By: Stephanie Kent
No matter the greatness of the teacher, no one can learn boxing from a book.
Deep in the archives of great fighting literature, you’ll find Championship Fighting: Explosive Punching and Aggressive Defense by Jack Dempsey. First published in 1950, the heavyweight champ from 1919 until 1926 offers this memoir-meets-how-to-guide. Most of the pages are dedicated to a boxing education from an older era; the book won’t make a world champion out of anyone, but all levels of fight fan can learn from the hard-won wisdom of Dempsey’s legendary career.
After noting that his first million-dollar gate brought a flood of novices to the sport (you know the type: boxing “trainers” and who’ve never been in a ring), Dempsey laments that “Fighting became ‘big business’; but in the scramble for money in the cauliflower patch, the punching technique of the old masters… seems to have been forgotten.” He sets out to remedy the lack of boxing education with the seventeen chapters that follow; step-by-step, illustrated guides for punching, footwork and defense.
Championship Fighting details the author’s title-winning fight against Jess Willard in 1919 and introduces a theory of boxing: explosive body weight is the single most important weapon. Dempsey will go on to demonstrate how to incorporate the concept into every type of punch.
This section, which makes up the majority of the book, boasts lofty claims of teaching would-be boxers everything they need to know about fighting. No matter how much we’d all love to learn boxing at the feet of a champion like Dempsey, the book is hardly a substitute for time at a gym, with a coach. The vocabulary is straightforward enough, but the short, precise movements he describes and the very philosophy of punching seems only recognizable to those who’ve spent time in a gym. Likewise, about half of the illustrations — all strapping, young white men with already-toned boxers’ physiques — were vague and failed to shed additional light on the accompanying instructions.
A handful of Dempsey’s instructions did resonate as interesting meditations on form and technique, though, and felt akin to that moment when your boxing coach explains an old concept in a fresh way that sticks. As an accompaniment to time in a gym, or as a refresher for an experienced fighter, the book might serve as a good reminder of the ABCs of the sport.
Even if a new boxer was to grasp all the concepts Championship Fighting teaches, the book fails to acknowledge one of the truths of learning the sweet science: that an education in boxing is an art, a living, breathing thing that requires teachers, teammates and real human interaction to perfect.
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By: Stephanie Kent
In The Fight, we follow Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Norman Mailer during the suspenseful weeks leading up to 1974’s “Rumble in the Jungle” matchup between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. Even the most casual of fight fans are familiar with the historic bout, but Mailer unveils a behind-the-scenes story that’ll have readers convinced the fight could go either way by the time the heavyweights step into the ring.
The Fight begins with an ode-like chapter on Muhammad Ali, and what it’s like to behold him in person as he trains. From the start, the book paints a picture of a frustrated Ali, bored with training, lacking his usual luster. Held up beside 25-year-old champion George Foreman’s camp, the Louisville Lip immediately assumes the role of underdog in this telling.
Mailer writes about himself as a central figure in The Fight. The character Norman is respected by both fighters; by Ali who fancies himself a poet, and Foreman, who’s rumored to be working on a debut book himself. As a member of the press corps, he gains incredible access to the athletes. In one epic chapter, Mailer joins Ali for a run, surprised at the easy pace and short length of the roadwork (the ageing, hungover Mailer even manages to keep up for the first half!). Mailer uses this insider access to look at the fighters — their sparring sessions, their apparent strategies, even their confidence levels — side by side. All signs point to defeat for Ali.
The play-by-play of the fight is the most exciting chapter in the book. After a hundred pages detailing sparring, mindset, and training regimens, Mailer watches in awe Ali’s audacity to throw lead right hands in the early rounds. He marvels at the rope-a-dope, and shares the crowd’s mania when Foreman hits the canvas in the eighth round. These pages are some of the best boxing writing in history.
Reading The Fight in 2019 (which was first published in 1975) is both joyful and challenging. In our era of too many belts, professional boxing is reckoning with itself; it’s thrilling to read of a time when the whole world would stop to watch a boxing match. On the contrary, much of the prose feels dated in 2019. It’s impossible to write of 1970’s Kinasha an the fight itself without writing of race, but Mailer writes it in big, broad strokes that resonate naive at best and offensive at worst in the current social climate.
Most who pick up The Fight already know how that it ends with a victorious Muhammad Ali. The gain in reading it in the twenty-first century doesn’t come from the suspenseful telling, or the lesser-known encounters Norman Mailer had during his time in Zaire. The Rumble in the Jungle had all the makings of an incredible tale: a fallen hero, over-the-top sidekicks, adoring fans with a catchy war cry (Ali, bomaye!). As such, it’s worthwhile to revisit this myth-like boxing story, an enduring one that’s thrilling to consume forty years later and paints a picture of what boxing might once again become.
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By: Stephanie Kent
Book Review: Fighter by Andy Lee
When Andy Lee announced his retirement in early 2018, he was asked how he’d like to be remembered. “An an honest boxer,” came his reply. “A fighter’s personality reflects in their boxing style, and if nothing else I was honest.” It seems the adage extends to a fighter’s memoir, too. Lee’s autobiography Fighter, written with Niall Kelly, is a candid reflection on a life in the sweet science.
Glossy pages of the book show photographs of Andy’s life and career, and the chubby youngster pictured is almost unrecognizable from the 6’2”, lanky world champion he will become. Born to Irish Traveller parents in London, Lee’s boxing story begins from play fighting (and bloody, not-so-playful fighting) with his brothers. At age eight, he begins training at Repton Boxing Club. Lee had his hand raised often, even as a young boxer. “As a kid, I never wanted to be a world champion,” Lee writes. “I just didn’t want to let anybody down.” Quickly, we see his evolution from kid brother trying to keep up, into a talented, hungry athlete.
Andy’s family move to Limerick finds him on the receiving end of schoolyard bullying, loneliness. He finds an identity in boxing: “It became a part of who I am,” he writes. “The thing that made me distinctive, the thing I told people about myself.”
As he continues to add to an already impressive amateur resume, we see Andy’s account of the phone call that changed the course of his career. Famed champion-maker Emanuel Steward hears of Lee’s recent tournament victory and calls the teenager at home with a proposal: come train with him at Detroit’s Kronk Gym and sign a professional contract. Young and unsavvy in business, Lee respectfully declines, citing his focus on the upcoming Olympic Games in Athens.
Following a devastating, medalless Olympic defeat to Alfredo Angulo, Andy begins to imagine what’s next. Courted by the Irish national team and American investors, Lee reflects (not for the last time) on how to make impossible business decisions with a boxing career. At this early stage, he’s built a team of trusted friends and advisors, and takes a leap of faith. As the Limerick chapters come to an end, we find Andy in Detroit, with Steward’s sights set on making him a world champion.
The Detroit section of the book reads how it must have felt to experience: a quick rollercoaster with too many twists and unseen obstacles to count. Andy acclimates quickly to his life at Kronk Gym; he moves into Emanuel Steward’s home and the relationship with his new coach quickly evolves into something that resembles a familial love and respectful mentorship.
We see Andy’s full, but sometimes lonely life in Detroit. We see his boxing sharpen. We see training camps and fights and victories and opportunities… and then we see his first loss. The devastating play-by-play of defeat by Brian Vera reads like it’s been on repeat in Andy’s mind ever since. Throughout Fighter, the authors dive deep into each loss… like any good champion, Andy obsesses over them, tries to pinpoint where he went wrong. These chapters don’t read like excuses, but rather, a thorough account of how to avoid the same mistakes in future battles. As Lee prepares for a comeback, we see him navigate the business of boxing and the treacherous management of an athlete’s career; there’s an omnipresent pressure from Lee’s investors trying to get their money’s worth.
Losses in Fighter aren’t limited to boxing matches; Lee recounts family and close friends who pass away during his career, including the death of longtime trainer Emanuel Steward. The Detroit section of the book ends with Andy sad, grateful, and at yet another decision point: who will he train with in the next chapter of his career?
In London, he sets up with trainer Adam Booth and after a short adjustment period, the new team launches into what will become the final fights of Lee’s professional boxing career. Quickly, we find Andy center ring at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, as he prepares to fight Matt Korobov for the WBO middleweight title. Lee wins in a sixth round stoppage. The chapter is a thrilling account of what it’s like to realize a lifelong dream.
True to Irish literary tradition, Fighter is lyrical and thoughtful; the book is about so much more than it seems on the surface. It’s an enjoyable read because it’s the tale of an underdog fighting his way to the top… but it’s also an inside look at how modern boxing works, the business of it all.
Fighter reinforces what many fight fans already know about Andy Lee: he’s likeable (what’s not to love about a bloke who wears track pants to a concert, surrounded by tuxedos?) and his humility is unmatched (“One punch won it for me tonight, and one punch could end it all just as quickly the next time”). There’s a kindness in the way Lee speaks of his sport and fellow athletes, but this doesn’t detract from his ferocity or commitment to it. On the final pages, we’re left with the sense that his work ethic is somehow contagious; above all, Fighter is the kind of book that makes you want to work harder, to master your craft, whatever it may be.
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Boxing’s First Female Judge and Four Former Champions in Hatfield, PA, Saturday!
By: Ken Hissner
This Saturday at the BucksMont Indoor Sports Center, 2278 North Penn Road, Hatfield, AP. 19440 should be well attended from 10:30am to 4:00pm. The first female boxing judge in the country Carol Polis will be selling her book, “The Lady is a Champ” and will be selling autographed photographs. Come out and meet Carol in person along with four professional boxers on Saturday, September 10, 2016.
I personally know Carol and purchased her excellent book. It’s worth every cent you invest it in. Carol is also a great guest speaker at libraries, nursing homes and any sporting event. I have heard he speak and she keeps your attention on every word. Carol should be there at 10:30am when the show starts.
Joining Carol will be four former world boxing champions of which two were teammates on the 1984 USA Olympic Boxing team where both won Gold Medals.