2006 Photo Via
July 1998, Page 12
Eighteen-year-old Mike Oliver of Hartford trained hard since he could walk for the moment in February when he was named best amateur boxer in New England.
His opponent in the parochial and political arena of Golden Gloves boxing in Lowell, Mass., Bobby Jaynes, had been New England champion for six years. From the opening bell, Oliver used his speed and power to score with blistering right jabs and strong left uppercuts. Jaynes, the local favorite at the 112-pound limit, couldn’t withstand the onslaught. Oliver went home with the huge silver trophy naming him outstanding boxer of the tournament.
“To take that trophy out of Lowell you’ve practically got to have a machine gun for protection,” says Oliver’s trainer and manager, Johnny Duke, a fixture of Hartford’s boxing scene for 55 years. According to Duke, the trophy, now displayed in Hartford’s San Juan Center, has left Lowell perhaps six times in 40 years.
The boxing ring might be the most civilized, and certainly the most fair environment Mike Oliver has ever known. Boxing since age two – when his feet dangled off the little stool inside the ring – he has worked his way into a life of self-discipline and respect for others. With little adult supervision, he spent his kindergarten days alone, and was often on the streets till 9 or 10 at night. “He could handle himself, he would cuss people out – he was not afraid of nobody,” Duke says.
Later, Oliver lived in an apartment with 30 people in Hartford’s tough Bellevue Square neighborhood, where he was ambushed once with a hammer to the back of the head. He had to zealously guard the cereal Duke bought for him.
“When Mike was growing up,” recalls light heavyweight pro John “Iceman” Scully of Hartford, “I used to say to myself, ‘That kid, when he’s 15, 16, he’ll be in jail for sure.’ I really thought that was the way he was heading. He was rough with girls, he used to steal – he was just a rough kid beyond his years.
“Boxing save his life,” Scully says. “I have no doubt whatsoever about that.”
In August, Oliver, who now lives with his grandmother, will travel with Scully to the prestigious Ohio State Fair tournament, a stepping –stone for fighters like Sugar Ray Leonard, Mike Tyson and Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns. His dream is to be a contender at the 2000 Olympics in Australia.
Oliver admits responsibility for his early troubles but says he has taken charge of his life. His world is the gym – three hours a day, seven days a week. “I’m into this game,” he says, in short staccato bursts while pounding the bag at the San Juan Center. “I used to fight with people if they started pushing me around, but now I just walk away like nothing happened. I’m different now – I used to be stupid and crazy. I would do anything. Now I know what’s right and wrong. This gives me the strength to walk away from anything.”
-- Andy Thibault
Cool Justice Editor’s Note: Mike Mike Oliver did not make it to Australia, but he is a successful professional boxer, trained by Iceman Scully and Sammy Vega, a seven-time amateur national champion now working as a paralegal.