By the book – a fascinating glove affair with boxing

posted on: 14/02/2017


Boxing Gloves

For a couple of centuries now the fight game has had a glove affair with the giants of literature.

Actually literature and boxing shouldn’t really go together. It has been said that the former is concerned with refining our consciousness; the latter with trying to clobber someone into unconsciousness as artfully and as swiftly as possible.

Yet opposites attract. No sport has drawn better scribbling from esteemed wordsmiths than the noble art.

Through the ages from Jack London via Ernest Hemingway, George Bernard Shaw, Joyce Carol Oates, Paul Gallico, A J Liebling, Budd Schulberg and Norman Mailer to our own super-scribe Hugh McIlvanney, boxing has been the inspiration for the heavyweights of the written word, allowing them to launch themselves into the blood and thunder of the sport, and become fascinated by it.

Something as basically primal as boxing naturally provides a rich abundance of enduring metaphors concerning power, fear, life and death that have struck a chord with many brilliant writers.

Both Byron and Keats were boxing fans, Hazlitt’s 1821 essay The Fight (same title as Mailer’s epic tome on The Rumble in the Jungle a century and a half later) legitimised boxing’s place in literature while GBS devoted his 1883 novel Cashel Byron’s Profession to the sport.

Arthur Conan Doyle also wrote a wealth of stories about boxing – and made Sherlock Holmes an amateur pugilist.

The copious books on boxing have ranged from Pulitzer Prize winners to potboilers. I have a study full of them.

The majority of course are biographies , some more like hagiographies, but also several are actually little gems that have been relatively unpublicised and therefore have seen limited readership.

One such 352-page paperback is a fascinating journey through what the author, former Boxing News editor Tris Dixon, terms ‘boxing’s wastelands’.

He sets out to track down fighters, from forgotten ex-champions, could-a-been contenders and washed-up journeymen from the 1950s to the 2000s, visiting old people’s homes, gyms, even a prison, discovering that life after boxing often can be cruel once the last bell has stopped clanging.

To gather material for “The Road to Nowhere” Dixon traversed North America from New York to Las Vegas, Toronto to Miami on a shoestring budget, using Greyhound buses, sleeping in cheap motels and boarding houses and occasionally on the floor of some of those fighters who had fallen on hard times after vanishing from the limelight.

My hunch is that for boxing aficionado Dixon it was a labour of love. He did not expect it to be a best-seller but one which brought great personal satisfaction and provided a treasure trove of memories for those like him who truly love the game.

Among those he encountered and whose tales he absorbingly tells, are Jimmy Young, the 1970s heavyweight contender who tested Muhammad Ali and had a stunning victory over George Foreman; Chuck Wepner, the Bayonne Bleeder; Buster Douglas, the 42-1 underdog who was the first to upend Mike Tyson –and James Scott, who worked his way to be a leading contender from behind the walls of Rahway Prison where he was serving a life term for murder.

Perhaps the most poignant chapter revolves around the time Dixon spent with the late Matthew Saad Muhammad , who first boxed as Matthew Franklin before being inspired to become a Muslim by Muhammad Ali.

He will best remembered this side of the water for twice defeating John Conteh in WBC world light-heavyweight bouts in Atlantic City.

When Dixon made contact Muhammad was more or less a down-and-out but they became friends, Dixon helping with a short-lived rehabilitation. Muhammad, who had worked a roofer after boxing,later died penniless in Philadelphia in 2010.

George Chuvalo, Micky Ward, Duane Bobick, Joey Giardello, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, Gene Fullmer, Marvis Frazier et al. Where are they now?

Dixon knows as he managed to hunt down them all.

The result is compelling reading. The Road to nowhere is published by Pitch Publishing at £8.99. If you can’t find it in a bookstore it is well worth Amazoning it.


Shakur as sweet as Sugar?

Male Olympic boxing gold medallists are as rare in the United States these past few years as Donald Trump being seen in a mosque.

Andre Ward was the last, back in Athens in 2004.

Shakur Stevenson

Which is why they have to settle for second best, although in the case of Shakur Stevenson, the 2016 US Olympic silver medallist, he is a prize capture that has the media over there wildly excited, not to mention octogenarian promoter Bob Arum.

Stevenson has been been the most sought-after American amateur for some time, and he has just signed with Arum’s powerhouse promotional outfit Top Rank, which promises to build him into its newest superstar.

The highly talented 19-year-old Stevenson, who will fight professionally in the 126-pound featherweight division, apparently took less guaranteed money in terms of a signing bonus and minimum purses than he was offered elsewhere because he wanted to be with Top Rank, which in 50 years of business has helped developed many of the biggest stars in boxing.

“I love the kid, he’s a delight to be with,” says Arum.”He’s charming, he’s got charisma, he’s intelligent. And we know he’s talented. He’s the whole package, and he’s extraordinarily mature for a 19-year-old. My matchmakers say he’s a major, major boxing talent, and I feel I can judge whether he has charisma and marketability and I believe he does.

“I think this kid can be the next American superstar. He’s still learning and he’s still growing, but he’s got everything. His power will develop. He’s already very fast. This kid has the ability to be like another Sugar Ray Leonard.”

Arum envisions an eventual showdown between Stevenson and his other star signing, Irishman Michael Conlan, as a huge fight in a few years.

Should be an interesting journey for them both, as well as Uncle Bob.



David Price

@DAVIDCOLDWELL Absolutely gutted we lost tonight. But the bigger picture is that @DavidPrice_1 gets to go home to see his lovely family safe and sound

David Price’s trainer Dave Caldwell finds some comfort in the big Liverpudlian’s sadly crushing defeat by Christian Hammer


They said what?…

Frank (Warren) and a lot of other people are getting excited about Liam Williams and talking about him as the next big thing. My job is to put him back in his place and remind everyone who the best fighter in the division is

Smith v Williams

Fighting talk from Liverpool’s former world champion Liam Smith ahead of his super-welterweight showdown with Welshman Liam Williams in Manchester on April 8

This guy has turned down Gennady Golovkin and Billy Joe Saunders and all of a sudden, because I’m doing so well, he wants to fight me. I heard he and his dad said they’ve chosen me. They’ve chosen me? They actually make me laugh, they’re a comedy act. He’s fooling everyone, he’s telling people he’s got a genuine world title but there are only four world titles and everyone in boxing is laughing at him

James DeGale puts Chris Eubank jnr’s ‘world’ title – and his aspirations – in perspective

While he is posing in the sun, I am grafting in the cold, but it is what it is, we will see

As they prepare for their March showdown, Tony Bellew is not impressed by David Haye pictured holidaying on £27 million yacht

My goal five years from now is to have this era’s Sugar Ray Leonard-Thomas Hearns fight when Stevenson fights Conlan. Conlan got robbed in the Olympics and didn’t fight Stevenson. Now they’ll fight as pros and make real money. I love thinking about fights like that. Here I am at 85, I’m an old fart. But I sign these young kids and they’ll keep me ticking for a long time. I’m not going to die until I develop these kids

Evergreen impresario Bob Arum obviously believes in a boxing youth policy

“Given the number of rounds that pro boxers go through, it’s really hard for them to be tested after a fight…either because they’ve suffered a defeat or because they’ve been injured and sometimes the urine they give has blood in it. But by and large they are really good and they understand that it’s all part of the process and that in order to prove they’re clean, they have to comply. Professional boxers are some of the more happy athletes to interact with us on social media and are more than happy to be seen to be being tested

UK Anti-Doping’s Nicola Sapstead says British boxers are no dopes when it comes to drugs testing

Tomorrow: Frank Warren’s pungent views on the boxing scene


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