By Scott Wilerson
More Tales From Ringside
Tom Donelson and Frank Lotierzo
In his classic novel, Tristram Shandy, Laurence Stern instructs that a man’s body and mind are linked like a coat and its lining: rumple the one and you rumple the other. These are indeed wise words and, surely, nowhere more relevant than in the world of boxing. Stern’s insight was certainly a response to 18th century scientism, but it was equally an anticipation of an emerging 19th century Romanticism. Boxing, in its contemporary guise, is nothing less an attempt to coordinate some of these contradictory forces through the Self and the Other. To be sure, these are complex issues, but we have now, in Tom Donelson’s and Frank Lotierzo’s new book, More Tales From Ringside, a splendid example of mind and body working in brilliant concert, for their book is both viscerally thrilling and intellectually rigorous. It is a heavy-weight text at the top of its division, undfeated, undisputed, and indispensable!
To appreciate fully the scope of their remarkable achievement, it is important to place More Tales from Ringside in context. Surveying the literature, we can see two main methodological strains in the tradition of boxing journalism: reporting and interpretive reportage. Donelson’s and Lotierzo’s extraordinary synthesis of these two forms is not only a virtuosic performance, it is an act of literary alchemy in which the inner tensions that animate boxing itself are broken down, resolved, and then redeployed with precision, wit, and ferocity. This is, in every respect, a championship book.
Whether they are writing about the current scene, speculating on the future, or revisiting historically significant bouts, theirs is the rhetoric of searching and exploration. In the crucible of Donelsonian-Lotierzian inquiry, Roy Jones, Jr. is not permitted to pass without incisive inspection of his true credentials; Bernard Hopkins’s immense talent is at last developed in a fair, responsible setting; the Holyfield and Ruiz phenomena are finally, properly uderstood as conditions of modernity evolving through a living timeline that reaches back to the “Old Shcool” of the 30s and 40s; the puzzling questions of Rahman and Tua are framed, as never before, by discusisons of both technique in the abstract and execution in the ring; Charley Burley’s mystery is transformed beautifully into real mystique; Lewis-Klitschko, De La Hoya-Mosley and Ward-Gatti all become bold experiments in the laboratory of their prescient, penetrating criticism; provoactive What-Ifs are not merely fantasy matches, they become models for the illuminating power of counterfactual logic.
Nothing in the entire universe of boxing discourse seems beyong the reach of their elegant imaginations or their prodigious percecptual powers. And perhaps most significantly the deep narrative of boxing’s human spectacle is always central to their thinking. As pundits, Donelson and Lotierzo are not only men of ideas, but men with ideas. This of course requires them to reject the neutral corners of conventional analysis. But we the readers are the lucky beneficiaries of their fearless assault on languid, received opinions and the institutionalized hype of celebrity fetishism.
More Tales from Ringside is not a book for pansies of the façon de parler, nor is it a transcription of the latest media script flip. It is, rather, a book of generous humor, rapacious honesty, gentlemanly poise, scholarly commitment, ebullient vision and, finally, a book of vast love for the sport that resonates most singularly with the human soul.
Laurence Stern, writing while James Figg was world champion, looked at his own fading era and lamented, “What a conjecture here is lost!” There is, however, nothing to lament in our present time. With this astonishing book and Donelson and Lotierzo to narrate the age, the ineffable conjectures of the sweet science are found once again and only seconds out!