Mike Tyson had barely stepped into his teens when Constantine ‘Cus’ D’Amato, a boxing manager with Italian-American genes, saw him and proclaimed, “That’s the heavyweight champion of the world.” D’Amato had seen something in the lad that no one had before. That was the beginning of Tyson’s journey to becoming a world champion. And till date, he reveres D’Amato as a father figure, a mentor who transformed the “kid dynamite” into “the baddest man on the planet”. In his book, Iron Ambition, the former world champion talks about how D’Amato took him from a reform school in New York to the four-squared ring.
Tyson, known for his aggressive attitude both on and off the ring, shows a softer side when writing about his mentor: “I don’t really understand how it all happened. How did Cus D’Amato, this legendary boxing manager and trainer who was in exile in upstate New York, watch me spar for less than ten minutes when I was thirteen years old and predict that I would be the youngest heavyweight champ ever?”
For any athlete, the coach holds the most important role in his/her life and D’Amato was no different for Tyson, especially because he went out of his way to adopt the 16-year-old boy after his mother passed away. This left a deep imprint on Tyson’s life and mind.
The most striking feature of the book is the innocence with which Tyson reveals the details of the first time he met D’Amato and his indomitable will to impress him. Yes, you read that right—innocence, something highly uncharacteristic of the world champion we know. “Before Bobby (Stewart, a juvenile detention centre counsellor and former boxer) called Cus, he showed me a few moves that were meant to impress the old trainer. One was a diagonal side step that enabled me to swing coming out of the corner. I practiced that and got really good at it. Then Stewart called Cus and asked him if he’d take a look at me,” writes Tyson.
The book shows a different side of the Mike Tyson we know, but maybe it’s the gratitude that he feels for D’Amato that brings out this side. Throughout the book, Tyson marvels at D’Amato’s fairness towards his fighters, expressed in part by a formula that allowed a boxer to make money even if a promoter didn’t.
D’Amato didn’t live to see Tyson lift the heavyweight title, but it was he who made him a champion long before Tyson actually stood in the middle of the ring with his hands up in the air. This book is an ode to that man.