The boxing champion, infamous for biting and beating, reveals his soft side in this memoir of his longtime mentor and trainer.
Constantine D’Amato (1908-1985), known to the world as Cus, was a tough ex-fighter who developed a style called “peek-a-boo,” in which a boxer guards the face and head from the blows otherwise likely to be rained down upon them. He had a soft side as well; it was D’Amato who discovered Tyson (Undisputed Truth, 2013) in a reform school and trained him, directing Tyson’s aggression into a somewhat more productive venue and giving him the self-confidence he never had: “For the first time in my life someone was telling me that there was no one better than me.” D’Amato, writes Tyson, was obsessed with boxing from childhood on, and his encyclopedic knowledge of the sport and its practitioners made him the man to see for anyone wanting to get into the game. Not surprisingly, that included a lot of shady types, and Tyson is forthright about how mobbed-up the New York boxing world was when he was getting his start, though some fearless trainers and fighters tried to buck the system; of one, he writes, “he seemed like a nice guy—until he got drunk and did things like throw beer bottles at Mafiosi.” Tyson also marvels at D’Amato’s fairness to his fighters, expressed in part by a formula that allowed a boxer to make money even if a promoter didn’t. He writes respectfully and affectionately, though some of the old toughness hangs on. Pondering how many requests he gets for photos, he writes, “back in the ’70s taking any kind of pictures around strangers was a no-no. You didn’t even say ‘Hi’ to people you didn’t know. Motherfucker would start beating on you and leave you in a coma on the street.”
A belated but welcome homage to a boxing legend who died shortly before Tyson’s career took off. Fans of the sweet science will want to have a look.