A proponent of the peek-a-boo style of boxing, Cus D’Amato earned a reputation as one of the most forthright and honest men in boxing. He trained Floyd Patterson and José Torres to world titles, was instrumental in launching Mike Tyson’s career, and tutored successful boxing trainers Teddy Atlas, Kevin Rooney, and Joe Fariello.
Born in 1908 in the Bronx in New York City, Cus learned to fight in the streets. During a brief career as an amateur boxer, he fought as a featherweight and lightweight. At the age of 22, he opened the Empire Sporting Club, a boxing gym intended to develop young fighters, with Jack Barrow at the Gramercy Gym. The gym was D’Amato’s most prized possession, as he actually lived there for years.
Known for his uncompromising integrity, D’Amato refused to allow any of his fighters to enter a match promoted by the International Boxing Club, which was later dissolved for violations of anti-trust laws. In 1949, 14-year-old Floyd Patterson walked into Gramercy Gym. D’Amato trained Patterson for three years before he went on to win the Gold medal at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics as a middleweight. Four years later, at age 21, Patterson won the World Heavyweight Championship.
D’Amato later trained José Torres, who in 1965 at Madison Square Garden, defeated International Boxing Hall of Fame member, Willie Pastrano, to become the World Light Heavyweight Champion. After Patterson’s and Torres’s careers had ended, Cus moved to Catskill, New York, where he opened his own gym.
In 1980, at the age of 14, Mike Tyson, who was in a nearby reform school, began training at D’Amato’s Gym. Cus developed a special bond with Tyson, took him under his wing, and adopted him after Tyson’s mother passed away. Assisted by Teddy Atlas and later Kevin Rooney, D’Amato taught Tyson to start using the peek-a-boo style. A year after Cus adopted Tyson, he passed away, just months before Tyson became the youngest boxer to win the World Heavyweight Championship. Tyson credits D’Amato with building his confidence, turning his life around, and being the only father figure in his life. In 1995, Cus was inducted posthumously into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.