Muhammad Ali and Cus D’Amato: two absolute, there-is-zero-room-for-debate legends, each making an indelible impact on the sport of boxing. Both born on the same day – January 17th; Cus way back in 1908, Ali back in 1942. These two never worked together (aside from when the two men co-featured in the simply brilliant documentary ‘AKA Cassius Clay’ – the 1970 feature seeing Ali and Cus bounce off one another as they discuss how Ali would have done against the old time heavies; the two giants always having a ton of mutual respect for each other) – yet what a mind-boggling subject it is, thinking about what might have happened had they done so.
No disrespect at all is aimed at the masterful Angelo Dundee; “Angie” being the one man who best understood Ali the boxer, their long-time partnership working like a dream, with no clash of egos involved. But just think how well Ali and D’Amato might have worked together. It was, famously, Cus that Ali went to seek advice from prior to his massive African assignment with the “unbeatable” George Foreman in October of 1974. And it was Cus who told Ali how he should go straight at Foreman in the opening round and whack the bully with a right hand. “Get his respect,” Cus instructed Ali.
The rest is history. Ali did what D’Amato advised him to do, time and again in fact, with Ali’s first round right hand leads surely leaving an at home, watching the fight (or listening to it) D’Amato with a combined feeling of pride and smugness. Imagine what other magic these two pugilistic geniuses might have conjured up had they formed a partnership!
D’Amato, who took the likes of Floyd Patterson and Jose Torres and moulded them into world champions, is of course far and away best known for his work with a certain Mike Tyson. Ali? He is known the world over as “The Greatest,” as the biggest bigger than life figure the sport of boxing could ever have imagined or created. Both men gave so much to their sport, and in turn the sport took so much, and benefitted so much, from them.
D’Amato was born in The Bronx and, after a brief amateur career that ended after he picked up an eye injury in a street fight, he became a trainer at age 22. It might have been these early years, when Cus saw many fighters “poached” by more connected trainers/managers, that led to D’Amato’s long battle with paranoia. In any case, D’Amato sprinkled his share of gold dust on the sport he loved, most notably with Patterson first, Torres second, and, after many years of living in the Catskill Mountains, all but forgotten, Mike Tyson third.
It’s no exaggeration to say that all of today’s best boxing trainers do not know, and will never know, as much as D’Amato managed to forget during his brilliant years. Imagine what Cus would think of the sport today; the watered down, multiple world title era we all call home. But that’s a different article.
Cus was given a massive incentive to, as he put it himself, “stay alive” when Bobby Stewart first brought a teenage Tyson to his attention. Sadly, Cus didn’t live to see what he knew would happen, with Tyson winning the title the year after his mentor/father figure passed away, this at the age of 77.
Mike will never forget Cus, nor will the former heavyweight king ever stop thinking about, dreaming about and admiring the man who, without being overly dramatic, saved his soul.
None of us will ever stop thinking about Ali.
Ali, who passed away in June of 2016, this after an unthinkably long battle with Parkinson’s, would have been 81 today. Rest assured, at a time when many living fighter’s birthdays come and go without recognition, Ali’s birthday will be celebrated by many millions of people today.
A born boxer, if not fighter, the young Cassius Clay heard his calling at the age of 12. What Ali went on to achieve is of course worthy of, and has been written about in, many thousands of books; to say nothing of the films, documentaries, plays, even musicals Ali’s life has been paid tribute by.
Ali’s big fights were truly global events, where people who cared nothing for boxing still made sure as hell that they tuned in. In short, no boxer has ever been as popular, as cared about, as constantly watchable and followable as Ali.
January the 17th: what a date for the boxing history books.