by Sean Crose
Paige Stover is an accomplished person.
An award winning publisher and author, she is also licensed attorney who operates several businesses in the communications industry.
And that’s just where some of her interests can be found. Stover, who has dealt with such subjects as fencing and equestrian pursuits, and is also fascinated by the sport of boxing.
“I got hooked on boxing as a storyteller,” she explains.
There’s little doubt Stover has told some interesting stories about the fight game. Her book, Rumble! How Boxing’s Greatest Match Was Made caused tsunami-sized waves in the independent publishing scene upon its publication.
What’s more, Stover’s latest work deals with no less a boxing luminary than the iconic and mysterious Cus D’Amato. Confusing the Enemy: The Cus D’Amato Story offers insights into the man who trained Floyd Patterson, Jose Torres and Mike Tyson that few have been privy to.
“He was an incredibly secretive individual,” says Stover.
Yet D’Amato was also incredibly famous, creating a peek-a-boo style that served protégés like Patterson and Tyson extraordinarily well.
That style may well have been the result of a beating the young D’Amato took in a street fight. “He got real focused,” Paige states, “not so much on how do you not get hit, but how do you protect your head, and how do you protect your body?”
Sure enough, D’Amato’s most famous fighters can be said to be wildly under-rated in regards to their defensive skills. Just look at footage of prime Mike Tyson and ask if he looks easy to hit.
Stover also makes it clear that D’Amato wasn’t the mafia-battling crusader many have made him out to be – at least not entirely. Stover argues that some have “wanted to present him as this white night,” yet the reality was something quite different: “There was really nothing further than the truth.”
Stover admires her subject, however, and makes it plain that D’Amato was no mobbed-up hack. Not so long ago, the entire sport of boxing was affected by organized crime, after all.
“They controlled Madison Square Garden,” Stover points out. As a man who Stover says cared deeply for his fighters, D’Amato had no choice but to be practical.
“He only put his toe in the water the least little bit that he had to,” she says.
Indeed, it seems D’Amato’s love for the young men he trained was more than just the stuff of legend: it was the honest truth.
“Cus was absolutely committed,” Stover says. “His fighters were not going to get hurt, they were not going to get brain damage.”
Stover argues that D’Amato did more than turn young men into effective boxers, he turned young men into respectable individuals. “He didn’t just teach them how to fight,” claims Stover, “he taught them to be men… in Floyd’s case, in Mike’s case, he taught them to read.”
It seems D’Amato’s greatest gift to the troubled youths he worked with may have simply been being there for them. “He gave them a role model,” Stover says of D’Amato’s very presence.
One thing that the amiable Stover makes clear is that D’Amato was more than just a pug hanging by ringside. “He read deeply” states Stover, “deeply.” In fact, it was that quest for knowledge, that hunger for depth of thought, which seemed to have made D’Amato such a great trainer.
Even now, the author remains clearly impressed with D’Amato’s “understanding of the science and getting down to the actual physics of fighting with your fists.”
Stover claims that D’Amato was so good at, well, being D’Amato, that he even had a “very deep relationship with Muhammad Ali.”
Just how deep?
Well, Stover believes that Ali’s “whole leaning on the ropes thing,” during the classic Rumble In The Jungle, “was something he and Cus came up with.”
“His (Ali’s) head is out of reach all the time,” Stover explains of the “rope-a-dope” tactic Ali performed in Zaire that night. “He’s not getting hit in the head.”
Stover’s right. Footage of the fight clearly indicates Ali isn’t.
Of course Stover makes it clear that her rope-a-dope theory is just that – a theory. Still, it’s interesting to think about. Not that D’Amato would have found it to be his greatest achievement.
“He was such a man of principle,” Stover claims. “He took fighters that were good and made them champions.”
Yet being a champion meant more to D’Amato than it might for others.
“In Cus’s mind,” says Stover, “part of being a good champion is being a good man.”