A note before starting: This piece contains a lot of conversations that took place many years ago. They’re not word-for-word quotes, but they are pretty motherfucking close. The phone answering machine messages are exactly what was spoken.
The goal always was to make money. You’re supposed to be able to do that with a 6-and-a-half-foot heavyweight who can—through reputation, striking physical appearance, and a contentious line of bullshit delivered in a distinctive floor-rumbling bass while riding the wave of a street fight with Mike Tyson that briefly put his picture in every paper and celebrity gossip show in the U.S.—draw a raucous crowd made up in equal parts of defenders and detractors simply by walking from one city block to the next.
But Mitch “Blood” Green wasn’t just any 6-and-a-half-foot heavyweight, as I found out the hard way. Admittedly, he had a talent for boxing; he had a talent for gaining attention; he had a talent for getting into trouble.
More important than all of those things, he had a genius for turning every business opportunity into a money-draining fiasco. At some level, Mitch was aware of this. He cobbled together his small livelihood by making sure that nothing big would jeopardize it.
I was sitting in the press row, watching the prelims. Kelly Swanson, one of boxing’s most highly regarded publicists, called over a hello from the end of the aisle and asked, “So what’s this ‘big story’ you’re writing for Deadspin?”
“It’s a long piece about Mitch Green.”
“Do you think anyone will remember Mitch Green?”
Then she smiled. “The Legend of Mitch Green.” There was some—I said some—ironic affection in her voice.
Still, her question was one I had to take seriously; Kelly Swanson knows what she’s talking about. Mitch Green hadn’t engaged in a meaningful fight since his 1986 loss to Mike Tyson, and hadn’t made headlines since a street brawl with Tyson two years later.
There were good signs and bad signs vis a vis Mitch Green’s lasting impact. Here are a few:
Good sign: Adrien Broner and Gervonta Davis, two fighters perceived as Bad Boys, got much bigger receptions from the crowd than Jermall Charlo, who, along with his identical twin brother, Jermell, really may be, as advertised, “the Future of Boxing.”
Bad sign: Three young guys snuck onto press row and sat on my right. The guy one seat over spent the entire time looking at his cellphone, never once moving his attention up to the ring. Even when Jermall Charlo knocked out Hugo Centeno Jr. with a monstrous combination that brought the crowd to an ear-splitting uproar, my new neighbor’s eyes didn’t budge from his phone. A little later I needed to find out the time, so I asked him. He held up his phone to show me a picture of his naked girlfriend. I pointed to his wrist. He said, “It’s Hugo Boss.”
“No, man; the time.”
It took him a while to find it.
“It’s 10 o’clock.”
I think he got that wrong. There may be issues with contemporary fight fans having short attention spans.
Good sign: What Kelly Swanson said about Mitch Green worried me a little, so after the fight I asked eight people at random—two at the Jamaica railroad station as I transferred to the late-night train to Westbury, so with no connection to that night’s fights—if they knew who Mitch Green was.
“Man, ain’t he the dude fought Tyson on the street?”
“You mean Mitch ‘Blood’ Green? Yeah I remember him.”
“Blood was one crazy motherfucker back in the day.”
Mitch went eight for eight in the name recognition test. The Legend of Mitch Green.
I’d become casually friendly with the former NWA wrestling great Lou Thesz. Lou’s status within his own business was iconic. In a kayfabe world where marks needed to be occasionally reminded that what they were seeing wasn’t a work, he was the ultimate legitimacy token. He was a shooter, a hooker, someone who could stretch anybody, no matter how tough, in a genuine fight. In Japan, he was one of the handful of ex-wrestlers regarded as gods.
It was the early 1990s, and Thesz was freelancing as a talent scout and hiring agent for Antonio Inoki. Inoki had also been an iconic figure within the wrestling business, a semi-shooter himself—albeit one whose bona fides didn’t match Thesz’s. Inoki briefly came to mainstream attention in the U.S. when he infamously engaged in a staged fight with Muhammad Ali that became unstaged somewhere along the way, resulting in 15 rounds of nearly unwatchable dullness as the two combatants warily circled each other, Inoki from a supine position on the canvas while aiming an occasional preemptory warning kick at his opponent’s legs.
Apparently this travesty, despite almost singlehandedly killing off mixed matches for decades, wasn’t enough to discourage Inoki. He requested of Thesz that he find more heavyweight boxers, preferably former champions, who would be willing to come to Japan to lose to him.
Mitch Green had never been a world champion, but Lou Thesz agreed that he’d fit the bill as an opponent for Inoki. Blood had enormous size, he had a distinctive look, he had the big, menacing voice, and he had street credentials that were tantamount to shoot credentials to a gullible public.
I found Mitch’s number and pitched the idea.
“Oh, baby,” boomed the bass, “I would love to go to Japan. They gonna love me over there.”
We hit a snag when I explained what was required of him.
“Man, that’s ridiculous. Mitch Green losing to a little Japanese man? Big Mitch Green? I ain’t gonna let that happen. I got my reputation. ’Sides, nobody would believe it.”
I attempted to bullshit him by saying that these wouldn’t have to be loss losses—that they could be disqualifications or count-outs or other inconclusive endings—but we both knew it was bullshit. Mitch wouldn’t be swayed.
We kept talking, though. At one point he decided that I knew enough about boxing so that I should manage him as a real boxer instead of an ersatz wrestler.
At that stage of my life, I’d already been in and out of boxing for a good number of years, earning my living betting on fights and working as a consultant for various gamblers and gangsters. Managing seemed like a logical step, and managing a high-profile heavyweight, albeit a problematic one, would immediately put me within shouting distance of real money.
In the fall of 1991 I flew Mitch up to Boston so we could meet formally, spend some time together, and work out the details for signing a contract. My lawyer and I picked him up at Logan Airport and we went directly to an elegant if gimmicky restaurant at the top of the Hyatt Regency in Cambridge. The place slowly revolved so that the affluent diners could get a panoramic view of downtown Boston, the Charles River, Kenmore Square, and Cambridge again. It was a great place to eat if you wanted to spend a lot of money and to make sure you didn’t risk getting stuck for conversation—“Oh look, you can see the State House!”
We needn’t have worried that there would be awkward silences with Mitch. From the moment we met him at the luggage carousel, he was off and running. He looked ready to go running too; he was attired in a bright orange jumpsuit with a gold zipper that went from throat to somewhere below his navel. That zipper would soon be put to use.
We arrived at the restaurant and took the elevator to the top floor. Green already had fans among restaurant employees. He was surrounded by cooks, wait staff, dishwashers, and the people working the reservation counter. The chef came out to let Mitch know that if he wanted anything special all he had to do was ask. “Just because I know how to cook for them,” he laughed, “that don’t mean that I forgot how to cook for us.”
For his part, Blood behaved like royalty returning from exile—everyone was given some attention. Handshakes, hugs, and kisses were dispensed along with various terms of endearment. I knew this was an instance of preaching to the choir, so was curious to see how Mitch worked the rest of the room. How would a demonstrably white clientele, paying top prices for a sedate dining experience, respond to having the living embodiment of “encroaching inner-city menace” in their midst?
It turned out that Blood didn’t care who his audience was; he was going to work the crowd the same way no matter who it was made up of. In this instance that crowd was divided, maybe leaning slightly pro-Green, with a surprising percentage aware that they were getting a unique evening’s entertainment for their money. It was something they could tell their friends about.
Mitch began his performance by standing up from his chair. (We’d been placed more or less in the center of the restaurant, so everyone got a good look at him.) With no preamble, he addressed the diners.
“I want y’all to feast you eyes on what a real heavyweight is supposed to look like.”
With that, there was the sound of the gold zipper being ripped from neck to three inches below his navel as Mitch allowed the jacket to drape around his hips, revealing his entire upper torso. Apparently experienced as an ecdysiast, he seemed to know exactly where the Blue Laws line was drawn; he ventured to it but didn’t step over.
Once he was naked from the waist up, he began an elaborate flexing routine that accompanied his monologue.
“Check out the pythons,” he offered. “Muscles on muscles. If you a heavyweight, this is what you should look like, not like that midget. I want Mike Tyson, Michelle Cicely Tyson. He a sissy, he a homo. I don’t like him. Oh baby, wait till you see what I do with that boy if I get him in the ring.”
He came to the finale. “Mike Tyson’s runnin’ from me. Don King—Don Queen—is runnin’ from me.” Here he flexed his biceps in synchronicity with his words. “I’m tellin’ you, Mike Tyson is a…”—he pumped the bicep while sliding his voice up to an effeminate falsetto—“ho...”—another pump—“mo!” He then kissed a bicep.
There was a spontaneous burst of applause from the diners and we could hear clapping and whoops of laughter coming from the kitchen. Not one diner had lifted one morsel of food to their mouth during the Mitch Green Show. Not one waiter brought out a plate. Blood had convinced me that he could be sold to the public.
If you’re in the boxing business, depending on where you’re in the boxing business, you’re going to have some involvement, if only indirectly, with guns. Your fighter is going to shoot someone or get shot or have a family member shoot someone or get shot by someone. Your fighter is going to walk into a convenience store in a bad part of town just before it gets held up. There will be territorial gang disputes, confrontations with someone’s husband over a woman you’re fucking, conflicts with shady promoters or road agents over skimpy fight payoffs. You will be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I’m not a gun person. I believe that it should be illegal for anyone to own one for any reason. Still, like most people who’ve lived their lives largely outside the law, I’ve had gun experiences—have had them pulled on me a few times, although only once for something boxing-related. Technically the gun wasn’t even pulled that time: a mafia member opened his sport jacket to show the gun with which he intended to shoot me if I didn’t quickly fix a problem I’d created.
There have been a number of incidents where guns played a part in the lives of fighters I’ve managed or done business with. Leon Spinks’s son Calvin was shot to death. Freddie Norwood was chased in East St. Louis by gang members with guns. In the nick of time, he made it to the warehouse owned by his coach/surrogate grandfather Charles Hamm. Charles, one of the most peace-loving people I’ve ever met, pulled his shotgun on Freddie’s pursuers, driving them off.
Norwood was again way too close to a gun when he and his trainer Adolph Pruitt stopped at a corner convenience store in Brockton, Mass., so that Pruitt could pick up a little nip after the afternoon’s workout. As Pruitt waited in line and Norwood perused the shelves for a snack, a robber entered the store and pulled a gun on the cashier.
Pruitt laughed when he told us the story the next afternoon at the gym.
“I’m just waitin’ for my little tiger to sneak up behind the guy and knock him out while he messin’ with the cashier,” he said. “I look over to where he’s at, and I don’t see him nowhere, so I figure he’s ducked under a counter, and is gonna ambush the dude. But there ain’t no Freddie. The little tiger had fainted.”
I wasn’t there, so I don’t know if it actually happened, but Norwood looked sheepish while Adolph Pruitt told the story to Pat Petronelli and me. And he didn’t deny it.
I even bluffed having a gun once. Heavyweight Fernely Feliz and his setup opponent and friend Brian Palmer (a big Colombian kid whose name was as likely to have really been Brian Palmer as mine was Antonio Cervantes), tried to strong-arm me for an extra $100 apiece just before fight time. We were in the parking lot outside the small arena in Whitman, Mass., where Vin Vecchione ran his cards.
I’d been baited and switched in this way once before—by Bruce Johnson before he fought Mitch Green—and I’d paid the bribe. As you’ll read later, it hadn’t done me any good. I’d learned that if you knuckle under in boxing, these things will never stop happening.
I told Feliz and Palmer that I needed to get the money from my car, but that I was also going to get my gun when I did. They could take the money and then I’d shoot them, or they could fight for the amount we’d agreed to, forget about the money, and I wouldn’t bother going to my car.
They decided to fight for the money we’d agreed to, which was a good thing for me since I didn’t actually have a gun in my car.
The most personal and costly incident for me involving a gun came when Mitch Green got shot just after we’d signed a contract for me to manage him—another example of Blood’s bad luck somehow affording him a lengthy free ride.
I could have voided the contract since Mitch’s injury was serious enough to call into question whether he’d ever be able to fight again. His surgeon, Frank Bunch, speculated that Blood’s leg might have had to be amputated if he he’d waited one more day to have the eight-hour operation that saved it.
If I’d known what managing Mitch Green would have cost me in emotional wear and tear in addition to money, I’d have backed out of the deal. I still would have gotten him his operation, which either makes me an okay guy or an absolute chump, depending on how you view such things.
It turned out that Mitch Green had not only been shot behind his knee after the Mike Tyson fan who he’d slapped on a Harlem street had retaliated by coming after him with a handgun. The guy, apparently a very good marksman, had gotten off a shot that caught the retreating Blood behind his right heel, where the bullet had then passed through his foot onto the sidewalk. Mitch’s sneaker, which he was wearing when he flew to Boston a number of days later, had a small round hole at the heel, encircled with a thin decorative wreath of dried blood. After buying Mitch new footwear, he gave the sneakers to me as a memento. Twenty-seven years later, I still have them around somewhere.
They couldn’t have done me any good as footwear even if they had been in pristine condition. Mitch, although nearly 6-foot-6, has a size 10½ shoe; hare-like, I wear 13½ gunboats despite being, at most, of average height.
I brought Mitch with me to the four-family building I owned on Broadway in Winter Hill, the area of multi-unit houses in Somerville where hardworking blue-collar homeowners daily passed by places of criminal enterprise controlled by Howie Winter and Whitey Bulger. I found that having Blood accompany me on my occasional visits to unruly tenants went a long way toward producing quick and easy dispute resolution. One look at him was usually all it took to get even the most truculent of them to capitulate.
I’d been called by the police after the double knifing had taken place. Then my tenant, who was the brother of one of the victims, called.
When Mitch and I got to the apartment, we found blood everywhere. It was on the sidewalk outside the house, on the steps leading in, all over the walls, covering the furniture, some even still congealing into the hardwood floors.
The two men had fought with knives throughout the house, then out onto the street, and finished so near death that they both collapsed on the curb. They were now in the intensive care unit of Mass General, and no one was sure if either would live.
I was there to make sure that, lease or no lease, the tenant understood that he’d be moving out immediately. I’d hadn’t known shit about his brother living with him.
We were given details of the fight. As Mitch Green loomed over him, the tenant told us what had happened the night before. It turned out that his brother had a long and violent history of mental illness. My tenant was visibly shaking, and kept saying, “I’m so frightened right now.” He looked small, dark, and frail. I imagined his brother looked that way too until he had a knife in his hand, at which point “wiry” would probably replace “frail.”
The tenant’s brother and a friend had been drinking heavily the previous night, then had switched over to drugs, which led to an argument over who owed whom what for the drugs. Things escalated, the knives came out, and the men wound up bleeding across the sidewalk.
I said, “You’ve got to move out tomorrow.”
He answered, “I paid my rent for the month.”
“Tell him, Blood.”
“You got to go.”
The tenant shook more. I assumed we were finished here.
“I’ve paid my rent.”
“That won’t cover the cleaning costs. I’m not here to argue with you. We’ll be back tomorrow. Make sure you’re gone.”
“I’m afraid of this man,” my tenant answered, looking at Green. “I don’t want to get hurt. I paid my rent. I’ll clean the apartment. When you come back tomorrow, it will look like nothing ever happened here. I don’t have anywhere to go. I’ll make sure my brother doesn’t do anything else. I have rights. I’ll go to a lawyer.”
“Did your brother come here from Brazil legally?”
“No. But we don’t have anywhere to go. If my brother lives, I have to take care of him. Let us stay. Please. I’ve paid my rent. I will clean the house.”
It was time to bring Mitch Green into this.
“I guess you’ll have to explain to him, Blood.”
“He seem like a good dude, Charl. And he and his brother don’t have nowhere to go. He gotta take care of his brother. They won’t start no more shit. They be cool.”
This Solomonic Judgment put me in an uncomfortable position. I could get into a debate with Mitch about wanting to bounce the tenant. The would make me seem indecisive at a time it would be unwise. I could overrule Mitch, which would make him look (and feel) like an underling and a goon. Or I could “see the wisdom” of Mitch’s approach, magnanimously acquiesce, and explain to the tenant that I was letting him stay only because “Blood just vouched for you.” I could then make it clear it wouldn’t be me he’d have to answer to if he betrayed Mitch’s faith.
I allowed the tenant and his brother to stay for the month. It turned out to be the correct decision. Mitch had guessed right about the guy; I’d been wrong. The next time we went to the house, the apartment was spotless. It was quiet for the entire month. My tenant and his brother didn’t attempt to parlay Mitch’s generosity into more than that. I never sent them a legal eviction notice. When Mitch and I returned at the beginning of the month, the apartment was empty, cleaned to a professional standard, and ready to be rented to new tenants whose arguments, if they even had them, never moved beyond low-decibel verbal ones.
Mitch Green suffered from a kind of verbal dyslexia. He could tell when he was walking into a tangle of linguistic inversion, but once he started, he was unable to stop and reset.
“I don’t want no one to mistake my weaknesses for kindness.”
“Out of the mouth of wisdom comes…babes.”
“If they fightin’ me, they fightin’ welfare bums, homeless people, drug addicts. No, I mean if they ain’t fightin’ me.”
A month or so after I officially became Mitch Green’s manager, I was sitting with Al Braverman in the small office of his antique store on East 69th St. sipping an espresso.
“You don’t think that if he was worth having, Don wouldn’t already have him? The guy is a cuckoo.”
Al Braverman put the accent on the second syllable—cuckoo.
As Don King’s Director of Boxing, Al could get almost anything done for a fighter, and I was in desperate need of having something done for Mitch Green. For me too, for that matter; Green was costing me a lot of money and didn’t seem any closer to fighting than he’d been when I began managing him.
“Charles, you’ll never get that fuckin’ guy in the ring. Believe me, we’ve tried. You know Don had him at one point. We got rid of him.”
“Green says it was the other way around.”
“Who you gonna believe? Don makes these guys more money than they’ve ever seen in their lives. They don’t leave Don. Don leaves them.”
“What if I got him to fight?”
“I’d pay to see you do that. You think you can do something Don King couldn’t do?
“It’s a different situation. I’ll bet you I can get him in the ring.”
“You’re already losing all your money with Green. Now you wanna lose more? What’s fuckin’ wrong with you, Charles? You know, I go around, I tell people about you, I say nice things about you to Don. Then you pull this kinda bullshit, and you make me look like a fuckin’ asshole.”
“I’ll get him in the ring.”
“I swear, I’m gonna take your bet. I’ll feel bad doin’ it, you’re already running through so much money, but somebody’s got to smarten you up. How much do you want to bet? I’ll bet you $10,000.”
“No, let’s really bet. How about 40?”
“You are a bona fide imbecile, Charles. You got no shot at winning.”
I insisted that the bet be made. I could have taken it back, but I didn’t, even after I got a sinking feeling that Al Braverman was right about both things.
Riddick Bowe was a big, charismatic heavyweight champion who had all the talent in the world. HBO was paying him a fortune for his title defenses. But Riddick Bowe didn’t like to fight. He just hated the ordeal of training, hated dropping weight that would balloon up to nearly 300 pounds between fights, and missed being away from home and his wife and kids.
Bowe’s manager, Rock Newman, a boxing outsider, was disliked by many of the sport’s professionals, but I got along well with him. I sent sparring partners to Bowe’s camp, and had become friendly with matchmaker J.D. Brown—who handled much of the significant boxing business in D.C.—and Eddie Futch, the Hall of Fame trainer. Newman and I would talk on the phone occasionally, and he was very candid about wanting to make his client the most possible money for the least risk. HBO was paying a lot for Bowe’s services, and even opponents like journeyman Jesse Ferguson and the drug-addicted Michael Dokes—both seen as having no hope of beating the champ—wound up being paid nearly a million dollars to get slaughtered inside of six minutes.
I knew Mitch could do better than some of the guys who’d be chosen, and the fight could be sold a lot more entertainingly than Riddick’s dud fights. Bowe was a great, funny talker, a likable guy with an uplifting rags-to-riches story. Raised in the same drug- and gang-dominated Brownsville section of Brooklyn as Tyson, he had never strayed as an exemplar of good citizenry.
I suggested to Newman that Green could be the black hat to Bowe’s white, the nightmare to Bowe’s American Dream. The two men were the same size, crosstown rivals—Green from Jamaica, Queens, and Bowe from Brownsville. Brooklyn—in a New York showdown; so it would be easy to set this one up mostly in the laboratory.
There was the problem of Green not being rated in any sanctioning organization, but Rock had an answer for that.
“What if we do Riddick’s next fight in Madison Square Garden, and put Mitch on the undercard against some scrub he’s guaranteed to beat to get himself into one of the ratings?”
“That’d work,” I said. “We could get a little confrontation going in the ring during Riddick’s post-fight interview.”
It seemed like a great idea to everyone except Mitch Green.
“It don’t make no sense, Charl. You a very intelligent man, but you actin’ like you stupid. I don’t need no tune-up to beat Riddick Bowe. That man could never beat me.”
“It’s not a tune-up tune-up, Mitch. It’s a fight to get you into the ratings so that they’ll let you fight for the title.”
“Man, I was rated number six when I fought Tyson. And they stole that fight from me. Mike Tyson never beat me. Don King beat me.”
“Man, the past is the past. Let’s think about your future. Let’s get you rated, then get you a fight with Bowe.”
“Bowe ain’t never done nothing. Who’s he beat? Sanitation engineers, school bus drivers, volunteer firemen, substitute teachers. This is ridiculous.”
I could picture the promotion. Green was already saying all the right things. Then he started saying all the wrong things. It was a theme I was to become familiar with: The How Much is He Getting Cutoff. Mitch saw himself as the “A” part of any promotion he was involved in. The other guy could be Riddick Bowe or Mike Tyson—it didn’t matter. The attraction was Mitch “Blood” Green, so the worst that was acceptable was purse parity. There was nothing I could do to sell him on the idea that making a million dollars, winning the fight, and then controlling the percentages for the rematch was the way to go. I could never tell whether my promising Mitch that he’d win the first fight against Bowe sounded believable; I know it didn’t to me.
Although Mitch Green’s personal wardrobe leaned toward the conspicuous—something he was able to get away with spectacularly—he also had a good eye for more conventionally refined attire. I had been talked into buying an expensive, full-length winter overcoat under the theory that it was good for business to present a certain appearance. When Mitch first saw it, he eyed it carefully, straightened the shoulders and the drape, pinched the fabric between thumb and forefinger, and pronounced judiciously, “Oh, Charl, this a lovely garment.”
Much to my surprise, Mitch Green was not averse to our going out to eat at vegan restaurants. He was cool with my not eating anything that came from an animal. He really liked Buddha’s Delight in Boston’s Chinatown.
“Man,” he’d say, “This is good food. There ain’t no meat in any of this? This taste like chicken.”
“No, that’s tofu.”
“Well, it’s good. I like it.”
Buddha’s Delight was on Beach Street near the corner of Washington, the part of Chinatown that going through a dispiriting and largely unsuccessful process of reconstruction. It was situated at the exact spot where Chinatown ended and the Combat Zone, a legendary hooker and strip club oasis, began. In my youth, I’d spent a lot of time in this part of town, both professionally—strip clubs used to use live music—and recreationally, so I missed the way it had been. For the most part, the hookers had been pushed out by the cops, but the area was still derelict, the woman replaced by panhandlers and the homeless. You were still approached on every street corner by someone looking for a little money, but now you weren’t being offered anything in return.
One afternoon, a beggar, swooping in on us, recognized Mitch Green, who was still on crutches after having been shot.
“Oh, shit. Is that Mitch Green? You Mitch Green, ain’t you?”
“Live and in color, baby.”
“What you doin’ in Boston, brother? I thought you was from New York. How come you in Chinatown?”
“We gonna eat. This place don’t have no meat.”
“Man, I need some meat in a sandwich. Some of that Korean barbecue they have around the corner here.”
“You should try this place, man. They got good food there. It tastes just like meat. I keep asking Charl if he’s positive there ain’t no meat in the food.”
“I dunno. Maybe I try it sometime.”
I was frantically trying to signal to Mitch not to invite the guy. He was clearly homeless—which would make the owner of the restaurant unhappy—and demonstrably not clean.
I knew I was too late; the guy had recognized Blood, and now he was going to be rewarded for his perspicacity.
Green turned to the panhandler. “Wait till you taste this shit. You ain’t gonna be able to tell the difference. Charl, let this dude come with us.”
The owner and staff at Buddha’s Delight were used to my bringing in an unusual assortment of guests—Mitch Green, G. Love, who I was managing at the time, fitness competition winner and adult film performer Leigh Ann Cyr, certain crime figures, and a retinue of downtown lawyers serving various purposes—but the homeless guy was met with a reproving look, a look that started with him but ended with me. We had only recently reached a détente over Green, whose big voice, tendency to demonstrate punch combinations, and obsession with taking off his shirt wherever there was an audience had initially put us on the verge of being asked to leave despite my lengthy friendship with the owner, a dignified Vietnamese exile.
The most ragged member of our party asked, “Why you on crutches, Blood? You break your leg?”
“Some ignorant nigger was bein’ a knucklehead, tellin’ me all this nonsense about how I couldn’t beat Mike Tyson. So I give him a little slap, just a little tap on his face that knocks him down. The motherfucker gets up and runs away like a bitch, then comes back and shoots me in my leg when my back is turned.”
“I would’a lost my leg. I went to the Harlem Hospital, but they sent me home. Then it got infected and I couldn’t put no weight on it. It a blessing that Charl brought me to Boston to have Doctor Bunch—I call him Doctor Punch—save my leg. Man, they had to put all these motherfucking pins in my leg. That’s why I can’t start my comeback yet.”
“So the leg is all fucked up?”
This was Mitch’s cue to lift the left leg of his warmup pants above the damaged knee, proudly exhibiting the half dozen bolt-like pins that were holding the split femur firmly in place.
It was a formidable injury, but our newfound friend wanted to assure us that he still had some cards to play in the hand.
He raised his ragged shirt to reveal his sunken ribcage. The knife damage there was extensive.
“Few years back, I was carryin’ on with this girl I knew was married. She lied to me and told me they was split up, and I come to her place one time and the dude was waitin’ for me. Motherfucker stuck me as soon as I put my foot in the door. She was right there, and didn’t warn me or nothin’.”
Up came Mitch’s shirt. During his teen years, as a leader of the New York street gang The Black Spades, he’d been ripped wide open by a piece of jagged pipe during a turf fight with a rival gang. In the process of beating the shit out of a truckload of adversaries, Blood had been unaware of any damage done to himself until long after the massacre was concluded.
Not to be outdone, the mendicant had one more bullet hole to brag about. He had to lower his pants to do it, but that held no terror for him. It did, however, cause a respectable looking couple eating a few tables away to look at us askance.
In his booming bass, Mitch said, “I hope we not bothering you. We just lookin’ at war wounds.” He dropped his voice and solemnly added, “You a very pretty lady.”
The couple at the other table both said “thank you.”
I was tired of our new friend, but he wasn’t done yet. He needed to tell us about how he’d gotten shot in the thigh.
“I got this one when a guy said I owed him money,” the panhandler cried, genuine pique coloring his voice. “I didn’t owe him nothing. He was all cracked out, and he forget that I already paid him. Funny thing is, later on he remembered.”
“Ain’t that a bitch.”
“Yeah, well, believe me, I got him back. I placed a ’nonymous call that got him popped. Man, you right; this food really is good.”
“I told you it was. There ain’t no meat in it.”
“You sure? It tastes like meat.”
It was time to cut him loose. I could live with his having ordered more food than everyone else knowing he wasn’t going to have to pay for it, but the anonymous call to the police pushed things over the line. In the places where I lived and did business, you never went to the cops about anything. We were on one side. Cops were on the other side.
“Okay,” I told him cheerfully, “we’ve got to get moving. It was nice talking with you. I hope you enjoyed your meal.”
“Where y’all goin’?”
I was going to drop Mitch off at his place, then go home. I could see that he was about to invite the guy to hang out with him. Luckily, when I put my foot down about something that seemed important to me, Mitch respected it. We might have had issues if I hadn’t gotten to that stage, but Blood was always pitch-perfect in hearing when I’d reached my limit. He jumped in.
“We got shit to do, dude. You think we got time to do nothin’ all day? We got business to take care of.”
Then, as an afterthought he added, “Charl, give the man a few dollars.”
Two cops had already arrived by the time I got to the house I owned in West Newton, where Mitch had long been living rent-free in the top floor apartment. My own home was two miles away in Newton Centre—putatively the safest city in the U.S.—but the Newton police station was only a dozen blocks from Mitch’s place, so I didn’t have time to handle the situation. Mitch’s downstairs neighbors, my tenants, had called me in alarm, then called the police. Green had been screaming at his two girlfriends. Things weren’t going as well with them as he’d hoped. He was still screaming at them on the lawn while the cops tried to calm him down. The women, still not fully dressed, looked shaken. My tenants were watching from their apartment. The neighbors in the surrounding houses were watching from theirs. Mitch tried to get the cops to understand his outrage.
“They said they was gonna do it, goddamn it. Why you think I fly them here? They two pretty ladies. They told me they liked each other. You can’t just stop right in the middle.”
Unlike most members of its population, Mitch Green loved going to Rikers Island, the site of New York’s largest jail complex. He never went in for long but would occasionally do stretches of a month or two, during which time he took the opportunity to lift weights, do calisthenics, and engage in a running monologue of self-adulation that was backed by a Greek chorus of sycophantic jailbird underlings.
Blood was a major celebrity at Rikers—as treasured a presence with the guards as he was with the inmates.
“Man, you gotta see me there,” he’d tell me. “All the inmates, all the gangs, all the guards, it’s like ‘Yo, Yo, Yo, it’s Mitch Green. Oh shit, it’s Blood. Big Mitch. Lookin’ good, baby.’ Charl, I tellin’ you, I’m the King of Rikers Island.”
He loved the accommodations.
“Man, it’s beautiful. Don’t nobody bother me. I get to rest up, get lots of peace and quiet. And the food is good, man. Three meals a day, all you can eat. The guards bring me extra, bring me desserts. I can lift weights, do push-ups. I get into good shape in prison. And I got this little cooler where I can keep my Kool-Aid.”
“Does anyone box?”
“We do like slap boxing. Just see who got the fast hands. Not real boxing boxing. But it helps me stay sharp.”
Mitch assured me that I too would thrive at Rikers.
“Man, when you get in, you see how you get you respect. They be askin’ you questions. They gonna ask about their cases, ask you to listen to their tapes, ask you if you manage them in boxing when they come out. You do good in Rikers, Charl.”
“I don’t plan to ever be sent to Rikers, Mitch.”
“No, you don’t plan to. But nobody know the future, Charl. I’m just sayin’ if you wind up there, you’ll do good.”
My lawyer, David, had been listening in. He was a young blond-haired guy from Cleveland—overweight, with a face that easily flushed. Before coming to Boston to work for a small, exclusive law firm, he had been part of the Fox legal team, specifically Geraldo Rivera’s attorney at the network. When his feelings were hurt or something melodramatically heartwarming occurred, he sometimes couldn’t keep from crying. Even with all that going against him, he felt it necessary to enter the conversation.
“Charles isn’t a lawyer, Mitch. He wouldn’t give good legal advice. How do you think I’d do?”
Green looked incredulous. “How would you do, Davit? Oh shit, you’d be PC.”
“It protective custody. Punk City. You wouldn’t last a hour, Davit.”
“I could do the inmates a lot more good there than Charles.”
“Davit,” said Mitch with great gentleness and patience, “You don’t know how to talk to people. You definitely don’t know how to talk to niggers.”
“Yes I do. Of course I do. I know how to talk to you, don’t I?”
“You can only talk to them Roy Innis niggers, Davit. You can’t talk to no real niggers. You can’t talk to the brothers on the block. Trust me, man, you be instant PC when you go in there.”
A bunch of us were at a pawnshop in downtown Boston at Mitch’s insistence. We’d been eating in Chinatown. There were a couple of young musicians, their girlfriends, my lawyer, Green, and me. Once Mitch saw the pawnshop, he had to go in. He needed a gold chain. The chains were, as expected, all shit. Fake gold-plated or gold spray-painted junk, ridiculously expensive, since the shop owners knew their customers were morons. Most of the purchases were made on layaway plans, which meant the pawnbroker never had to give up the chains, since the buyer would inevitably miss a payment. I explained to Mitch that the “gold” chains weren’t actually gold. He disagreed. I called over the salesman.
“Please tell this man that your gold chains aren’t gold.”
“Well, I mean, they got gold in ’em.”
“You mean some of them have gold plating.”
“So they’re metal, overlaid with gold plating.”
I just didn’t want to spend any money on this garbage in this gyp joint. But Mitch was upset because he’d been embarrassed in front of the musicians’ girlfriends, so he went into a dramatic monologue.
“Oh man, I’m freakin’ out. We in Boston. I was thinkin’ we was in New York. This ain’t New York. Oh shit.”
“The pawnshops in New York have chains made of real gold in them?”
“Of course. They don’t be sellin’ the shit they sell in Boston. Man, I am freakin’ out here. I thought we was in New York.”
We could have continued our conversation, but I saw two men slip into the pawnshop, both with their hands in their coat pockets. One immediately headed toward the back of the store. The other stepped just inside and stood by the front door. I was pretty sure I understood what that meant.
I knew some pawnshop owners. They weren’t like jewelry store owners; they didn’t think in terms of not taking risks or of letting their insurance companies handle things. They dealt in cash; they carried guns. Their employees carried guns.
I hustled my confused little entourage out of the shop, prodded them down Washington Street as quickly as I could get them to move while Mitch Green continued to remonstrate that it was only his confusion about being in Boston that misled him into believing that cheap copper and zinc was gold.
I was playing around with the idea of managing musicians. Pop musicians, rock musicians, and maybe rappers. Boston had hit the mother lode with groups like New Kids on the Block and New Edition, willed into existence by the Don King–like Maurice Starr, so a lot of the building of a successful group or performer could be in the studio, largely without the active participation of the people being promoted. I knew show-biz lawyers, I knew engineers and studio musicians. It was just a matter of finding the right faces to put in front of the cameras.
I didn’t know what I was opening myself up to. Within two weeks, I had received hundreds of tapes, bios, publicity photos, and entreaties. I went through the entire stack, finding samples from the delusional, the talentless, the insane, and, more often than not, the lonely. If your goal in life is to be offered a range of sexual favors by deranged misfits, offer to manage people who want to become pop stars.
Out of the hundreds of submissions, two were worthwhile. One was from a highly polished working band that would have done well playing the small room of a Vegas casino, but had no chance of making it as a successful pop act.
The other was a hand-lettered, totally unprofessional package from a kid named Garrett Dutton, who called himself G. Love. That’s the one I went with.
Garrett was a tall, lanky teenager from Philadelphia, a rich kid who was slumming in a unique way, living on Mission Hill in Boston, soaking up street life culture without pretending that he was being forced to fight for survival. His scuffling was voluntary scuffling and he knew it. Because he wasn’t relegated to it, he was enjoying the experience.
As unlikely a duo as they might have been, G. Love and Mitch Green hit it off. Green took Garrett’s success in the music business as a fait accompli and treated their conversations as exchanges between fellow celebrities. He saw himself as a mentor to an up-and-comer, dispensing words of wisdom on how to deal with the pernicious temptations of superstardom—truly an instance of the blind leading the blind.
One late night, the three of us were sitting in my clunker outside of Garrett’s tenement building. Mitch was in the back seat. As G. was getting ready to go inside, Green reached over and held his shoulder.
“You gonna be very famous,” he said solemnly, “and a lot of girls are going to be up on you, tryin’ to be with you. They gonna try to trick you too. You gotta be really careful, man. There’s all kinds of shit goin’ around, and you can pick up diseases, shit they don’t have no cures for. And a lot of these girls is gonna try ’n get you to make a baby with them. You gotta practice safe sex, baby. Take all them precautions. You gotta make sure you wear a condom at all times, man. Don’t do nothin’ stupid. It can turn yo’ whole life around.”
Mitch “Blood” Green—one of the most profligately reckless people imaginable—was advising someone whose entire family history was predicated on the creative but prudent cultivation of Big American Success.
I was thinking about managing two kids who were trying to be pop stars. They didn’t have talent, but there was some chance they could be marketed. I asked Mitch what he thought of them.
“Nah, man. Only chance they got is if they use me in their videos. Get something off my fame. They ain’t gonna make it otherwise.”
They were two pampered white boys desperate to gain some street credential. Putting Mitch in one of their videos was actually a smart move. He wound up doing one of the most entirely unstaged and inexplicable things I’ve ever seen.
In the video the two guys were walking single file with Mitch ahead of them, all looking directly forward. The kid at the rear was wearing a cap. In an unrehearsed gesture he threw the cap over the head of the guy in the middle toward Mitch Green’s head. It didn’t make a sound. Blood, at the last possible moment and still facing forward and looking straight ahead, ducked his head slightly and caught the cap perfectly as it fell into place on the back of his skull.
I couldn’t believe my eyes.
“How did you do that, Mitch? How did you know Mike threw his cap toward your head?”
“I just know.”
“Any way I can interest you in fighting Mitch Green?”
“Mitch Green? He’s fighting again? Mitch Green is crazy. You putting any money into that guy?
“Yeah, I’m spending some money.”
“Man, don’t throw away your money on Mitch Green. Take it to Atlantic City and play the craps table. You’ll have a better chance of making it back.”
Here are a series of answering machine messages from or about Mitch Green. Make of them what you will.
Mitch Green: “Hey, Charl. Say they got me a fight. Atlantic City, Taj Mahal, main event. For a thousand dollars. Art Tucker. Ain’t that a bitch?”
Eric Winbush, former light heavyweight contender turned boxing trainer: “He says he’d like to work with me, but then he goes off into a tantrum. ‘I got a name, even on Def Comedy Jam. I’m gonna fight Mike Tyson.’ Charles, I’m just gonna say it; the boy’s head is fucked up.”
Mitch Green: “Charl, Davit don’t know how to talk to me. Don’t leave me in the cold like this.”
Mitch Green (calling about my sending money through Western Union): “Yo, Charl! Tomorrow. Make sure you put ‘Blood’ down, ’cause I got no ID. ‘Blood.’”
Mitch Green (about Western Union again): “Charl. Mitch Green. Wanna know if you did that.”
Pat Petronelli: “Charles, this is Pat Petronelli. I’ve got about 11:00 on Wednesday morning. I want you to know I talked to...I talked to Jerome. He’s gonna get back to you or me today. It’s all set—whatever we want, he’ll deliver. He knows what’s down. It’s a one-round fight.”
Jerome Peete: “Charles, this is Jerome. I was callin’ to talk to you about Mitch Green, and whatever.”
Mitch Green: “Yo, Charl. I need that fight, man. One of them fights. ’Cause I’m in shape.”
It turned out that Al Braverman was only right about the one thing: I was a bona fide imbecile. He was wrong that I wouldn’t be able to get Mitch into a boxing ring. I won our bet. I wish that I hadn’t. Blood lost his fight, and with it any remaining chance he had of making real money in boxing. The $40,000 I got from Al Braverman was the only money I ever made managing Mitch Green.
Ordinarily, I would have had Jerome Peete, the Memphis-based gun-toting part-time fighter and full-time fight fixer, bring up his crew of weight-lifting jacked-up Deep South jailbird set-ups to fill out the losers’ side of the card. I didn’t use Peete, probably for financial reasons. He provided reliable cheap labor, but there were travel issues and external costs involved, so Eric Bottjer—I don’t remember if he was working for the promoter of record or promoting the card himself although it was my money that bankrolled the show— a skilled matchmaker who understood what was required, picked the opponent.
Bottjer wasn’t in any way at fault in choosing Bruce Johnson. Bruce Johnson knew he wasn’t being brought in to win; he didn’t expect or even particularly want to. He found himself trapped in the once-in-a-lifetime predicament of facing a headliner who refused to throw punches and allowed Bruce to land his at will. The fight looked bizarre enough as it was; it would have looked incomprehensible if neither man had let his hands go.
It was a disastrous night that had followed a bad afternoon that had followed a lousy morning. Green knew it was the day of reckoning, so he tried to undermine its inevitability at every stage, starting at Logan Airport in Boston, where he got into a physical confrontation with my tiny corporation’s lawyer. The nearly 7-foot-tall Stanley Wright, Green’s sparring partner, placed himself between the two, and he and Green squared off in front of the D.C. shuttle passengers, airline personnel, and security staff. All of them—security included—were too petrified to interrupt the melodrama playing out close enough to them that an actual skirmish would have strayed outside the lines of our entourage’s personal space.
“I’m not going to let you touch this man,” Wright told Green.
“Stay out of this, Stanley,” Mitch responded. “I’ll knock you out.”
“You ain’t come close to knocking me out when we sparred, brother,” Wright answered. “I’m warning you not to try now.”
“I was playin’ with you when we sparred, dude. Now I knock you out for real.”
“Oh, really? Make your move, you little pussy.”
When you’re over 6-foot-11, you can call someone 6-foot-6 little, I guess. But I wasn’t sure it was prudent to call Mitch a pussy.
Circumstances bailed us all out. We were called to board the plane. I said to Wright and the lawyer, “Let’s go. We have a plane to catch.”
Wright said, “What about Mitch?”
Mitch said, “What about me?”
“Fuck him. We’ll leave him here.”
“How am I gonna get home?”
“That’s your problem.”
We were all moving toward the passenger line, Green less resolutely than the rest of us.
“At least give me a couple of dollars to take a cab.”
“You got your salary for the month. Use your own money.”
Mitch, without money or a way to get home, glumly followed us onto the plane.
I’m not a brave man, I’m not a big man, and I’m definitely not a tough man. It’s still bewildering to me that I somehow twice in one day almost got into fistfights with Mitch Green. More bewildering still; I instigated the first one.
We were driving on Route 495 in D.C. to a live sports call-in radio show to promote Blood’s fight with Johnson later that night. It was early afternoon, we were running late, and we were continuing the same argument that had started at Logan Airport earlier that morning.
The whole fight card was being promoted for Mitch’s benefit, and I was picking up the entire tab. He’d get his win but it’d cost me five or six thousand dollars for it. On top of that I’d agreed to pay Mitch three thousand for fighting. Mitch Green wasn’t the only one who was in a lousy mood.
There were also a lot of fucked-up things going on in my life at the time—things that dwarfed any concerns I had for boxing. I didn’t want to involve Mitch in those but wanted him to be aware of them—needed him to realize that he wasn’t the only thing on my mind. I was getting nowhere with that. And, in retrospect, I understand now that he was getting nowhere trying to make me mindful of this sense of being pushed into a fight he wasn’t emotionally ready to take.
We were in a small rental car. It was cramped and we were lost. The weather had taken a turn for the worse; a nasty storm that would kill the live gate was predicted for later in the day. Mitch was yelling in his big voice within the trapped confines of the front seat. I’m not someone who yells, but I was being as contentious as he. I finally hit the wall, pulling off the highway, and confronting him.
“Get out of the fucking car. We’re going to have this out right now.”
“What? You wanna fight me now? We gonna fight?”
“Yes, we’re going to fight.”
“What? You think you beat me, Charl?”
“No. I think I’ll lose in about two seconds. But we’re going to fight anyway.”
“Man, this comical. You think you beat me?”
“No. I don’t have a chance in the world.”
“This is comical, Charl. You can’t beat me. You got a gun or something? What you gonna do?
“I’m already looking for a rock or a branch or a car battery. Whatever I can get my hands on. Before you kill me, I’m going to see if I can at least break your leg. I paid for that motherfucker.”
I assumed that my saying that sealed my fate. In a way, it did. Mitch’s expression changed.
“Charl,” he said quietly, “you saved my leg.”
“And now I’m going to do everything I can to take it back.”
“That ain’t funny, Charl. You shouldn’t joke about that. It was a blessing that I didn’t lose my leg. You better not want to fight me, motherfucker. That comical. You better hug me, motherfucker.”
We made it to the radio show, where Blood handled things brilliantly. At one point the wiseass host facetiously asked, “Are you getting paid a lot for this fight, Mitch?”
I jumped in.
“It’s just to get Mitch re-acclimated to the ring. It’s not a money fight. He’s getting $15,000 for walking-around money.”
Green shot me a look, raising his eyebrows. He told the host, “It ain’t enough. I’m gonna do it, but that’s no kind of money for Mitch Green.”
I don’t think we fooled the radio show host, but he knew enough to let it slide.
I managed to get Mitch Green back to his hotel room, then took off to handle some nonsense unrelated to boxing.
Everything about the card in Woodbridge, Va., was worse than whatever doomsday scenario could have been concocted from the delirium nightmare.
There was a blizzard. A fucking blizzard in Virginia. No one in the D.C. area drives when there are two inches of snow on the ground. I doubt that 100 people showed up at the Total Sports Pavilion that night, and half of them seemed to be family members of Han Kim, who at least got a win for the money he had to pay out to get on the card.
In his dressing room before the fight, Bruce Johnson told me that he was afraid to fight Mitch “Blood” Green—that finally seeing him and understanding what he was about to walk into had made him reluctant to go through with things. It was nonsense; Johnson would fight anyone, anytime. Nevertheless, he extorted an additional $500 from me. I assumed that as a professional “opponent”—someone whose role it was to lose fights—Bruce Johnson understood that he wasn’t supposed to win. I further assumed that the 11th-hour bonus served as a kind of guarantee. I also didn’t think it would make any difference if he tried his hardest; Mitch Green was an entirely different universe of fighter. Still, I was remiss; only a novice manager leaves these things to chance. I should have told Bruce Johnson, “You want $500 more? Don’t let yourself get out of the second round.” I’d have gotten my money’s worth.
Mitch Green turned in the non-performance of a lifetime. It was similar to Oliver McCall’s rematch meltdown against Lennox Lewis, where he stood crying, with his hands at his sides, and allowed Lewis to land whatever punches he wanted. Mitch didn’t cry. He looked off into the upper reaches of the small arena, a detached look on his face, seemingly entirely removed from everything taking place around him—removed from proceedings for which he was supposed to be the triumphal center of attention.
The torture went on for three endless rounds, during which the unsettled referee would occasionally importune Green to start throwing punches. The paltry crowd booed from the second minute of the fight through that moment in the third round when the referee disgustedly stopped trying to implore Mitch to fight and called off the debacle. Actually, people continued to boo for a few minutes after the official result was announced, adding derisive laughter into the mix.
I’d seldom been angrier with anyone than I was with Green. His career was over. I’d wasted 18 months on it and on him. I’d spent $80,000 Even the Braverman bet didn’t offset the losses. And Green hadn’t even raised his fucking hands to fight.
In the lobby of the hotel after the fight, Mitch approached me. He was distraught, but I wouldn’t talk to him. I wouldn’t even look at him, I was so angry. I told Pat and Tony Petronelli as well as the other fighters on the card to keep Mitch Green the hell away from me. The more I snubbed him, the more aggressive he got, trying to place himself directly in front of me.
Finally, he crossed the line. “Goddamn it, Charl. You better talk to me.”
“Or what? Everybody knows you can’t punch.”
“You’ll see how hard I punch if you don’t talk to me.”
“I’m afraid of a lot of people, man. But I’ll never be afraid of a punk like you.”
At this point we were standing nose to chest, no more than a couple of inches apart. I figured we were going to fight, and I didn’t actually care. I wasn’t deluded. I understood that I’d last no time in a fight with Mitch Green. But I also knew that the fight would be broken up within seconds by guys capable of successfully intervening.
As improbable as it seems, some small part of me stayed removed from my own anger—the part that realized the right business move was to not back down. How I behaved now would influence how I was regarded in boxing circles. Stories about this night would filter through the boxing world. Getting beaten up by Mitch Green would be no embarrassment; letting him fuck me out of a lot of money, then slinking away, would.
I was looking around for a heavy lamp to try to smash into his leg when the police arrived. My anger-to-common-sense ratio had been adjusting minute by minute from the time Mitch and I had gotten into our thing, so the intervention of the cops was propitiously timed. There were four of them. It was clear that they were jittery, but they knew what to say and do. They had Mitch and me stand away from each other and explained that if we didn’t break it up immediately they’d be taking us to precinct headquarters. They then herded us on our separate ways, making it clear that we weren’t to come back to the lobby until the next morning, and then only to check out.
I got a phone call from Sandy Dowe at her hair-and-nail salon just off the Strip in Vegas. Sandy was one of Mitch’s longtime girlfriends.
“He wants to talk to you, but he knows you’re angry at him. He’s sorry for what happened. Charles, please talk to him.”
It was one of those times when I had to think about whether I was genuinely angry or had stopped being angry but hadn’t allowed myself to recognize it. In boxing, you can get into the habit of seeming to be angry, which isn’t quite the same as real anger. Boxing anger is a kind of business lie that you tell yourself in order to maintain an edge. For something as fundamentally true as boxing, there was a tremendous amount of bullshit involved.
“Okay, Sandy. Put him on.”
The was a short pause.
“Charl? That you, man? You gonna talk to me?”
“Yeah, man. I’m going to talk to you. But you cost me a lot of money.”
“Aw, man. This ain’t a money thing. It a friendship thing. I kept tellin’ you I wasn’t ready to get back in the ring. You was pushin’ and pushin’ me.”
“You didn’t throw one fucking punch, man. You don’t think I put you in with someone I knew you could beat?”
“I know, man. I know. I fucked up. I was pissed off that you made me fight before I was ready. You fucked up too. I said I was wrong, you said you was wrong. Can’t we just patch up this nonsense?”
I didn’t remember having said I was wrong.
But Mitch had a point; it was time to put this behind us.
“Okay, let’s patch it up. We had some good times together. I miss hanging out with you.”
There was silence on the other end of the line. Some time passed.
“Oh, man. I’m sittin’ in the middle of The Personal Touch, cryin’ my eyes out.”
It got thrown away accidentally when I had the contents of my basement cleared out a couple of years ago, but I once had the hundreds of pages contained in the original depositions of both fighters stemming from Mitch Green’s lawsuit against Mike Tyson. In it Tyson says, “Mr. Green is a very large man, and I was afraid of him. I hadn’t been in a fight in a long time.” I wonder what this item would have been worth on memorabilia market.
I’d come up with a way where Mitch Green might be able to fight Tyson as Mike’s first opponent after leaving prison. Later there were all kinds of plots afoot to maneuver various fighters into that prized spot, some of them farfetched, a couple of which I was party to. There was even some talk in the King camp about having Peter McNeeley beat Oliver McCall in order for Tyson to win the heavyweight title in his first fight back. The McCall-McNeeley title bout was actually officially announced at a lavish event at 30 Rock, but ultimately was rejected for a number of reasons.
I knew that Tyson’s people and Don King didn’t think that Mitch Green could beat even the diminished version of Tyson who’d be getting out of prison. And that was the selling point that I used to pitch him to Al Braverman, who almost hung up on me when I suggested it.
“Just hear me out, Al. What I’ve got to say will take one minute. You’ve spent a lot more time than that listening to my nonsense.”
“Sometimes it seems I spend half my life listening to bullshit. I can get through another minute. What ya got for me?”
I laid it out. Green had lost conclusively to Tyson the first time they fought but had gone the distance without being off his feet. He wasn’t the least credible guy they could find. The street fight between the two of them had been a major news item and people would remember it. There was still bad blood between the two, and Green was a great talker who would stir that up if they were signed to fight. But the crux of the pitch was that Braverman could get Green into the Indiana Youth Center where Tyson was serving his prison term. Get Green in to see Tyson and the rest would take care of itself.
“Get Green in to see Tyson? See him about what?”
“That’s what all the papers will be asking when they go with Green to Indiana. What could this guy possibly say to Tyson?”
“Okay, I’ll bite. What could that maniac possibly say to Mike?”
“He doesn’t say anything. He just sucker punches him. One clean shot before they’re separated. The moment he does that, Tyson-Green becomes only fight that people will want to see.”
“You know, it’s not that crazy. I kind of like it. I can run it by Don. I’m not saying he’s going to go for it, but let me make the call. Sit tight. I’ll get back to you.”
I then made a foolish mistake—a beginner’s mistake. I told Mitch Green the plan. It provoked a dishearteningly familiar conversation.
“It ain’t gonna happen, Charl. The boy is scared to death of me. He ain’t never gonna see me. He’s a little homo. And I ain’t got nothin’ to say to him.”
“You don’t have to say anything to him. Once you’re in, just hit him.”
“You crazy. Trust me, Charl. Nobody gonna let me get 50 feet from him. Don King don’t want me near the boy.”
“Leave that to Al.”
“How much I get?”
“A million dollars. Something like that.”
“How much he get?”
“I don’t know.”
“More than me?”
“Mitch, what’s the difference? You’ll get a million dollars.”
“Hell, no. I ain’t doin’ nothing to build that boy’s name up.”
“You know, man, fuck him. It’s your name we’re concerned about. Just knock him out, and everything turns around.”
“He’s a little sissy. He a homo. Michelle Cicely Tyson.”
“So fight him. You’ll be able to tell the world. Knock him out. In the rematch, you’ll make a fortune.”
“I ain’t doin’ nothing to promote him.”
All he’d been talking about for years was fighting Mike Tyson again, but when the time came there was nothing I could do to get him to take the steps that would secure the fight.
When I got back to Al Braverman to let him know that it was a no-go, he said, “I’m just glad I didn’t go to Don with this yet. I’d have been the one who looked like a fuckin’ lunatic.”
How good a fighter was Mitch Green really? He carried a major street reputation and he had a tough-guy persona. But could he actually fight? He took on two world champions but lost to both, although neither had him down or in any trouble. Still, no one but Mitch himself made a case for his winning either fight.
At the Petronelli Gym where Mitch trained, I never saw him spar with anyone who could push him. The most dangerous fighter among the gym’s heavyweights was Josh Imardiyi, a short, muscular Nigerian with stunning punching power. Josh was both physically and stylistically reminiscent of Mike Tyson and punched just as hard and almost as fast. The problem was that Josh only knew one way to fight: whether in a sanctioned bout or a sparring session, Imardiyi went to war. For every reason imaginable, it made sense to keep Mitch Green and Josh Imardiyi away from each other.
We could have traveled a few miles to the Somerville Boxing Club to have Mitch work with the quickly developing John Ruiz, who was just starting to grow out of the cruiserweight division and would later hold versions of the heavyweight title twice. I was friendly with Ruiz’s manager, Norman Stone; Stoney would have jumped at the chance to have his fighter work with an established heavyweight. But Green never shared the ring with John Ruiz, although it would have been good for both fighters.
Blood wound up schooling the pacific giant Stanley Wright instead. Their four-round sparring do-si-dos were languid and good-natured affairs with Wright calmly pursuing Green around the ring while being routinely pasted in the face by Mitch’s truly world-class jab while being patiently reminded every few seconds to “keep your hands up, Stanley.” The days would pass tranquilly for fighters, trainers, and hangers-on alike at the Petronelli Gym, everyone enjoying the breeze that came through the enormous second floor windows. It was a nice way to spend an afternoon.
It wasn’t the best way for a veteran fighter to shed ring rust and sharpen himself up for a run at some million-dollar fights, though.
It’s likely that Mitch Green’s commitment to being “Blood” precluded his becoming anywhere near the fighter he might have been. His need to maintain his image as being hurt-proof required that he never place himself in a position where he might have to test his mettle. Even when confronted with the best possible Mike Tyson—and it’s inarguable that Tyson was at his peak just prior to winning the heavyweight title—Mitch got through the 10 rounds without ever being forced to engage. He was good enough to go the distance without being dropped—Tyson’s first opponent to have managed it—and good enough to make it look like he wasn’t trying. He wasn’t good enough to win while doing those things.
In the gym or on those occasions in an actual fight when he was firing on all cylinders Mitch could be a formidable heavyweight. He was blessed with overwhelming physical gifts to go along with his size and reach. He had a perfect heavyweight body—not too bunched up with useless upper-body muscle but with big calves and thighs that’d jet him around the ring with the speed of a lightweight. He’d mastered a left jab that he’d learned first from watching Muhammad Ali and later sparring with Larry Holmes. And he had a chin that was unfailingly reliable; he was never off his feet as a pro.
Other than Mike Tyson and Trevor Berbick, Mitch Green faced no really threatening opponents during his career. As a member of Don King’s stable of dazzlingly talented indentured prizefighters, however, he did spar extensively with the cream of the 1980s heavyweight crop, among them Greg Page, Tony Tucker, Tony Tubbs, David Bey, Bonecrusher Smith, Jeff Merritt, Pinklon Thomas, Michael Dokes, and Renaldo Snipes.
The bottom line for keeping this kind of fistic company is that you really have to be able to fight. At this level, you don’t bluff your way into the picture. Don King’s scouts are among the best in the world; they bring DKP the iron. If you can’t hold up, you never get past the first day of camp.
Mitch Green might have been regarded as crazy by his colleagues, but not one of them felt he hadn’t earned his place into their midst. The world may not have gotten to see it as often as it should have, but Mitch “Blood” Green could fight his ass off when he felt like it. Far less accomplished fighters have won versions of the heavyweight title. It took a mystifying concatenation of fuckups by everyone involved—especially Mitch himself—to have somehow kept a championship from his grasp.
Through both conscious and unconscious choices of my own, I’ve always found myself involved in businesses that encouraged and rewarded various forms of paternalism and exploitation. When I was a kid, leading bands brought me into a role of authority. After that I then lived outside of the law for a long time, and what I did there often required exploitative behavior. Later, after turning legit, being a landlord did the same; I was shocked by how quickly people who had seemed like adults at the time they signed their leases regress to a petulant adolescence once they’d settled into an apartment.
In music and real estate, it is generally understood that it’s bad for all parties to fall into a parent-child dynamic, even though it often happens. In crime the calibration is a little harder to configure since you have to exert various types of pressure, but ultimately things work best when everyone behaves like a grownup.
In boxing, paternalism is encouraged, often even on the part of the boxers themselves. At some level, most fighters know that relinquishing authority is going to cost them, but they do it in exchange for being “allowed to focus on boxing” and occasionally as a means of exoneration from irresponsible behavior. The more successfully boxers can be relegated to the role of children, the easier it is to control everything that takes place around them.
Boxing contracts, both promotional and managerial, tend to be slipshod documents that would often be unenforceable if fighters had the legal muscle to challenge them. What I had drawn up for Mitch Green wasn’t a standard boxing contract. It was a personal services contract put together by a lawyer who had been part of the legal staff at Fox TV, identical in most ways to those that a film, television, or music performer might have.
Technically, Mitch Green was managed by the Farrell-Shall Corporation, a two-man limited partnership of which I was president. His contract was 22 pages long; incomprehensible even to me. Mitch could read and write—two of the champions I’ve managed could not—but surely would not have been able to navigate his way through the extensive legalese that he signed. The contract automatically renewed every three years unless Mitch jumped through a lot of legal hoops to extricate himself. All checks for any money he earned in boxing, exhibitions, films, television, endorsements, personal appearances, autograph signings, or any other profitable ventures would be written out to me, and I had the power to cash his checks too. Mitch Green couldn’t earn a dollar doing anything that I wouldn’t get the first 34 cents of. Whatever money I advanced came back to me with interest directly out of his purses and fees before he collected anything from them. I had Power of Attorney too—and not just for boxing matters. Plus, I could pick his opponents.
Mitch was breezily offered the chance to have his own attorney present at the contract signing, being made to understand that he’d have to both find and pay for the lawyer himself. Since I came armed with a “signing bonus” that would be handed to him the moment his name was on the contract, Mitch chose to rely on the off-the-record advice of my lawyer—the person who was the treasurer of our two-man corporation.
It seems morally and ethically unconscionable, doesn’t it? The thing is, you talk yourself into believing that this shit is all right. You make up a story where, unlike every other manager, you’re going to be equitable, even charitable—already a problematically colonialist word—with your fighter. Shortly after the contract has been signed and you have been paying the fighter a salary or footing all his bills, you convince yourself that the unilateral nature of the contract has a kind of moral justification, since the money to that point is only moving in one direction.
In time, you stop trying to see the fighter’s point of view. Your heart calcifies. Fighters often bitch that “I’m the one taking the punches.” Instead of thinking about that, your response is, “That’s what you get paid to do, motherfucker.” But those punches have another life after boxing; they visit you again years later, and this time they don’t go away.
I was done with the Mitch Green piece. Because it also served as the last essay in a boxing book I was writing—Stubborn Kind of Fellow—it also completed that project. I felt relieved to have finally wrapped up what had been a lot of work. But I’d promised Deadspin that I would try to find Mitch Green’s bloody bullet-holed sneaker. I had no luck, but while searching around I dug up the VHS tape of Mitch signing his contract. I hadn’t seen it in 25 years. Watching it forced me to confront some things about myself that I don’t like.
The poorly made video is a paltry and unseemly thing. Mitch Green is sitting on a couch in the videographer’s cheap apartment, still recovering from his leg operation. He’s surrounded by embarrassingly self-absorbed, insecure white kids and a stiff lawyer gamely feigning a bluff bonhomie who with my blessing is audibly and visibly trying to flimflam him.
There I am at 40 years old, trying to stay off-camera as much as possible—barely in the frame at all. In hindsight, I can see what I was doing. I recognize that I’m sizing up the white kids as clownish and easily cajoled children who can be maneuvered onto a suckers’ pop music market and, once successful there, robbed. I understand that I regard the lawyer as the necessary instrument to implement a unilateral contractual agreement—someone who can be dispensed with once his part of the transaction has been completed.
I’m not sure if it would be obvious to an impartial viewer the kind of contempt I felt for everyone but Green, but it’s clear to me. And my feelings even toward Mitch are predatory.
The important thing is that my whole purpose for being in the midst of what looks like a goodtime gathering of posturing buffoons is to flatter and then victimize all of them. Of the entire bunch, myself included, only Mitch “Blood” Green doesn’t look like an imbecile. But he definitely looks like a sucker even as he plays a game he has played innumerable times before, one where he believes he’s roping in a rich bankroller.
I wish I hadn’t found the tape.
I thought seriously about whether I wanted to get back in touch with Mitch Green for this piece. It could still happen: The New York-based filmmakers Mike Martinez, Tyler Wray, and Max Henderson, a talented crew who want to make a documentary about Mitch, have discussed filming a conversation between us that covers each of the segments of this essay. Blood might remember things differently than I do.
Mitch has recently begun following me on social media. I ask around about him a little bit and hear that he’s okay. But I know that, given the palimpsest that has for ages defined the relationship between boxers and managers, it would be very difficult for Mitch Green or me to be friends once removed from the boxing business. The boxer-manager paradigm is reciprocal but unequal. Ultimately it encourages a relationship that is both stupid and unfair. The manager is the adult—the father—so the fighter is relegated to being the child. The decades go by, but that model doesn’t change. That the boxer or manager might be long retired barely factors in; we fall back into the long-established patterns.
We would be working within an obsolete barter system: Mitch trading off on his marketability as a fighter for whatever I’d be willing to pay him in the hopes that he’d actually get in the ring. But he’s got nothing to trade; I have nothing to give.
We’re two old men now. We may not always feel it, and we may sometimes not admit it, but it’s the truth. I’m 66; Mitch is 61. We’re past the point where either of us could make any money together. Past the point that it’s plausible to try to set up an eight two-minute round “grudge” match between Mitch “Blood” Green and Mike Tyson—a novelty exhibition that might make the old rivals a couple of million dollars from those looking for a cheap laugh. These stray ideas for hustles—the “what ifs” that used to pop into my head—were propositions unlikely to happen during the best of times. And the ideas are fading—fading into Bolivian, to borrow a famous quote. I think I can say they’re gone now.
But if you’re reading this, Mike, get in touch.
For Al Braverman with undying love and gratitude.