Book Review: Championship Fighting: Explosive Punching and Aggressive Defense by Jack Dempsey
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.
More Book Reviews
Film Review: There’s A Lot To Like About “I Am Duran”
By: Sean Crose
While watching Mat Hodgson’s new documentary, I Am Duran, I found myself wondering how the director of such films as The Four Year Plan and Night Of The Fight: Hatton’s Last Stand had arrived at some of his creative decisions. There was an awful lot going on in this film, I thought. Perhaps too much. Then something strange happened. The movie stayed in my head after it had ended…and not in the bad way some films do, either. No, I Am Duran remained lodged in my mind because it gave me a fuller understanding of someone I had been aware of my entire life, an outrageous, talented, complex individual who left an indelible mark, not only in his native Panama, but on the worlds of boxing and popular culture, as well.
The film focuses on one of the greatest fighters of all time, Roberto Duran, a Panamanian legend who rose from poverty to the pinnacle of the sporting world, only to crash and return. Angry, bullying, charming, impressive, and admirable all at the same time, Duran captivated the public in his homeland, and well beyond in the course of an incredible career that lasted from 1968 to 2001. During that time, the fighter picked up major titles in the lightweight, welterweight, junior middleweight and middleweight divisions – an impressive feat under any circumstances, much less in the star studded era that Duran plied his trade in. The fact Duran’s career saw him face the likes of Ken Buchanan, Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Iran Barkley, Davey Moore and many other notables only serves to add a sense of wonder to the man’s achievements (as well as a sense of disappointment to the risk adverse boxers who currently dominate the sport). Ultimately, however, I Am Duran isn’t a movie about boxing. Boxing, in a sense, only serves as its backdrop.
“In this story there is only one legend,” Duran himself says early in the film. “That’s me.” And, sure enough, Hodgson strives to give as complete a picture of the man as possible. Some of the bigger names one could imagine appear to discuss the enigmatic fighter known as “Manos de Piedra (Hands of Stone)” Aside from boxing royalty like Leonard and Hagler recalling their old foil at length, the movie presents Duran’s wife, Felicidad, actor Robert DeNiro (who played Ray Arcel, Duran’s famed trainer in the film “Hands of Stone,”) and – perhaps, most surprisingly – former Panamanian strong man Manuel Noriega (who admits he tried to cheat while battling Duran at pool). What these and other notables from various walks of life do for the film is paint a portrait of a man consumed by a relentless drive.
The source of that drive – the brutal poverty of Duran’s youth in Panama, near the famous Canal Zone – is well documented, giving the viewer an understanding as to why and how this grinding, sneering, ultimately brilliant athlete was formed. Yet Hodgson doesn’t ignore his subject’s less than savory behavior. The movie shows its subject’s dark side, starting with the lead up to Duran’s first 1980 superfight with American icon Leonard. In order to get into the former Olympian’s head, Duran targeted Leonard’s wife for harassment. The strategy may have had the desired effect, as Leonard lost the bout by decision because he decided to brawl with Duran. Yet no great victory can clean away the repulsiveness of Duran’s actions at the time. Having the drive to win is admirable. When that drive leads to harassing an innocent woman, it’s repulsive.
Of course, as any sports fan who was alive at the time can recall, Duran got his comeuppance a few months later when, in their rematch, Leonard decided to outbox and humiliate his foe to the point where Duran actually quit the fight. Hodgson handles the moment well, showcasing Duran’s fall from grace, not only in the worlds of sports and popular culture, but particularly among his countrymen in Panama. A great warrior, after behaving horribly, had been made to look like a punk – something no homeland would appreciate, especially one going through the turmoil Panama was in at the time.
Yet, as Hodgson makes clear, people don’t have to be defined by their worst moments. Duran did indeed find the gumption to return to ring glory (the fighter’s time voluntarily training himself back into shape in a penal colony is particularly notable in the film). The movie also shows how, over time, Duran has matured as a person. He’s made peace with Leonard, for instance (they’re now genuine friends), and is a more gracious star than he was decades ago. Interestingly enough, one gets the feeling these positive developments may have had more than a bit to do with Felicidad, a fascinating individual who may well be the strong one in the relationship. Indeed, it’s the moments which focus on those from Duran’s past and present that make this movie strong. Hagler, and especially Leonard, are the high points of the film. They explain their first hand accounts of famous fights with a novelist’s clarity and flair.
And then, of course, there’s Duran himself, still outspoken and in-your-face, but at the same time charming and in possession of dignity and – yes – decency. The man is nothing if not worthy of the attention he receives here. As is Panama. Yet, although Duran and Panama are synonymous, Hodgson tends at times to try to mirror the story of Duran with the story of his homeland. Unfortunately, the chronologies don’t always run in sync. The first act of the film, in particular, is impacted by this miscalculation. Like it’s subject, though, I Am Duran refuses to be kept down. There’s a lot to like here, a lot of gems to be found – in particular an eerie moment where Hodgson cuts from Duran quitting the Leonard rematch to Duran and Leonard in the present day. Each man is silent. It’s a masterfully done, powerful example of fine film making, more jarring than an entire CGI infused summer blockbuster.
Or perhaps even a knockout blow from a world class fighter.
Book Review: The Fight by Norman Mailer
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.
More Book Reviews
Fight Lit Book Review: Fighter by Andy Lee
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.
More Book Reviews
Creed II Review
By: Kirk Jackson
The highly anticipated sequel packed quite the punch cinematically and across the box office, earning over $55 million across Thanksgiving opening weekend (Wed-Sun).
The eighth installment in the Rocky film series is directed by Steven Caple Jr., and written by Sylvester Stallone and Cheo Hodari Coker.
The sequel picks up right where its predecessor left off. Adonis Creed, portrayed by Michael B. Jordan, realizes his manifest destiny, capturing the world heavyweight title and matching a feat his father accomplished more than three decades prior.
Photo Credit: Creed 2 Facebook Page
But while earning the world title and defeating the champion and pound-for-pound no. 1 Danny ‘Stuntman’ Wheeler – portrayed by former multi-division world champion and pound-for-pound ruler Andre Ward, a sense of emptiness resides within Adonis as he does not feel solidified as champion. He is still searching for his defining moment and to escape his father’s shadow.
While searching for validation and seeking long-term solidarity with his longtime girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson), a new threat linked to his father and to his mentor/adoptive uncle Rocky Balboa (Stallone) lies in wait to seek redemption and their own collective form of validation.
The father/son duo of Ivan (Dolph Lundgren) and Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu) is that threat rehashing old wounds and serving as the key point of the validation for Adonis professionally and personally.
What viewers typically encounter with a sequel is a continuation of the first film; an extension of the formula that made the prior entry successful. Creed II presents some elements from the previous installment, but adds additional components as well.
While certain parts of the film are predictable; early success, then failure and adversity of the protagonist, mind-blowing training montages, the love story element between central characters and the conclusion of the story ending with the final pugilistic showdown.
However, although parts of the film are predictable, as a viewer there is still a sense of anticipation because like previous Rocky films, the story reaches your emotions and you develop connections with the characters.
This is a testament to the writing and the talent of the actors emotionally luring viewers into the scope of the story. The acting across the board is great and there is great chemistry amongst the characters. Jordan continues to display why he is regarded as one of Hollywood’s brightest young talents.
I didn’t physically feel the punches Adonis ate throughout the course of the film, but emotionally I felt it as I cringed watching some of the thudding punches land. I winced watching Adonis and other characters stumble from horrific body shots and I cheered when Adonis landed punches.
As a viewer, it’s easy to relate to his pain and to the struggles of not only Adonis, but of Rocky, Ivan, Viktor or anyone in the story.
The visuals of the film are amazing. The shots of different locations ranging from the streets of Philadelphia, the sunny landscape of Los Angeles, the view overseas across Eastern Europe, the sweltering pavements of the final training area for Adonis (I believe New Mexico), the authentic boxing gyms and glamorous arenas showcasing these bouts were certainly aesthetically pleasing.
Another noteworthy aspect of this film is it delves into the psychology of a fighter and the psychological effects of fighting; the mental wars fighters endure before, during and after the fight. The negative, lingering effects it can have on family along with the importance of a strong support system.
There is an emphasis of importance towards the mental aspect of fighting; facing various emotions such as fear, doubt, loneliness, vulnerability, anxiety and a whirlwind of other emotions that are not often discussed while analyzing a boxing match.
The intricacies and various aspects of preparation for the fight; attending matters of the family and dealing with issues that can serve as distractions. If mentally unprepared, not only can you lose the bout, but can lose your life, or life as you know it.
Creed II illustrates the realities of fighting from a psychological aspect and provides the viewer food for thought.
Creed II contains a heavy play on nostalgia; as the central themes of this movie revolve around loose ends from the aftermath of Rocky IV, while similar plots are borrowed from that storyline but also from Rocky II and Rocky III.
Although this is a common trend we see with remakes or wide-spaced re-entries and continuations of a long-lasting film series. Paying homage by leaving Easter eggs, clues referencing the past and catering to the fan-base of that franchise.
But as mentioned earlier, there are themes and aspects of the film not necessarily dependent on the earlier Rocky entries that allow this movie to stand on its own.
Some of the themes prevalent in this film include the story of redemption, the importance of family, accountability, validation, remorse, depression, finding value within yourself and creating your own path.
Although there were predictable parts to the film, there are unexpected plot twists in which delivers poetic justice with everything coming full circle towards the conclusion of the film.
Even if you’re not a fan of the Rocky franchise, Creed II is definitely a film worth viewing as there are characters and situations anyone can relate to.
Best 10 Boxing Fights of 2016
Best 10 Boxing Fights of 2016
By: Jordan Seward
With the new year approaching it’s time to reflect on the best boxing action of 2016, so in no particular order….
Orlando Salido vs Francisco Vargas
The two Mexicans treated us to a classic right up to the final bell for Vargas’ (23-0-2) WBC World Super Featherweight title. Vargas, coming off the back of Fight of the Year for 2015 faced a true, steely warrior in the 36-year-old Salido (43-13-4). It was a back-and-fourth slug fest between two champions who don’t know when to quit. In the end the pair couldn’t be separated and the judges correctly scored it a draw.
Tony Bellew vs Ilunga Makabu
The real life rocky story that saw Bellew (28-2-1) finally crowned a world champion. Just after starring in the new rocky film ‘The Bomber’ got his third bite at the cherry facing a dangerous and feared Congolese who had chalked up 18 knockouts in 19 fights. A packed crowed inside his beloved Everton football club’s stadium were stunned when Makabu (19-2) sent Bellew rolling over at the end of the first. The Everton man climbed off the canvas Balboa esque and rallied to stop Makabu in the third with a flourish of heavy punches to claim the vacant WBC World Cruiserweight strap.
Dillian Whyte vs Dereck Chisora
This one had it all. Filled with controversy from the start these two Heavyweights threw everything but the kitchen sink. A table was thrown though. At a press conference. Which, as a result meant the British title wasn’t on the line. But after all the talk, the bad mouthing and the attempted scrapping Whyte (20-1) and Chisora (26-7) done it properly in the ring and fought out a clean and action-packed-12-rounder. Both men were rocked and absorbed a lot of punishment, but Whyte’s superior stamina was just about enough to nick it for him on the judges’ scorecard by split decision.
Keith Thurman vs Shawn Porter
Thurman (27-0) was getting in the ring with probably the best opponent he’s faced. The only man to previously have defeated Porter (26-2-1) was Kell Brook, but, in a fierce competitive fight, Thurman successfully defended his WBA World Welterweight title dishing out Porter’s second loss of his career with a 115-113 unanimous decision. Although the announcement was greeted by booing, the stats suggested Thurman deservedly had his hand raised at the end, landing 43.6% of his punches while his opponent made 35.6%.
Andre Ward vs Sergey Kovalev
The fight that everyone scored differently. It was a fight we all wanted as soon as Ward made the jump up from Super-Middleweight. The defensive suave of Ward (31-0) met the aggressive power of ‘The Krusher’ (30-1-1) at the T-Mobile Arena, in Las Vegas. The American, fighting on home turf, was put down in the second round for only the second time in his illustrious career. But Ward, as Ward does, after falling behind on the cards managed to take the second half of the fight and claim Kovalev’s WBO, IBF and WBA Super World Light Heavyweight titles by unanimous decision.
Carl Frampton vs Leo Santa Cruz
After unifying his IBF super-bantamweight title by outpointing Scott Quigg, the Northern Irishmen capped off his impressive year by adding Leo Santa Cruz’s (32-1-1) WBA Super World Featherweight belt. ‘The Jackal’ (23-0) jumped up a weight division and battled it out with the Mexican champion in an absolute barn burner. After a hard and punishing 12 rounds it went to the judges’ scorecards and Frampton, was given the nod. Now, just for us, they’re doing it all again at the MGM Grand on the 28th January. Not a bad way to start the new year.
Hosea Burton vs Frank Buglioni
Words were exchanged between the pair in what was a heated build up to this Light-Heavyweight contest for the British title. But when the fighting started it quickly turned in to a very watchable and enjoyable scrap. Both Burton (18-1) and Buglioni (19-2-1) continuously plowed forwards, in attempts to assert their dominance. They were both taking serious damage and in the twelfth-round Burton’s chickens came home to roost. The 28-year-old was slowing down and deserved to hear the final bell but with just one minute left in the bout Buglioni landed some hurtful blows and the ref waved it off.
Thomas Williams Jr. vs Edwin Rodriguez
A fiery, hard fought contest… while it lasted. At the StubHub Center, on the undercard of Andre Berto’s knockout win against Victor Ortiz, Rodriguez, (28-2) displayed courage, grit, determination, and, a chin. In this two-rounder, it was Williams Jr (20-2) who was landing the more powerful and hurtful shots but a number of times Rodriguez remained upright and proudly came firing back. In the end, it took a monster left hook to knock the resolute 31-year-old out.
Gennady Golovkin vs Kell Brook
As far as unexpected fights go, this one took the biscuit. You couldn’t have called it. This was not a fight many had in mind, but, when it was made it was all the talk. The IBF World Welterweight champion, Brook, jumped up two weight division to face the feared Middleweight kingpin at the O2 Arena. Looking in great shape and as confident as ever the Englishman made a great start to the fight. However, as the fight went on we began to realise Brook wouldn’t be making history as Golovkin’s power started to take its toll and Brook’s trainer, Dominic Ingle threw in the towel stopping proceedings in the fifth round.
Anthony Crolla vs Ismael Barroso
After prizing away the WBA World Lightweight title from Darleys Perez in their second meeting, Crolla, (31-5-3)made his first defence against the man who, effectively, sent world title challenger Kevin Mitchell into retirement. As expected, the Venezuelan (19-1-2) started strong and, typical of a Joe Gallagher fighter, Crolla did not. He absorbed some early punishment and probably lost the first five rounds. It became clear after six though, that Crolla’s tactics were spot on, as the challenger noticeably began to tire. He had thrown all he had and was on empty, Crolla seized his chance and overwhelmed his opponent, eventually stopping him in the seventh.