Writers match fighters for excellence by Ron Jackson

Serious boxing fans cannot wish for a better Christmas present than a really top-class boxing book.

And The Hurt Business – American Writers on Boxing is a really top-class book, in spades.

The paperback of over 500 pages is a compilation of outstanding boxing stories written by highly accomplished authors, some of whom covered the sport for many years and attended many of the greatest fights in history.

The book contains 48 stories by writers such as Jack London, Paul Gallico, WC Heinz, Red Smith, Norman Mailer, AJ Liebling and Joyce Carol Oates.

London, the first leading American author to take boxing seriously, provides an excellent account of the fight between Jack Johnson and Jim Jeffries, who met in Reno, Nevada, on July 4 1910.

London writes that it was not a great battle and that Johnson toyed with his opponent. By the 15th round it was a pitiful sight. Jeffries was knocked out, suffering his first defeat.

Mencken writes about the fight between Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier, probably one of the biggest mismatches in history. The author recalls that, even before the end of the first round, it should have been clear, even to the policeman and the Follies girls at ringside that Carpentier was out of his depth.

The fourth round was simply a matter of mopping up for Dempsey. He dropped the Frenchman in the first 30 seconds. After Carpentier was knocked down again, the referee counted him out. Dempsey lifted Carpentier to his feet and helped him to his stool.

Gallico, who did not follow in the footsteps of his father, a noted concert pianist, chose the typewriter as his instrument and did a fine job at that, according to the compilers.

In Pity the Poor Giant, an essay about Primo Carnera, Gallico writes: “There is probably no more scandalous, pitiful, incredible story in all the records of these last sport years than the tale of the living giant, a creature out of the legends of antiquity, who was made into a prize-fighter.”

Heinz, a Second World War correspondent and a New York sports columnist, also wrote the novel The Professional. It is regarded as one of the best fiction books with a boxing theme. His contribution to The Hurt Business is an incisive piece on Al “Bummy” Davis, the “Brownsville Bum”.

The author tells how Fritzie Zivic, renowned as a dirty fighter, started “giving Bummy the business”. Davis hit Zivic low about 30 times and ended up kicking the referee. He was fined $2 500 and suspended for life. The suspension was later lifted.

Davis’s story ended when four hoodlums came into Dudy’s bar one night, armed with hand guns and intending to rob the place. Davis took them on with his fists. He flattened the first one with his famous left hook but then they shot him. He died in the rain in front of the bar.

The book also contains classic pieces about Cassius Clay and Malcolm X. Readers will delight in chapters headlined Ali Then and Now, Pride of the Tiger, the sad story of Dick Tiger, and Sweeter than Sugar, by Leonard Gardner in which he dissects the first fight between Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard in 1980.

Another fine chapter is Pat Putnam’s account of the 1985 three-round classic between Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns.

One of the other stories concerns Lucia Rijker, who in 1998 was considered the best professional female boxer in history.

George Kimball and John Schulian did a fine job editing the book. Some of the old-time prose is a little lengthy and heavy, but it does not take away from the enjoyment readers will get from the 515 pages.

Both Kimball and Schulian received the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism.

Kimball, a long-time writer for The Boston Herald and author of Four Kings: Leonard, Hagler, Hearns, Duran and The Last Great Era of Boxing, sadly died in 2011, before publication of the book.

Schulian is the author of Writer’s Fighters and Other Sweet Scientists.

The paperback book is published in the United Kingdom by Aurum Press Limited.