TAMPA - It isn't easy to put this into words. Maybe you have to have been in the ring to really understand. Then again, maybe you don't.
When a seasoned fighter gets in trouble, something happens inside him, some unseen alarm goes off, and he digs in and fights his way out. Sometimes he backs up and tries a new strategy. Sometimes he becomes enraged.
And sometimes, a fighter's mind tells him that maybe this just isn't his night. That getting pounded in the face and the ribs is pointless - that it's not worth the silver belt and pile of money they'll hand you if you win.
Fighters wage a constant battle to suppress that second thought, and most of the time, they succeed.
Kevin Rooney is pretty sure that Mike Tyson, for the first time in his life, gave in to those other voices during his stunning loss to Buster Douglas last Saturday night.
"Part of him wanted to fight," said Rooney, Tyson's former trainer. "But another part of him wanted to get knocked out. These two parts were fighting each other. One was saying, 'Quit. Go down.' The other was saying, 'No.' "Every fighter wants to get away from pressure, and the only way to do that is eitherto quit or get knocked out. Some fighters quit.
Real fighters don't. If they lose, they just happen to be in the ring with a better guy."
Was Buster Douglas the better guy?
"He just wanted to fight more than Mike," Rooney answered. "Mike wasn't in with a better guy.
"Mike knows how to get away from punches, and he was getting hit with everything - lead right hands, jabs. On your worst day, when you've got competitive fire, you're going to do things intuitively.
But when you don't want to fight, you don't want to get away from punches.
"You look to get hit."
Kevin Rooney is an intense little man who speaks with a high-pitched New York accent that begins at a shout and quickly accelerates to something just below a scream. He's 33. He looks 43 - the price of being around the fight game most of his life.
Rooney was Tyson's trainer for seven years - until he was dismissed after the Michael Spinks fight in June 1988. Since then he's had a ringside seat at the decline of Mike Tyson.
Tyson had problems with Frank Bruno, he got lucky against Carl Williams, and Saturday night he was humiliated by Douglas. Rooney said if he had been in Tyson's corner he would've threatened to stop the fight after two or three rounds.
"I woulda been all over him," Rooney said. "I wouldn't have been whispering in his ear and blowing up a balloon and putting it on his eye! They didn't know what they were doing!
"Mike lost every round of that fight. He lost every minute of that fight. I'll go one better. He lost every 30 seconds of that fight. It happened because Douglas had a Mike Tyson who didn't want to fight, who let him take liberties with him, who allowed Douglas to get braver and braver as the fight went on. That's what happened.
"And now," Rooney added, "that fear of Mike is gone.
Rooney said he wants to help Tyson put some of it back. "His past was pretty damn good," he said. "Once he stepped away from his past is when he had all his problems. And his future don't look too good neither."
But he hasn't spoken to Tyson in more than a year. And he knows how Tyson feels about him.
"I heard Mike made a joke about me," he said. "Somebody said, 'Kevin said to come home.' And Mike said, 'Well, I go home every night.' " One reason Tyson may not be anxious to call is the $10-million
breach-of-contract suit Rooney filed against Tyson. Rooney says that when Cus D'Amato, the man who discovered Tyson and taught him to box, was hospitalized and near death, he made it clear that Rooney was to take over as Tyson's trainer. "I never spoke about this before," Rooney said, "but Cus knew he wasn't going to make it, so he laid it all out. I was to be Mike's trainer."
D'Amato died, and when co-manager Jimmy Jacobs also died a short time later, Rooney and co-manager Bill Cayton were alone. Enter Robin Givens and Don King. Exit Rooney and Cayton.
"It's all money and ego," he said. "The Kings, the Trumps, none of those guys care about Mike Tyson. Am I stupid or foolish? I still care about the guy, and no one's done me more wrong than Mike.
"But that's okay," he added. "They can make it tough for me until the day comes - and that day will come - when I get a real fighter.
"Until then, what are you gonna do?"
He answered his own question with a shrug.
"I walk the walk," he said.
"Know what I'm sayin'?"