Boxing Books - Some Interesting Choices (Also, some words about "The Fighter")

By Paul Strauss: Often biographies fail to live up to a reader's expectations. Initially the reader anticipates a chance to delve deeper into the "real person" behind the legend and gain greater insight into the secrets of their hero's success. Sometimes they are rewarded and sometimes the writer falls short.

The following is a lists of a few books, along with a letter grade and a few comments and thoughts for you to contemplate before checking them out:

1) A+ "Tunney", by Jack Cavanaugh is a great read and highly recommended. The author does an artful job of taking the reader back in time to what life, not just boxing, was really like during one of the most exciting times in history. It was the Golden Era of Sports, when boxing was on the front page of the major newspapers. Cavanaugh's approach is fresh, full of surprises and authoritative. His style flows easily and incorporates the right word at the right time. Readers might have to check the dictionary more than once, but when they do unfold a particular word's meaning, they will find it fits perfectly. The new slants and stories are backed up with proper support, and Cavanaugh does a great job presenting Tunney and Dempsey in a parallel fashion, so the reader can envision the diversity in their backgrounds and development and find out how it influenced who they became. It is full of surprises as well, and readers are entertained with "new scoops" of long forgotten and buried information concerning not just Tunney and Dempsey, but other colorful characters of that era as well. Readers will come away with a new found respect and appreciation for both Tunney and Dempsey. The book is so good that a steady stream of accolades could be given, but it's easier to suggest that you pick up a copy and enjoy.

2.) A "Cinderella Man: James Braddock, Max Baer and the Greatest Upset in Boxing History" by Jeremy Schaap. This also is an excellent book and very well written. As with "Tunney", this book also characterizes two of boxings most interesting people. It takes place in one of history's most difficult times, The Great Depression. Readers truly come away with a realization of how good they've got it. There's so much color and drama throughout the pages of this book. Schaap's efforts make vivid in our minds the toughness, determination and strength of character survivors possessed. He also manages to bring the fight game and its undercurrent of inescapable power into terms we can understand and to which we can relate. We begin to strongly suspect that over time the names change, but the script has the same plot, but oh what a great one it is. The book reinforces how fate deals a hand in greatness. A wrong turn here, a missed opportunity there, an act of kindness, or a long shot that comes in when least expected. Read about one of the most talented fighters in the game at the time, who squanders away his legacy. Read about the underdog who bridges the demise of the golden era right into the lead up to another era of greatest soon to begin with the Brown Bomber, Joe Louis. It's a great read and even though you know the ending, it's a sure bet you will be intrigued as to how all of the puzzle pieces fit together. It's an excellent book.

3.) B+ "PacMan" by Gary Andrew Poole. This book provides a graphic picture of Manny's life, and how he has exchanged one type of childhood chaos for another equally serious adult version. His earlier struggles to overcome proverty have been talked about at some length during such programs as HBO"s 24/7, but most fans will be surprised to find out how unusual his current life has become. Worries about his physical and financial well being seem to be well founded. He lives in a very dangerous part of the world, as evidence by his need for protection provided by a small private army, bullet proof vehicles, plus the ownership of a small arsenal. The author doesn't mention any specific threats of violence aimed at Manny, but the generally violent conditions in parts of the Philippines suggests the need for constant vigilance. The threat of kidnapping against him or family members seems very real. Also, it brings up a question about the safety of the rest of his official team (Freddie Roach, Bob Arum, Michael Koncz, and Alex Ariza) and whether they are in danger when in the Philippines? The book does a good job depicting the contradictions concerning Manny, where on one hand he can be so concerned about the elimination of corruption and poverty in his country, and on the other hand apparently openly associating with some notoriously corrupt types? His loyal Filipino fans worry that getting involved with politics with change him for the worse. Boxing fans become privy to some of Manny's unusual methods of training, and more than just a few of his personal quirks. (Finally, readers will have to forgive Manny for getting duped by Bob Arum into making a personal appearance for Harry Reid, "for he knew not what he was doing".).

4.) C "Angelo Dundee: My View From the Corner" You certainly can tell that Bert "Sugar" Randolph is actually the writer of this book. The whole book is written in a "flippant" style, which is okay if you like that kind of thing. Really though, how many times can you say "bejabbers"? Unfortunately, readers don't find out a whole lot about the real Angelo Dundee, because the book is as much about Muhammad Ali as it is about Angelo. We get touches here and there, such as his real birth name, but it's obvious Angelo Dundee is being very protective of his real inner circle. The book deals too much with Ali and tries hard to justify Ali's antics outside of the ring, which doesn't really have anything to do with "My View From the Corner". To make matters worse, his efforts fall short. Peoples' opinions about Ali are not going to change one way or the other. One rather annoying aspect of the book is Angie's (or Bert's) attempt to impart humorous or sage boxing wisdom to readers by repeating stories about fighters that everyone who has been around for a while has already heard or read. They are not unique to Angelo at all, nor his perspective. They're still funny, but hardly original. Angie is such a likable guy, and so highly respected that readers are going to come away disappointed in not finding out more about the "real him" and what he really knows.

5.) C+ "The Fighter" stars Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale. Why is it the more dysfunctional the characters are in a movie, the better Hollywood critics like it?. Hollywood critics aren't alone in ballyhooing this movie. Even Sports Illustrated is genuflecting to this latest so called boxing movie. The few scenes actually involving boxing are entertaining as are the choreographed fight scenes, but it's not enough to overcome the unpleasantness of the whole movie. The real problem with this movie is how it portrays Micky Ward's family. They are presented in such a bad light that the movie itself is hard to watch. People who like the movie undoubtedly will say, "Well, it is realistic and truthful". But, many viewers will have an uncontrollable urge to say, "Throw the whole bunch into the clink, or better yet, a mental instituation.". Actors and actresses who portray foul mouthed chain smoking drug addicts and alcoholics are inevitably described as having "done their best work yet"! Critics seem to forget it doesn't take much talent to write and speak ad nauseum the f.....word as a modifier before everything. That does not represent any true level of feeling or emotion. It only depicts ignorance. It's a copout to true cleverness and creativity. Great movies, even those about some of the most distasteful individuals in history, have managed to do so with clever, imaginative dialogue and very good acting. The fact is it's not a stretch of any actor's/actress' talent to simply emote being stressed or burned out by continuously swearing. Why parts like that receive such rave reviews is a mystery?. "Raging Bull" starring DeNiro and Pesci is another movie that takes the easy way out. It's characters are presented without any redeeming qualities, and all of the violence and foul language is gratuitous. Certainly Jake LaMotta and his brother were like that and proud of it, but who cares? Keep the Martin Scorcese films.

Rocky Graziano was in real life a rough, tough criminal, but movie makers managed to get that point across in "Somebody Up There Likes Me" starring Paul Newman without resorting to such easy tactics. James Cagney, as a friend, brother, lover and boxer named Danny Kenny goes through much in a great movie called "City for Conquest". Boxing fans will also enjoy Kirk Douglas as Midge Kelly in "Champion" or maybe a very young William Holden as Joe Bonaparte in "Golden Boy". Even Errol Flynn in "Gentleman Jim" was a fun and entertaining movie. Talk about a dysfunctional family. One of the best lines in the movie is when people on more than one occasion yell, "The Corbetts are at it again!" Budd Schulberg's "The Harder They Fall" starring Humphrey Bogart, Rod Steiger, Jersey Joe Walcott and Max Baer is truthful and very realistic, but without the crud. John Garfield also made more than one good "boxing" movie. One was "They Made Me a Criminal" and another was "Body and Soul". Another interesting true life movie is one about the great fighter Barney Ross. It's called "Monkey on My Back". It details how the great champion and wounded war hero became addicted to mophine while recovering from his wounds in a military hospital, and how he went cold turkey to break the addiction. Or, how about the oscar winning movie "On The Waterfront" with Marlon Brando as boxer Terry Malloy, Rod Steiger as his corrupt brother, Karl Malden as a waterfront parish priest, Lee J. Cobb as a crime boss and Eva Marie Saint as the romantic interest, plus a host of actual boxers......i.e Tami Mauriello, Two Ton Tony Galento, Abe Simon, and so forth. It's a great movie, and didn't need all the crud. More recently "Cinderella Man", starring Russell Crowe as Jimmy Braddock and Paul Giamatti as his manager is a good movie, and includes Angelo Dundee as a corner man. Here's another one to recommend. It's a fringe movie (actually bare knuckle) that was good and considered one of actor Charles Bronson's better efforts. By the way, Charles Bronson (Bunchinsky) actually did a little boxing. The movie is called "Hard Times" and in addition to Bronson it featured James Coburn and Strother Martin.

So, should you go see "The Fighter"? Save your money and wait for the DVD to come out.

Article posted on 27.12.2010

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