As an amateur, Rossman threw enough punches to win 20 of 23 fights. One of the losses came in his final amateur bout.
"I fought this guy in his hometown," Rossman says. "I knocked him down in the first. I knocked him down in the second round. When the fight was over they raised his hand and gave me a loser's trophy. I figured to heck with this. If they're going to steal decisions from me, I might as well get paid for it."
On Aug. 10, 1973, just 40 days after his 17th birthday, with a forged birth certificate and a powerful right hand, Rossman knocked out one Stan Dawson in the second round. He made $90. That same year he stiffened six more opponents.
"And my head blew up about three times its normal size," he says.
A problem of another sort was created by Carmen Graziano, Rossman's first trainer. He styled the fighter to be a counterpuncher. It was like asking Patton to use his tanks to transport wounded. Instead of attacking, Rossman fought from ambush. He won fights—and lost fans. As a boxer he was boring. After each fight the crowd would awaken just in time to boo.
Appreciated or not, Rossman won his first 13 pro bouts, nine of them almost accidentally by knockout. After a draw with Nate Dixon in Philadelphia he won his next eight. Then his career began to curdle. He lost his enthusiasm for training—and he lost three and drew one of his next eight fights. Things were coming to an ugly head between DePiano and Graziano. They spoke to each other mostly in four-letter screams.
Just before Rossman fought Tony Licata of New Orleans in New Orleans in June of 1976, Graziano had a heart attack and retired. DePiano said it was just as well; he was going to fire his old friend anyway. "Carmen was a good trainer," DePiano says, "but not for Mike Rossman. He leaned more toward the boxer. Mike would win fights, but he wasn't winning the way he should. Or the way fans want to see fighters win. The fans want action. Lots of fighters used to bull Mike around. He wasn't aggressive enough. Sometimes, just winning isn't enough."
Temporarily without a trainer, Rossman took matters into his own hands. With only his father and his brother Andy in his corner, he lost to Licata. He sees it as one of the turning points of his career.
"It was the first time I had fought without a trainer in my corner to talk to me between rounds," Rossman says. "I didn't really know what to do. So I decided to just go out and bang with the guy. It was the first time I didn't lay back in a fight, and I loved it."
By most accounts, Rossman won the fight, but he lost the decision to three Louisiana judges. "I knew in my own mind that I won," Rossman said. "And I liked the way I'd fought. I'm a banger, and I should be in there banging people, not pussyfooting around."