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 Here was Cus D'Amato, Floyd Patterson's ex-manager, long since written off as an outdated Svengali, suddenly and squarely back in the boxing spotlight, thanks to Jos� Torres' win over Willie Pastrano for the light heavyweight championship in Madison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?"