nobles and Monte Barrett, Rose’s boxing career might have been a bust, but he has been successful on other fronts. Because he is such a character, it is easy to dismiss him as just another guy with a lot of excuses on why his career went belly up. He managed himself and, because he was always broke, was quick to take fights, any fights, on short notice. He usually did well for two rounds, after which he was gasping for air.
But Rose is nobody’s fool and his emotional honesty on a host of other subjects proves that. He describes going away to reform school at the age of 13 for charges that included stealing gold chains, picking pockets, selling counterfeit sporting tickets, acting as a lookout for three-card-Monte games, and a slew of other offenses. He was transported 400 miles north of his home, to a facility called Great Valley near Buffalo, New York.
“When I went in, I got busted for trying to smuggle in a pack of Newports,” said Rose. “That’s how cocky I was. I wasn’t even old enough to smoke. No one could tell me or teach me anything. But they were tough there and didn’t take any crap. You couldn’t smoke or curse and had to respectful of everybody. They taught us to eat healthy, stay healthy and to use our brains. They also had a great sports program. I went canoe riding, ice fishing, skiing, played soccer, baseball, and golf. They wanted to show us a different world—and it worked.”
Even though they didn’t have a boxing program–and Rose’s greatest interest was becoming the next Reggie Jackson when he was released a few years later–he found boxing shortly after his arrival back home. He engaged in only eight amateur contests but made it to the finals of the 1988 New York City Golden Gloves tournament. He had enough natural ability to fight the best—but not beat the best—without getting hurt. If things had been a little different, and he admits if he had been a little more determined, he probably would have been much more successful.
“For some reason I didn’t believe in my ability when I was younger,” said Rose. “If I had, who knows? I got so much out of the reform school, but it didn’t help with my boxing other than the fact that I was living hand-to-mouth and never thought of stealing or dealing drugs to make a living. Instead I’d take whatever fights came along. Before you know it, you’re in a pattern that you can’t get out of.”
After beating Butterbean, Rose thought his career might take off. He regularly wore a T-shirt proclaiming “I Beat Butterbean” and spent $10,000 of his own money following him around the country trying to lure him into a rematch. It didn’t work, even though he believes he shook Butterbean up with his crazy antics.
Rose, the married father of two children, is done chasing Butterbean but he might not be done with his career. Besides boxing and auto body work, he is determined to write a book of his life—not only detailing his ring antics, but more importantly imparting to youngsters the lessons that he learned the hard way. Rose is refreshingly candid about what landed him in jail, freely admits that he deserved to be there, and proudly proclaims that he was actually rehabilitated by his incarceration.
“I never made a lot of money in the ring,” said Rose. “My biggest paydays were $2,500 for the Nobles fight and $1,500 for Butterbean. But I got a lot of experiences that I measure as wealth. I’ve been up, I’ve been down, but I’m still here kicking—and hopefully punching again. Life works in funny ways. You never know what’s around the corner. Some people don’t want to know. Me, I can’t wait to find out.”