The Pepper Bough

Remembering Cus D’Amato 32 years later

Erick Inzunza, Reporter

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“I’m not a creator. What I do is discover and uncover. See my job is to take the spark and fan it. When it starts to become a little flame I feed it, and I feed the fire until it becomes a roaring blaze, and then when it turns to a roaring blaze I pour used logs on it. Then you really got a fire going.”

Cus D’Amato was born to an Italian family in the Fordham section of the Bronx, on January 17, 1908. His father would deliver coal and ice, using a wagon and a horse. At a young age, Cus D’Amato became really involved with the Catholic church and was sometimes thought to become a priest. Instead, Cus D’Amato began to box in the flyweight and lightweight division, even starting his amateur career, until he sustained an eye injury in a street fight, which stopped him from boxing.

In 1933, he opened the Empire Sporting Club at the Gramercy Gym. He lived in the gym for years, discovering great fighters with true potential, who would leave him and fall victims to “connected” managers, like middleweight champion of the world, Rocky Graziano.

In 1952, Cus D’Amato began training Floyd Patterson, who won a gold medal in middleweight, at the 1952 Helsinki Games. He maneuvered Patterson to fight Tommy “Hurricane” Jackson, which he won. Then went on to fight Archie Moore in November of 1956, winning the World Heavyweight Championship. Patterson left the tutelage of Cus D’Amato after his second consecutive knockout loss against Sonny Liston. Cus D’Amato then trained Jose Torres, who won the light heavyweight championship of the world, being the first Latin American to win the light heavyweight championship of the world.

After both Patterson and Torres left Cus D’Amato, he moved to Catskill, New York, and opened another boxing gym, which attracted Michael Gerald Tyson, also known as “Iron” Mike Tyson, who came out of a nearby reform school. He soon adopted Tyson after his mother died and began to mentor Tyson, encouraging him to use the rarely used boxing stance, known as the “peek-a-boo” stance. The fighter will press their fist against their cheeks, with their elbows tucked up against their body. Tyson would soon learn a lot from Cus D’Amato, who guided him to the Junior Olympics, knocking out every opponent in the first round, breaking every record.

Cus D’Amato died of pneumonia in November of 1985. He was 77 years old. 16 months after his death, Tyson became the youngest heavyweight champion of the world, at age 20, knocking out Trevor Berbick in the 2nd round.

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Remembering Cus D’Amato 32 years later