Thursday, December 19, 2013

Q&A: Dr. Scott Weiss on Cus D'Amato Part II

Saturday Night Boxing recently spoke with Dr. Scott Weiss, the co-author of the book ”Confusing the Enemy: The Cus D'Amato Story" (Acanthus Publishing, 2013). Weiss, a physical therapist and athletic trainer for the United States Olympic Team, has written (along with Paige Stover) the most comprehensive volume to date on one of boxing's most fascinating and enigmatic trainers. Using his experience as a martial artist and former amateur boxer, Weiss delves into the technical, psychological and personal characteristics that helped D'Amato, with his peek-a-boo ring style, shape champions such as Mike Tyson, Floyd Patterson and Jose Torres. 

Click Here to Read Part I of the Interview. 

Part II of the Q&A covers the rise of Mike Tyson, Teddy Atlas, Jose Torres and Cus D'Amato's legacy in the sport.
Interview by Adam Abramowitz:
(This interview has been condensed.)

Jose Torres is probably the least known of the three main champions that Cus had but he was a wonderful fighter in his own right. What can you tell us about Torres and Cus D’Amato?
Cus got him so young. He fielded him from Puerto Rico. He sent him telegrams to try and get him to come out of Puerto Rico and visit. Actually, the original telegram was sent accidentally to the famous Puerto Rican baseball player, Jose Torres. Finally, the telegram gets to Jose and his father lets him go. They came to visit Cus and like I said earlier Cus was just very charismatic. He would win families over. He said I’ll take care of your boy.  He got him at just a young enough age that he didn’t have to peel that many layers back. He was able to really instill the seed or the nucleus and Jose was able to grow.
One thing about Cus was his relatively small size and stature and yet he was a very intimidating presence. How do you account for that?
I would say that when you really know something that well, you speak about it with a confidence, a direct focus and a positive regard. And for Cus, boxing was his whole life. It was his whole being. As I said before, it wasn’t his vocation; it was his life. When something is your life, you just speak it. The lexicon is just there. And I think he dominated or overpowered people with his spirit and knowledge of the science of boxing.
What would Cus say would be his perfect performance or moment in the ring? Was there one fight that gave him the most pleasure out of all his victories in the ring?
He commented a lot about certain fights of Floyd’s [Patterson] and Jose’s. The exact one fight is not coming to mind but what he would want is a fighter to be hit minimally and be able to within the first three rounds totally annihilate and dominate the other fighter without ever struggling.

If the psychology of what he taught you worked and your dominance and spirit is in check and you are really ready physically for the fight, you won’t need anything more than those things for the first three rounds, unless the other fighter’s will and strength is better than yours. Then Cus would say, “You’re going to be here all night, my friend.” After the third round, Cus realized that’s when things change.
There was a great era of trainers in the ‘60s and ‘70s. You had major figures such as Angelo Dundee and Eddie Futch. What were his relationships like with these trainers?
They did respect him, Adam. They respected Cus but he was always an outcast for some reason. He was always the weird guy on Fourteenth Street close to Pete’s Tavern who was just different. The gym was different. If a fighter got good at his place, they couldn’t become the best at his place. They would have to then go to Stillman’s. That’s why he would have to pass Floyd off to [Dan] Florio. He wasn’t allowed to hold his fighters’ hand the whole way. So that was a really big limitation.
How did Cus perceive some of the other trainers of the era?
He liked pieces of their styles. He liked the way that Charlie Goldman talked to his fighters. He liked the way Ray Arcel worked the corner, like the Florio brothers did…Al Gavin and Bob Jackson, he thought that they were some of the youngest, greatest guys out there, especially Al. He loved Al – the way he worked cuts and things like that. So, he got along with them but some of his colleagues and peers just thought of him as an outcast.
There was a fairly long gap between Jose Torres’ career and Cus’ reemergence with Mike Tyson. Cus would leave New York City and go to Catskill, New York. How would you characterize his time in Catskill? He did open a gym there but he wasn’t the active trainer he was earlier in terms of having big-time fighters. What was his life like in that era, in the early and mid ‘70s?
Things were changing a lot in those times. You know, people always ask me if Cus was getting run out of Manhattan. He wasn’t getting run out, but it was more like pushed out. He was an old man by then. He had no more cards in his hand. He didn’t have a champion, and that was really hard and frustrating. He started to look to settle down. Jimmy said, “Go find a wife. I’m thinking about doing the same thing.” They wanted to relax and throw things back so to speak.
Cus’ family lived in the Catskill area. He used to always go out there for vacations. And all of his bass fishing was out there. My parents used to go to the Concorde and the Raleigh and those places. It seemed like Cus and those guys opened those places up. They would have demonstrations there and boxing training camps there. That’s really what happened in those days.
Mike Tyson gets brought to Cus, who is immediately enamored with him. That part of the story is well known. One aspect that I think is interesting is Cus’ relationship with his acolytes – Teddy Atlas and Kevin Rooney. There was the famous story with Atlas pulling the gun on Tyson and Atlas getting dismissed. From Cus’ perspective, can you walk us through some of those events? How did Cus perceive that disruption? Why did he make some of the decisions that he made?
Just to put it briefly, why would I want to put cold water on hot coals? Cus is thinking Mike is my last hurrah. And if you were Cus – you have to think about it from Cus’ mindset – anybody that interferes and puts water on my hot coals that may be my final, homegrown heavyweight champion of the world, that I created from the get-go…my Sonny Liston was the way that Cus thought about it. Nothing was going to stop him from doing that. Teddy Atlas, no matter how good he was – and I do respect a lot of things about Teddy, I have his number in my cell phone – but he has just not come to grips with it yet. One day there will be a book or an interview where he decides to open up, but he’s not ready to open up and tell the truth about his angle and what he saw. Trust me, I gave him many opportunities.
Teddy didn’t like the way that Cus was favoring Mike. Several times, Cus would undermine Teddy in front of Mike and Teddy felt a loss of respect. By the way, the gun story is 100% true and Teddy definitely fired a shot.
Was there competition between Teddy and some of the other younger trainers at Cus’ gym?
No, Teddy was the man. 100%. He was the senior student if you will. If you understand the martial arts world, he always stood front and right. He was the senior student. Nobody got in the way of Teddy except for Cus. Once people started to see Mike screwing off, they started to lose respect for Teddy. But that also became a sketchy scene and Teddy wasn’t always there. Teddy started to really become enveloped in the community. His wife was from there. She owned a nice Italian restaurant out there and he started to get ingrained in the community. He and Cus went at it once they started to gripe about Mike. Cus did not want to stop anybody from throwing water on his hot coals.
Were there discussions at the time about keeping Mike’s amateur status longer?
No, not at all. The main gist by Bill Cayton and Jimmy [Jacobs] was to send a VHS tape out in little packets, and I have one of these packets. They sent these packets out to every sports agent across the country. And they did like a guerrilla-style marketing.
They didn’t even want to wait. The way they pushed Mike, you can’t even do it like that anymore. Maybe you could through the Internet but not the way that they did. They did a guerilla-style marketing effort with Mike and they did not want him to stay an amateur.

His style was not an amateur style. Mike was not good at points. Look at the Tillman fights. Tillman I and II were a mess. Even seeing Mike at Colorado Springs [home or the United States Olympic training grounds], watching Mike fight, he was just atrocious as an amateur. Mike was a professional [style] from the day he started. They wanted him to get out of the amateurs immediately. Period.
As Cus started to deteriorate as he got older, Kevin Rooney took more of a lead role with Mike. Can you talk more about Rooney and what his role was in helping to shape the fighter who Mike Tyson became?
Kevin was there before Teddy. I know it sounds simple but it’s true. Kevin was a professional. Teddy couldn’t be a professional, so that’s why he started training with Cus. He had scoliosis. I treat patients with scoliosis to this day. You don’t stop fighting because of that unless your Cobb angle is greater than a certain degree. I think it’s 30 degrees if I’m not mistaken. He did not have that.
Cus didn’t want Teddy getting hurt. That’s the honest truth. He didn’t want him being a professional. He didn’t want him getting beat up. Cus also wanted Teddy to be his disciple. Cus knew he didn’t have long to live and he wanted to make sure he would pass on his legacy. So he made Teddy a trainer. At that time, Rooney was still fighting.
And then when it switched, when he [Cus] didn’t like Teddy anymore, there was no better person to help Mike than the guy who was actually doing it, and that was Kevin. Not only did Mike respect Kevin for that, but Cus respected Kevin for that.
What were some of the last moments of Cus’ life like? He had a fighter on the brink of becoming the youngest heavyweight champion in the world. There was this tremendous momentum building. But Cus wasn’t one to dwell on his declining health. Could you walk us through the last 12-18 months of Cus’ life?
They were pretty sad in a lot of ways. He never drove. People were always driving Cus around and doing things for him. And at that time, it became apparent that his physical conditioning and his ability to do the things to keep on living were just a task for him. His sleeping was not consistent throughout the night. He always slept alone. He never slept with Camille [his wife] ever. He would be so loud in his room that he would wake Camille and some of the other fighters up with his snoring and post nasal drip. He was just really becoming physically bad.
Unfortunately, and I hate to said it, but he became an angry, old Italian man, cursing at things. If you didn’t butter your bread properly, he would get mad at you. But while you were sleeping, he would come to you at your bedside and say, I’m sorry. That’s the type of guy Cus was. He was going through a lot of emotional variability. He was very up and down. It was very labile with his emotions at the time. Jimmy was really taking care of him the most at the time.
He formulated the plan for Mike. He made sure that Jimmy and Bill knew exactly the path that he wanted. Cus knew how to create champions – from the press part to the physical part to the mental part – and he didn’t want anything to stand in his way when it came to his last shot, which was Mike.
How would Cus perceive his own legacy in the sport?
Well Cus would want to have something to say about his own legacy. He would want to direct his past, present and future. That’s the funny part. He would want to be cracking jokes and telling you the way it should have been.
Cus really wanted to be a fighter like his brother Gerry, but he couldn’t pass the ocular test. He used to say that if Harry Greb could fight with a glass eye, so could he. He never really got to do everything he wanted to do. He felt like he could have done more and be better. Yeah, Mike was a great kid, but [using the Cus voice] “He wasn’t exactly what I wanted. He accomplished the goals that we set forth, but he could have done more. He could have done better.”
Cus believed there could have been a lot more people like that…if he had like a master and a student, who would bow down to him on his knees and listen to everything that Cus said. Not only listen to what Cus said, but he’d have to live in a monastery. He would have to sweep the monastery. Make rice. Really learn all of the attributes and that’s what he really wanted.
There’s a theme of regret that runs through Cus, if that’s the right word for it.
He’ll never be happy. He’ll never be satisfied. He always could do it better. Cus wanted to do it himself, but he could never. He wanted to get out there and really try and do it himself but he was never able to fully express himself in his lifetime, and that frustrated him. He was lonely.
As he got older, were there other fighters of that era whom he respected? Was he still a student of modern boxing?
He loved Ali. He really loved Ali a lot. He gave a lot of props to Muhammad for his charisma, the way he commanded his personality in the press, the way he commanded himself in the ring. I try to allude to this in the book that he had a better relationship with Ali than Angelo [Dundee] did and he had a closer relationship with Ali than most people really understood. So that was a huge person that he loved.
I would also say the other people he looked up to at that time when he was kind of fading...he loved the Hilton brothers in Canada. I don’t know if you heard of them but they were really big at the time. He really appreciated their zest for the art of the boxing. He did appreciate Roberto Duran’s camp until the whole No Mas fight. He also liked Hearns and while he was scared of Big George [Foreman], he respected him. He almost worked him out at one point, when Cus was in the Catskills.
Again, at that time, Cus was really out of it. The vibe of that era was nobody was calling Cus and saying, “Hey, what did you think about that fight. Hey what did you think about this fighter coming up.” It was quiet. The phone wasn’t ringing. There was a guy who I spoke to who was in that era of Cus’ life. They would just sit in the backyard with a lounge chair talking about the past, but nobody was calling Cus. That was a hard time for him. He was more of a critic or a criticizer of boxing at that time than somebody who was saying I like certain fighters.
Cus was thought of as a critical personality by some.
He thought boxing was safer than football. He would always say, “If people got hit as much as they thought a boxer did, then nobody would box.” The art and science of boxing is not to get hit. And he would try and get you into a verbal headlock and try to convince you of anything – like the reason why people stutter and get dementia has nothing to do with boxing.
Cus had his band of devotees and then a lot of critics. Were there any bridges that he burned that he regretted?
Floyd [Patterson] was the biggest one. Floyd was his big regret. Meaning, underneath his breath, while he was getting ready to pass away, he was still mumbling Floyd, I love Floyd. Period. Forget about Mike. Forget about Jose. Floyd was his boy. Floyd was his heyday. That’s when he had his vitality. He was able to train Floyd. I think Floyd was really his big regret of any connection he had with anyone.
His brothers also. Rocco was his older brother. He always had some issues with Rocco and I guess it was a control thing with Rocco being the only brother born in Italy. He always had battles with him in a way, as well as Tony, who always owed him money. And they always fought over that, even if it was for 10 bucks. I guess 10 bucks those days was more money but...he fought with his family a lot. There were a lot of heated fights.
Putting your speculation hat on for a second, in today’s boxing, who do you think are some people in the sport – trainers or fighters – that Cus would really respect?
There’s a group that tries to mimic Cus’ style. There’s a UFC fighter Dominic Cruz who’s part of a camp that tries do something that Cus did with numbering, but instead of numbering punches, they number punches, movements and kicks. So I think he would really appreciate their coaching.  That’s one group.
You know Cus didn’t like the people who were on top. He would really get upset looking, I would say, at a guy like Floyd Mayweather, making more money than any athlete in the world, just because of his style. He would say that that man really doesn’t want to give it up to get. He [Mayweather] would stay his distance and control the fight and make it go the way he wants, and that’s fine, but Cus didn’t like that. He didn’t like people who didn’t want to get challenged, that were afraid to show their true colors. That wouldn’t show a true champion. That’s why some people dislike Floyd. So part of it is Cus wouldn’t like what is out there. But any fighter who put his life on the line and truly immersed himself in boxing, Cus would appreciate.
How about somebody like Pacquiao who fights in a very aggressive style?
He would love that. I think I said that before. When you are faced down like that…god bless nothing like that ever happened where I had to get taken out either from a martial arts bout or a boxing match face down. That’s a tumultuous experience. The psychology that one needs to get coached back from something like that is paramount. More important than the training is to be able to get in there with the confidence; it takes a lot. Cus would have liked to have been there. That’s his thing – the psychology of it, how to get you back. He would have taken advantage of all of his skills with Manny Pacquiao.
What should today’s boxing trainers learn from Cus?
It’s all about your fighter. It’s not about you. Cus used to say, “The fighter fights. Just do what your job is and do it well, whether you hold the spit bucket or you’re the cutman.” You should know your role in the entourage. You’re sitting shotgun. You’re not in the driver’s seat. So that’s the first thing. Like I work with Gabe Bracero right now. I’m sitting shotgun with him. If not, I’m sitting shot-back-left. You’re in the car. That’s important to respect and remember. You have a spot in the training camp. I would say that would be the most important thing, that you have a role.
I’m trying to square what you just said with how Cus would take his fighters, break them down and make them conform to his wishes. Is what you said similar to how Cus would train his fighters?
Let me give you an example – Buster Mathis. Buster was an overweight guy that came to him. They said, Cus, train this guy. He said we’re not even getting in the gym. He said I’m not doing any boxing with you. He threw on roller skates and just wanted to see this big guy on roller skates. He wanted to see how he moved. He wanted to see how he talked to people and how he got along in crowds. 
That’s what Cus was about – who you really are as a person and a personality, because that comes through when you fight.
It seems hard to explain but you didn’t throw a punch or a kick until you know how to clean the monastery and make the rice paddies. That’s what was Cus was about, breaking you down, or learning about you is really what it comes down to. That’s what he did.

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
Contact Adam at
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