It was almost as though Casey Stengel had won the pennant with the Mets. Here was Cus D'Amato, Floyd Patterson's ex-manager, long since written off as an outdated Svengali, suddenly and squarely back in the boxing spotlight, thanks to José Torres' win over Willie Pastrano for the light heavyweight championship in Madison Square Garden last week. In the eyes of D'Amato's critics—and he has them, particularly in the press—the "archconniver" had returned. Nobody feels neutral about D'Amato. He is either loved or loathed. "I don't seem to have in-between people," is the way he puts it.
A couple of years ago D'Amato slid into obscurity when Patterson dropped him as manager. D'Amato was left alone with Torres, who, so the critics alleged, was either kept under wraps or confined to fighting bums. But with Torres' victory, it was plainly evident that Cus D'Amato, whether master planner or master schemer, had once again become a force in boxing. A couple of days after the fight, between calls and visitors to his Manhattan apartment, D'Amato talked for several hours about his critics, his continuing war with Madison Square Garden, Floyd Patterson, the heavyweight division in general, the peekaboo style of fighting and his role as adviser to Torres. His mood was one of vindication, his outlook optimistic.
D'Amato's return to boxing prominence started, ironically enough, with his decision to quit as Torres' manager. A couple of months ago Torres came to D'Amato with the news that he could get the fight with Pastrano, but only if D'Amato were not managing him. That condition was set by Madison Square Garden's boxing office, which is run by Harry Markson, an old International Boxing Club man, and Teddy Brenner, a matchmaker who knows his way around boxing's back alleys.
"Torres," said D'Amato, "told me he wouldn't take the fight. I said, 'Joe, I appreciate your loyalty, but if you walk away from Madison Square Garden because of this, we'll both have nothing. If you accept this match with Pastrano, no matter what conditions the Garden imposes you'll at least have the title.' He said, 'You really want me to fight without you?' I said yes. Then he said, 'One condition. You prepare me for the fight, and then I know I can't lose.' So I trained him. I didn't sell Torres to anyone. I released him from his contract. I gave him his unconditional release. I get no money from this fight. I am a friend of his, and I am sure that he will ask me for advice before he does anything. He has a lot of respect for my judgment, experience and knowledge, particularly regarding matches and how much he should get for them. Up to now he's been taking all the risks and guaranteeing the promoter."
As Patterson did in the past, Torres fought Pastrano out of the D'Amatodevised peekaboo style, a style that has been criticized often as not offering the protection D'Amato claims it does. Furthermore, D'Amato's detractors say, it is almost impossible for a fighter, curled up with the peekaboo—gloves held close to the cheeks, arms pulled in tight against the torso—to launch an effective attack. To which D'Amato answers, "I always make military comparisons. In World War II there were tanks, and when the tanks moved on to the enemy position, the infantry followed behind them. When the tanks got up to the trenches, the infantry stepped out from behind and fired in. The infantry could get right in there and open up, and so can a boxer.
"Basically that's the so-called peekaboo, though I don't use that term myself. I call it a tight defense. It enables you to move in aggressively without leaving any vulnerable openings. The main thing is to learn how to punch out of that defense position. Torres showed it could be done and punch like hell, too. There is only one punch to look for, the upper-cut, and if that's your only worry you're in good shape. You reduce your vulnerability by 95%. I talk about this in military terms, but I developed it when TV came into boxing. The fans wouldn't know what smart boxing was. They wouldn't appreciate it. So I developed a surprise that would appeal to them."
If D'Amato's loyalty to the peekaboo is unflagging, his enmity for the Garden and those connected with its boxing promotions is, logically or not, almost unbounded. "Markson was with the old crowd," he says. "Brenner is detrimental to boxing. They might remain there in spite of me, but not because I support them. I only fail if I give up, but I never give up. As far as I am concerned, the fight is not over until I win. I may not win the battles, which I look upon as only temporary advantages to my opponent, but I'll win the war! And the war will go on till I win out. Till Teddy Brenner and those characters go."
D'Amato went to the Garden to see Patterson fight Chuvalo, and he deemed Floyd's performance "successful but technically poor." Patterson, he said, "used to use the peekaboo, but he has deteriorated because I wasn't there to keep after him. If he had someone watching over him, he would correct his faults. He has said that I tried to dominate him, and that is not so. I never dominated him. I never tried to force him to do something he believed he couldn't do. I would show him the facts, and the facts would convince him. If anyone dominates him, it's someone else, but it's not me."
A year ago D'Amato tried to speak to Patterson at his training camp, but he had no luck. "I tried to see him every day. He didn't answer the door, but he was in there. I'd bang and bang on the door and call. Nothing would happen. Sometimes I'd wait half an hour, an hour. Then I'd go away. That happened almost every day for a month. We'd been through so much together. I had to see him. We had an agreement that I never was to believe anything he supposedly said until he told it to my face. He has never told me to my face that I am not his manager. I have no idea why he won't see me."
Late last summer, assuming that he was still Patterson's manager, although he had not worked with him for two years, D'Amato reluctantly began legal action for money he says is due from the two Liston-Patterson fights. He needs the money because he is broke. Most of what he had went, he says, into his war against Jim Norris' International Boxing Club. "In order to fight people like the IBC, I had to maintain an information agency, an espionage system," he said. "Otherwise how are you going to stay ahead of these people?"
As of now lack of money keeps D'Amato from actively managing any fighters. D'Amato claims that he has never received a complete accounting for the first Liston-Patterson fight. "From what I have been shown, the purse amounted to only a little over $800,000," he said. "I was paid off on that. But we had a minimum guarantee of $1.2 million. The fight was a red-hot match, and I have reason to believe that the total amount of money, live gate and ancillary rights, came to very substantially more than the $1.2 million guarantee. So I asked for an accounting from Mr. [Julius] November's office [November is Patterson's lawyer]. When I failed to get an accounting that satisfied me, I took the case to a lawyer, Edward Bennett Williams. I couldn't understand the accounting, maybe he can. I figure that from the two Liston fights, I am owed $250,000."
According to one story making the rounds, Patterson has never cared for Torres since José knocked him down in sparring, and this may explain at least in part the coolness between Patterson and D'Amato. "I brought Torres out to California when Patterson was training for the Roy Harris fight," D'Amato said. "It happened that Patterson was a little bit off balance and Torres hit him a hard right, and he went down. The press chose to make this a big issue, and I didn't see fit to explain it. Why? Because not many thought Harris had a chance, and maybe this would help, and, besides, I owed a responsibility to Torres, too. So I didn't say anything. A professional fighter like Floyd is supposed to have professional detachment. But the press kept writing this up, and Patterson was sensitive to these things.
"I have been given a lot of credit for Patterson and others," D'Amato went on, "but the truth is I've done a better job with fighters people never heard about. When you get a Patterson or a Torres, you get credit, but they have tremendous potential. To me, the ultimate goal is to develop a fighter's potential to all degrees, physical, psychological and emotional, so he will eventually be independent. I don't keep a fellow tied to me. If every newspaperman, every commission, thinks my fighter should fight some fighter of a better class, that doesn't impress me. I alone have the responsibility for the development of the fighters, and I am responsible for their success or failure. These so-called experts are ignorant. They think a fighter should fight a certain fighter, and if my fighter loses, who gets blamed? The critics? No. Me.
"I will not push my man into a position unless I feel his development is capable of coping with the situation I will ask him to face. I didn't let Torres fight at times, and the reason I didn't is secret. To reveal the reasons is to make the fighter susceptible. Just because people don't understand why I do not do certain things, they assume that when I succeed it happens as a result of conniving. That's because they don't know anything about boxing. They want to penalize me for their ignorance. I could avoid all this criticism by sitting down and educating the critics, and after I got through, they would agree with me. But I let the results speak for themselves.
"I am the only man in this business who has made flat and uncompromising statements about fighters I've been associated with. When Patterson won the Olympics, I said that Floyd would be rookie of the year in boxing and that he would become a heavyweight champion, and he was still a middleweight! My predictions were based on knowledge and analyses of Patterson and his potential. I was derided. When Patterson was knocked out by Johansson I saw what happened and why, and I knew what had to be done. So I went into the ring and made a flat statement that Floyd Patterson would be the first heavyweight champion to win back the title. The critics said that if Dempsey couldn't do it, how could Patterson? But then look what happened. My record, damn it, is certainly worth some respect.
"With Torres, everything was done cold, cool and calculating. I analyzed Pastrano's assets and the ways to penetrate them. I said before the fight that Torres will outjab Pastrano, outbox him, outsmart him and knock him out. The only newspaperman to mention this was your Bud Shrake.
"I have an open mind all the time. I listen to everything, but I don't necessarily accept everything. I will change my mind, but only if someone brings a fact to my attention which I have not already considered. Now people are saying that Torres was fighting bums, which wasn't true at all. He fought the fighters he was ready for."
D'Amato sees the heavyweight situation as sort of a round robin. "If I had Liston," he said, "he could beat Clay. Liston is confused by mobility. I would show him how to neutralize Clay's mobility. That may make me sound conceited, but I'm not. Between Floyd and Liston the same things as happened before will happen again unless Floyd employs the proper tactics. If he does, he can beat Liston, but he has faults. He hasn't corrected them. A professional fighter has gotta adjust himself to the situation. He has gotta dominate it. Floyd was told to do what Clay later did exactly.
"With Clay, Floyd would have a better chance by far. Floyd retains certain assets. I'd give him an excellent chance of knocking Clay out. There is a particular weapon that Floyd uses and uses well. Clay has developed certain patterns, and once you can read a guy's patterns, you can have him for breakfast, dinner and supper. The trouble is I haven't been around Patterson in a couple of years, but I would say that of the three the man with the most talent, at his best, is Floyd Patterson.
"Torres has the speed and power to hurt a heavyweight. Personally, I was a little surprised when he said he would fight Floyd. But I feel that Patterson will not consider such a match until he sees the outcome of the Clay-Liston fight. He has all to lose and nothing to gain fighting Torres. A Patterson-Torres fight is one I would rather not comment on. I do think that Torres is a fighter to hurt a heavyweight. He would make an opponent to any heavyweight around now. In sparring, he used to complain that heavyweights were too slow for him.... I have some tremendous surprises planned, but I can't say what they are because they wouldn't be surprises if I did. These surprises may very well make headlines."
For the nonce, while he prepares his surprises, D'Amato plans to spend his spare time fishing—last week was especially joyous, not only because of Torres' win but also because the trout season opened—showing oldtime fight films in an effort to build up present-day boxing ("The critics in the press are calling the present-day fighters bums, but by showing the films I show the old-timers are bums"), and collecting information on ring fatalities ("My findings would amaze people—most fatalities do not occur because of what happened in the ring").
But no matter what D'Amato is doing, be it fishing, watching movies, reading obituaries or cooking up surprises, he will be in evidence in boxing. "There is no man in the whole world who knows as much about the heavyweight boxing picture or the whole boxing picture as I do," he said. "I don't say I'm smarter than other people, but I had the opportunity available to me in the last 10 years, and I was almost alone. It's like a doctor given the chance to study under a great surgeon way ahead of everybody else. That's not bragging. That's simple fact."
Crouching low, fists held high, D'Amato demonstrates the peekaboo style which he claims protects a fighter as he moves in aggressively.
New Champion José Torres celebrates victory with D'Amato, friend, adviser and master planner.