Cus had us modify the affirmations for our own situation. So he had me saying, “The best fighter in the world. Nobody can beat me. The best fighter in the world. Nobody can beat me,” over and over again all day. I loved doing that; I loved hearing myself talk about myself.
I was this useless, Thorazined-out nigga who was diagnosed as retarded, and this old white guy gets ahold of me and gives me an ego. Cus was such a deep guy. No one ever made me more conscious of being a black man. He was so cold, hard, giving it to me like a bitter black man would. “They think they’re better than you, Mike,” he’d say. If he saw somebody with a Fiat or a Rolls-Royce, he’d look at me and say, “You could get that. That’s not the hardest thing in the world to do, getting wealthy. You’re so superior to those people. They can never do what you are capable of doing. You got it in you.”
Cus wanted the meanest fighter that God ever created, someone who scared the life out of people before they even entered the ring. He trained me to be totally ferocious, in the ring and out. At the time, I needed that. I was so insecure, so afraid. I was so traumatized from people picking on me when I was younger. I just hated the humiliation of being bullied. That feeling sticks with you for the rest of your life. But Cus gave me confidence so that I didn’t have to worry about being bullied ever again. I knew nobody was ever going to fuck with me physically.
A lot of people assume that Muhammad Ali was my favorite boxer. But I have to say it was Roberto Duran. I always looked at Ali as being handsome and articulate. And I was short and ugly and I had a speech impediment. When I saw Duran fight, he was just a street guy. He’d say stuff to his opponents like, “Suck my fucking dick, you motherfucker. Next time you’re going to the fucking morgue.” After he beat Sugar Ray Leonard in that first fight, he went over to where Wilfred Benitez was sitting and he said, “Fuck you. You don’t have the heart or the balls to fight me.”
Man, this guy is me, I thought. That was what I wanted to do. He was not ashamed of being who he was. I related to him as a human being. As my career progressed and people started praising me for being a savage, I knew that being called an animal was the highest praise I could receive from someone. I was sad when Duran quit during the “No más” rematch with Leonard. Cus and I watched that fight in Albany, and I was so mad that I cried. But Cus had called it. “He’s not going to do it a second time,” he predicted.
I think both Cus and I realized that we were in a race with time. Cus was in his seventies. It wasn’t like I was going to go to school and they were building my character to make me a good, productive member of society. No, I was doing this to become heavyweight champion of the world. Cus was aware of that. “God, I wish I had more time with you,” he said. But then he would say, “I’ve been in the fight game for 60 years, and I’ve never seen anybody with the kind of interest you have. You’re always talking about fighting.”
All this talk about dedication and discipline and hard work wasn’t enough to keep me from going back to Brooklyn and doing my jostling and robbing. I was playing two heads of the same coin. I’d be up in Catskill and be the choirboy and then I’d go down to Brooklyn and be the devil. Thank God that I never got arrested for anything. That would have broken Cus’s heart.
I don’t think that Cus, who’d worked with Floyd Patterson, Rocky Graziano, and Jose Torres, thought that in a thousand years he’d get another champion, although he hoped he would. Then I show up there knowing nothing, a blank chalkboard. Cus was happy. I couldn’t understand why this white man was so happy about me. He would look at me and just laugh hysterically. He’d get on the phone and tell people, “Lightning has struck me twice. I have another heavyweight champion.” I have no idea how, but somehow he saw it in me.