Boxing's Alluring Magetism - by Terry Pettifer
That great writer of the past,
A.J.Liebling, started penning boxing
stories before 1939, for the New
Yorker, and when he returned from
World War 11 in 1945, he became a
noted critic of the American press,
which he found far less competitive
and demanding than the squared circle. However after resuming his career as a fight reporter, with the New Yorker in 1951, Liebling continued patterning his writing on the immortal Pierce Egan, whom he called, “the greatest writer about the ring who ever lived”. Liebling wrote a masterful book on boxing in 1951, titled “The Sweet Science” and dedicated the work to three of the finest fight trainers in the history of the game: Whitey Bimstein, Freddie Brown and Charlie Goldman, all of whom he referred to as his “explainers”.
Liebling’s role model, Egan, wrote in 1820; “Drummers and boxers to acquire excellence, must begin young”, and almost two-hundred years later, there are precious few who would refute that statement. From Liebling’s neutral perch, came an illuminating view of his own, and I quote; “A boxer, like a writer, must stand alone. If he loses he cannot call an executive conference and throw off on a vice president or the assistant sales manager.
He is consequently resented
by fractional characters who
cannot live outside an organization”-
Bearing in mind that opinions
are like belly-buttons
(we’ve all got them), it’s
worth remembering that
many of Ringdom’s most glorified
names had no amateur
backgrounds to speak of, and in many instances, the streets, where only the law
of survival exists, forged a great many pugilistic legends.
Jack Dempsey, Stanley
Ketchel, Rocky Graziano,
Sonny Liston and Jake La
Motta were all exceptional
who took to the roped
square, and what they lacked
in technical expertise, they
more than compensated for
in unbridled belligerence.
As for Liebling’s astute comparison
between boxers and
writers, it’s easy to recall that the “sweet science” or as some put it, the “sour art” has constantly inspired comments from some of the finest sports essayists in living memory. Besides Egan and the incomparable Liebling, whom many of us hold s the finestAmerican journalist of the 20th century, there was Damon Runyon, Norman Mailer, Hugh McIlvanney, W.C.Heinz, Leonard Gardner, Thomas S. Andrews, Dan Parker, Ring Lardner, Gilbert Odd, Nat Fleischer, Bill Barich, George
Bernard Shaw, Red Smith, Jimmy Cannon, Ernest Hemingway, Ted Carroll, George Whiting and Bert Sugar. Men with the courage of their convictions, they all, at one time or another stood alone, while defying their detractors.
Why is it that the sport of boxing has
inspired some of the most intellectual
minds known to man? Kings, politicians
and sovereign princes have been
amongst the game’s most fervent
acolytes and boxing’s archives are filled
with brilliantly written books such as
“The Sweet Science”, “Give Him to the
Angels”, “Bedside Book of Boxing”,
“Reading the Fights” and “I Don’t Believe
It, But It’s True”.
Perhaps as Daniel Okrent mentioned in his introduction to “Reading the Fights”, the sport’s “unrelenting aggressiveness, is a voyeuristic thrill, a breathtaking zing, and a gasp-producing wonder that brings writers to boxing”
Remembering that Roman gladiatorial
combat was abolished under the Christian
emperors Constantine and
Theodoric, boxing as we know it, derives
solely from bare-knuckle prizefighting
in England during the eighteenth century, and most mercifully,
from an entirely different conception
of what had much earlier
transpired in the blood-soaked arena’s of ancient Greece and Italy.
Boxers themselves, however, do much
more than fight and some of the most
profound statements and quotes have been attributed to the warriors of the ring.
Did the inimitable Sugar Ray Robinson
not say, “I ain’t never liked violence”
and what of former world heavyweight
champion George Foreman, who is
fond of saying, “Boxing is the sport to
which all other sports aspire”.
Erstwhile heavyweight king Mike
Tyson’s chilling comment that, “I try to
catch my opponent on the tip of the nose because I try to punch the bone
into his brain”, illustrates the brutal reality of the game. A game where death
is a constant threat, and where the bold practitioners must learn, by what strength of will non-boxers surely will never know, to inhibit their own instincts of survival in what some call the “square jungle”.
“The day of a fight I make up my mind
to be a mean, mean, man and that
(sentiment) only passes once I climb
out of the ring” said the magnificent Joe Louis.
Mind you, there is
humour in boxing too.
When asked why he
was a boxer, former
world featherweight champion Barry McGuigan quipped, “I can’t be a poet. I can’t
Aristotle placed plot above character, but as plot is character, and the reverse, some argue that the fighter is the fight, too.
The names of Sugar
Ray Leonard and
Roberto Duran are
forever linked by the
blistering mechanics of their first meeting on a rainy, summer night in Montreal on
June 20, 1980, when the untameable Panamanian won a close but unanimous decision. Their two subsequent bouts were won by the more mobile
and versatile Leonard, but they lacked the fiery intensity of that first meeting.
Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier fashioned,
what was arguably, the greatest
rivalry in the annals of sport, and afforded
a genius with a pen, like Mailer,
the opportunity to scribble some of his
most awesome work.
Indubitably writers have an abiding fascination with boxing, and some, like Mailer, Liebling and Gardner, used captivating translations that were often as exquisite as Nureyev’s reflexes.
Read, for instance, an extract from Mailer’s brilliant account of the first Ali/Frazier fight: “The troops of Ali’s second corps of energy had arrived, the energy for which he had been waiting long agonizing heart sore vomitmean rounds. Now he jabbed Frazier, he snake-licked his face with jabs faster than he had thrown before, he anticipated each attempt of Frazier at counter attack and threw it back, he danced on his toes for the first time in rounds, he popped in rights, he hurt him with hooks, it was his biggest round of the night, it was the best round yet of the fight, and Frazier was beginning to move into that odd petulant concentration of other rituals besides the punches, tapping his gloves, stares of the eye, that species of mouthpiece chewing which is the prelude to fun-strut in the knees, then Queer Street, then waggle on out, drop like a steer”.