IRON Mike Tyson had all of the natural ability, strength and competitive fire it takes to be a world champion in boxing.
However, one area that he struggled with was the mental game. His coach and father figure, Cus D’Amato made it his mission to guide Tyson in this regard. The legendary boxing trainer was the mastermind behind Tyson’s rise to the mountaintop.
‘Iron Ambition: My Life with Cus D’Amato’ tells the story of their relationship from Tyson’s perspective, it is filled with history, sports psychology and pearls of wisdom, a great resource for anyone that wants to achieve something, particularly in boxing like myself.
“Cus told me he thought he the best fighters were the guys who had endured the most.” Hardship and hard places breed hard people; D’Amato taught mental toughness, discipline and the ability to stay stoic no matter what.
He discovered his own toughness when his mother passed away early on in his life. He honed that steel in the army in 1942: “He stood at attention for hours at a time and he practiced his salute like a madman until it was perfect.
“His whole thing was to discipline yourself to the point of rejecting pleasure.”
As for performing in the ring, he had a lot to say about the flow state, speaking to one of his young boxers at the dinner table, he said: “…in my opinion, we tame these qualities, so they are somewhat dormant because we live in a civilized atmosphere but nevertheless, faced with a situation that intuition tell us danger is present, these natural assets that nature gave us to survive come to the surface…if we maintain the discipline…we can use them…continued success will give us a comfort that is so strong and a foundation so powerful that in time we can get to overcome almost anything.”
However, Cus preached that in order to reach that flow state, you first have to conquer the imagination and as a result, fear: “When he was about 14, there was a man in the Bronx who hid in lonely places and jumped out and attacked people. The newspapers called him the ‘Gorilla Man’.
“He was walking down the path when he saw a murky figure in front of him. Cus was sure it was the Gorilla Man. His first instinct was to get the hell out of there but then he checked himself. ‘If I run now, I’ll never be able to take this shortcut again’.
“So he confronted his fear and marched straight ahead. And the Gorilla Man was only a tree that had most of it’s branches cut off.”
That moment was a turning point in his life, “Cus said that proved that there is nothing as bad as imagination. From then on, anytime he was confronted with an obstacle in life, he would say to himself, ‘that’s just a tree in my path.'”
D’Amato and Tyson, before they even knew each other both believed, like many history-makers, that they were special; that they had a destiny. In an interview he said: “It’s almost like I never was a kid. I didn’t learn very much in my lifetime because of these things I understood when I was young. How did I get so wise? I don’t know. I used to think everybody was like that.”
Positive affirmations and manifesting destiny are popular concepts nowadays but Cus was talking about it in his day. He followed a French pharmacist and thinker called Emile Coue who said: “You possess within you an unlimited power, your unconscious being, commonly called imagination.” There’s that word again.
“The way that you direct your imagination is by repeating a simple affirmation: Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better.”
These words gave Tyson the self belief to change his life in the ring. He started life on the streets but he is immortalized as a champion. Teddy Atlas, another disciple of Cus who now molds minds himself explained the power of combat sports in a simple but poignant phrase: “25 minutes to make life fair.”