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Rest In Peace, Mitchell Rose

Robert Mladinich

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Although heavyweight Mitchell Rose of Brooklyn, New York, compiled an unenviable career record of 2-11-1 (2 KOs) between 1991 and 2006, most observers will agree that he had the potential to be a lot better than his record indicated. His career highlights included a stoppage win over the highly touted attraction Butterbean at Madison Square Garden and a decent showing against Mike Tyson in a late night brawl outside of a Brooklyn nightspot. He passed away on February 12 at the age of 51.  

“My heart is in a million pieces,” his wife wrote on Facebook. “This is Mitch aka “Big Un” wife trying to type on his phone. He passed away this morning. I will post when I make arrangements. We are devastated.” 

The likeable Mitchell Rose was a tried and true New Yorker. As loud and funny as he was, he never seemed to take himself too seriously. He had a big heart, a lot of dreams, and an emotional honesty that was extremely refreshing.  

Back in 2005, at the age of 36, he was pondering a comeback. Considering the fact that he had last fought in December 1998 and left the game with only two wins in 12 bouts, I asked him what he was coming back to. He had recently sold one business, a liquor store, at a considerable profit, and was running a lucrative auto body business in his native borough.

Rose hustled hard. This image is from 2009, when he was selling Barack Obama sneakers.

“I’ve already lost 20 pounds and still have a ways to go,” boasted 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.”

Rose was the first man to beat Butterbean (then 14-0), pummeling the overeating bald man into submission in two rounds on the undercard of Oscar De La Hoya vs. “Jesse” 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 Mitchell Rose, who was 1-6-1 coming in. “It’s been almost 10 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 laughed at the way things unfolded. He conceded, 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 and 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 described in a number of ways, all of which were interpreted to mean women of questionable character. 

What Mitchell 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 grappled with him.

“I wasn’t in a boxing state of mind and he was very, very strong,” recounted Rose, who aimed a lawsuit at Tyson, before he tried to sue Jay-Z. “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.”

Mitch no doubt had some decent pugilism skills, and ample heart, which showed when he grappled with Mike Tyson.

Having lost to such notables as Gerald Nobles and Monte Barrett, Rose’s boxing career might have been a bust, but he had been successful on other fronts. Because he was such a character, it was 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 Mitchell Rose was nobody’s fool and his honesty and insight on a host of other subjects proved that. He described 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 be 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.

Rose scuffled to raise revenue but he sure did succeed at leaving a legacy. Here, he’s working on pushing his book, “Mike Tyson Tried To Kill My Daddy,” and poses with raconteur Bert Sugar.

“For some reason I didn’t believe in my ability when I was younger,” said Mitchell 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.

Mitchell Rose published a 2008 book called “Mike Tyson Tried to Kill My Daddy,”  which he sold at press conferences and local boxing events. It is still available on Amazon. He had hoped to write a more serious book detailing not only his ring exploits, but more importantly imparting to youngsters the lessons that he learned the hard way. Rose was always refreshingly candid about what landed him in jail, freely admitted  that he deserved to be there, and proudly proclaimed that he was actually rehabilitated by his incarceration.

Later projects included a poignant 2015 rap video called “Christmas in the Projects. 

“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.”

Funeral arrangements will be announced as soon as they are available.

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