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Articles of 2004

Ernest Hemingway: Literary Giant and Boxing Pretender

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One of the most notorious boxing matches of all time involved a portly, rabid self-mythologizer who had no real boxing ability, and a tubby, minor Canadian writer who, despite appearances, did. Step forward Ernest Hemingway and Morley Callaghan. They boxed at the American Club in Paris in June 1929. Their audience was the time-keeper, the writer F Scott Fitzgerald.

The action – in particular a knockdown of Hemingway – was to influence all their lives. For Hemingway, it signified the end of his (unadmitted and, as far as one can see, platonic) love affair with the hedonistic Fitzgerald. For Fitzgerald it represented the moment after which Hemingway was not for turning by his charm. For Callaghan, a former colleague of Hemingway on the Kansas City Star, it meant fleeting fame and then, 30 years on, more fleeting fame when he published his memoir, That Summer In Paris. All because of that boxing match. What happened?

Fitzgerald and Hemingway had been to Pruniers restaurant. Hemingway had had lobster thermidor and, according to him, “several” bottles of white burgundy. In line with the rampant delusionism evident from his letters, it was Hemingway who thought Fitzgerald had a drink problem. Well, Fitzgerald did. It had probably started off as a joke, but “Fitz’s” falls had become more commonplace. A few years earlier they had shared an intense if rather brief friendship, characterised by inordinate espousals of admiration for each other that Hemingway seemed to take more seriously than Fitzgerald, but which both soon found hard to keep up.

At the start Fitzgerald had been the star writer, author of The Great Gatsby and the notion of the “Jazz Age” of the 20s, while still in his 20s himself. Hemingway was then an unknown who traded on his “hick” credentials. Fitzgerald had lent him money and helped him get both an agent and a publisher. They shared two traits. First, obviously, the ability to invent new styles of writing that would revolutionise 20th century literature and beyond. The second was a belief that, in their own ways, they could dominate any room they entered, mould the wills of anyone within it to their own ends, and create lifetimes that would, till the finish, be gloriously to their own dictation. Their methods were different, indeed perhaps opposite – with Fitzgerald, fey attention-seeking; Hemingway, brute manliness – but the aim was broadly the same. In this aim, life proved each spectacularly wrong.

By the time of the Hemingway-Callaghan bout, their relationship was edgy, but not admitted as such. They – Hemingway particularly – seem to have avoided seeing each other, while keeping up occasional ardent correspondence. Hemingway told his agent under no circumstances to give out his address to Fitzgerald, because of his drunkenness. Having privately thought it for years, he was now airing the view that Fitzgerald’s problems stemmed almost wholly from his wife, Zelda, whom he considered mad and destructive, competing with her husband and disrupting him when he tried to work or get sober. Probably not coincidentally, Zelda thought exactly the same about Hemingway.

Certainly Zelda, southern belle who tapped into Fitzgerald’s old-money preoccupation, and both prima ballerina and great novelist manqué, would have been a handful. But she was also one person who did not buy into the Hemingway myth, mocking him for having “more hair on his chest than any man could”, and calling him a “phony”. To Hemingway, hugely sensitive despite outward appearances, this would have been provocative poison.

He was also keen to remind Fitzgerald obliquely of their change in status. Hemingway was on his way by then, and had refused earlier requests by Fitzgerald to watch him box. However, shored up by Pruniers burgundy, it is probable he was finally looking forward to showing off in front of him. There was something else in the mix: gossip spread about American circles in Paris, by the gay writer Robert McAlmon, that Fitzgerald and Hemingway had had a homosexual affair, prompting Hemingway to aver that he would knock McAlmon’s block off.

At the American Club, Hemingway and Callaghan squared up as usual. All accounts suggest that Hemingway was clumsy and uneducated as a boxer, but was interested in it intellectually and was evangelistic, often getting artistic types into the ring to show them gently how it worked. Callaghan was rather different. He had trained for a year with proper boxers in Canada. He had sparred with Hemingway three or four times before. Their gulf in ability and experience had not been exposed because the sessions had been subdued and recreational (even if he had sometimes inadvertently bloodied Hemingway’s lip).

Fitzgerald was given a watch and told to call “Time” after three minutes, with one-minute rests between rounds. In That Summer in Paris, Callaghan related that, with Fitzgerald present, in the second round Hemingway started to box with an aggression he had not experienced before: “I had to forget all about Scott, for Ernest had become rougher, his punching a little wilder than usual. His heavy punches, if they had landed, would have stunned me.” Callaghan responded with his own heavier punches, and immediately put Hemingway down.

’Oh my God!’ Scott cried suddenly … ‘I let the round go four minutes!’

‘Alright Scott,’ Ernest said savagely. ‘If you want to see me getting the shit knocked out of me, just say so. Only don’t say you made a mistake.’”

Hemingway stomped off to the showers. The story found its way into the New York papers, and Fitzgerald and Callaghan exchanged acerbic letters. Hemingway wrote to Fitzgerald “forgiving” him. But he never did.

It was the end of their friendship. Fitzgerald died of a heart attack at 44, ironically when he was showing signs of conquering drink. Zelda was by then in a mental institution. Hemingway went on, drinking and drinking, always denying it, his writing deteriorating with commercial success, until suicide, his letters dotted with references to Callaghan.

His last one says: “Scott let the first round go thirteen minutes”.

Fitzgerald had been dead more than fifteen years. From the first round to the second, and from one extra minute to 13 – whatever one thinks of Hemingway’s writing, he had the soul of an artist, but no sanity by the end.

Jonathan Rendall is the author ofThis Bloody Mary: Is the Last Thing I Own

Articles of 2004

2004 Boxing Pound for Pound List

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The final boxing pound-for-pound list of the year for 2004.

1. Bernard Hopkins: The top guy from beginning to end, Hopkins took care of Oscar De La Hoya with a body shot in the biggest fight of 2004. Now, he'll wait for Jermain Taylor to progress a little further, or he'll go the rematch route with Felix Trinidad. Either way, Hopkins stands to earn a lot of money in 2005 and extend that all-time middleweight reign.

2. Floyd Mayweather: How long has it been since we've seen Mayweather in a meaningful fight? Certainly not in 2004, when he outpointed the difficult DeMarcus Corley. He's slated for a January outing against a no-name. Enough stalling, already, “Pretty Boy”. Fight someone we care about (preferably Kostya Tszyu), or you'll lose your #2 position sometime in 2005.

3. Felix Trinidad: “Tito” stormed back with a magnificent knockout of Ricardo Mayorga in 2004, and now hopes to capitalize on it with big money fights. He'd like nothing more than a rematch with his only conqueror, Hopkins, but he may also opt for old nemesis Oscar De La Hoya. Either way, Trinidad is sure to fight a big fight sometime in the coming year.

4. Kostya Tszyu: What a difference one fight makes. As recently as late October, the boxing world was wondering whether Tszyu was even serious about the sport anymore. We found out with a second round demolition of Sharmba Mitchell. And that made the junior welterweight division very attractive. Tszyu has several options now, including Arturo Gatti and Mayweather or even a hop up to welterweight to challenge Cory Spinks. Let's hope one of them happens in 2005.

5. Manny Pacquiao: Pacquiao fought twice in 2004, and what a fight the first one was. His thrilling war with Juan Manuel Marquez was the best brawl of the year, and there is a chance that the two rivals will go at it again in 2005. If not, Pacquiao has a list full of options: Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, etc. Pacquiao will fight one of them in the next year.

6. Marco Antonio Barrera: Another guy thought to be washed up when the year started, Barrera resurrected his career for the second time with a masterful victory over Paulie Ayala and a close decision over rival Erik Morales in another great fight. Barrera is obviously shooting for a return with Pacquiao, who decimated him in November 2003. Barrera says it was an off-night. Hopefully, we'll find out if that was the case.

7. Winky Wright: Winky entered the “superstar” realm in 2004 with a pair of decision victories over Shane Mosley. The first was very impressive, as Wright practically shut Mosley out. The second was closer, but proved once again that Winky was the superior fighter. He'd like a shot at Trinidad or Oscar De La Hoya, but neither will happen. He'd probably be best off shooting for a name like Fernando Vargas or Ricardo Mayorga.

8. Juan Manuel Marquez: After several years on the outside looking in, Marquez is finally in a position to make some money after his courageous performance against Pacquiao. He rose from three first-round knockdowns to wage the fight of his life in a fight that was ruled a draw. It would also be interesting to see Marquez against countrymen Barrera and Erik Morales.

9. Erik Morales: “El Terrible” fought another great fight against Barrera, but, again, it was in a losing cause. He has now lost two of three to his fierce rival, and probably wants nothing to do with him anymore. But, eventually, talk of Barrera-Morales 4 will come up again. In the meantime, Morales could shoot for Pacquiao or Marquez.

10. Glencoffe Johnson: The newest entry, Johnson pumped some life into boxing in 2004 with a pair of upsets of Roy Jones Jr. and Antonio Tarver. Now, he's set to make some really big money in rematches with either, or a shot at old conqueror Hopkins. Either way, Johnson is better than anyone imagined.

11. Jose Luis Castillo: Castillo made some comeback noise of his own in 2004, beating Juan Lazcano for his old vacant title and decisioning Joel Casamayor for another big win. He says he wants Kostya Tszyu next, and if that materializes, boxing fans will be in for a treat. If not, Castillo vs. Diego Corrales is a great fight.

12. Oscar De La Hoya: Hard to erase that picture of De La Hoya grimacing in agony courtesy of a Hopkins shot to the ribs, but the “Golden Boy” had no business fighting at 160 pounds. He should drop down to junior middle or even welterweight again if he has any hope of regaining his past form. But 2005 could be the final year for one of boxing's all-time great attractions.

On the brink: Antonio Tarver, Diego Corrales, James Toney

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Articles of 2004

Heavyweight Joe Mesi Bringing Lawsuit

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As reported by the Buffalo News, Joe Mesi is suing the New York State Athletic Commission and the MRI center that conducted tests on the heavyweight boxer after his bout with Vassiliy Jirov. Mesi reportedly suffered brain injuries in the Jirov bout, which has left his boxing status uncertain.

The lawsuit alleges Mesi's medical records were improperly released to the NYSAC. The records, the lawsuit goes on to allege, were then released to the media, prejudicing Mesi's right to have his status reviewed by the appropriate boxing authorities.

The lawsuit does not seek specific monetary damages, as the extent of damages will be affected by whether Mesi is able to resume his career as a leading heavyweight contender.

Mesi hopes to have his status reviewed by the Nevada State Athletic Commission within the coming month. The ruling of the NSAC promises to be key in whether Mesi will be able to resume his boxing career.

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Articles of 2004

The Best in Chicago Boxing Returns

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Dominic Pesoli's 8 Count Productions and Bob Arum's Top Rank Incorporated along with Miller Lite presents SOLO BOXEO DE MILLER, THE ARAGON RUMBLE, another installment of The Best in Chicago Boxing on Friday, January 14th, broadcast live internationally as part of Telefutura's Friday night professional boxing series.

The newly remodeled Aragon Ballroom is located at 1106 W. Lawrence Ave. near the corner of Lawrence and Broadway in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood and is easily accessible, just 4 blocks west of Lake Shore Drive and just 4 miles east of the Kennedy expressway. There are three large parking lots located within a 1/2 block of the Aragon Ballroom. Additionally, the Howard Street Blue Line stops just across the street. Doors will open at 6pm with the first bell at 7pm.

Headlining the action packed card is the American debut of super-bantamweight Ricardo “PIOLO” Castillo, 12-2 (6KO's) of Mexicali, Mexico as he squares off in a scheduled ten rounder against WBO Latino Champion, Edel Ruiz, 24-12-3 (13KO's) of Los Mochis, SI, Mexico. Castillo will be accompanied to the ring by his brother, World Lightweight Champion Jose Luis Castillo.

In the co-main event of the evening, one of Chicago's most popular fighters, middleweight “MACHO” Miguel Hernandez, 14-1 (9KO's), battles hard swinging local veteran “MARVELOUS” Shay Mobley, 7-4-1 (2KO's), of One In a Million Inc.in a scheduled eight rounder.

The huge undercard bouts include;

Carlos Molina vs TBA, six rounds, junior middleweights
Frankie Tafoya vs TBA, four rounds, featherweights
Ottu Holified vs. Allen Medina, four rounds, middleweights
Francisco Rodriguez vs. LaShaun Blair, four rounds, bantamweights
Rita Figueroa vs. Sarina Hayden, four rounds, junior welterweights

Said Dominic Pesoli, President of 8 Count Productions, “it was a terrific evening last month and our fans were thrilled to be at the Aragon to watch David, Speedy and Luciano. David Diaz's fight against Jaime Rangel was a fight people will talk about for a long time. Our commitment to our fans is to make every event of ours better than the last one. This main event is terrific, both guys are very tough Mexicans who won't take a step back.

The fans love Miguel and Mobley figures to be a very tough opponent. Him and David Estrada had a six round war last June at our show. And the undercard showcases a lot of new, younger talent that is coming out of Chicago right now. Tafoya and Holifield have both had very successful beginnings to their careers and Francisco Rodriguez comes with fantastic amateur credentials and David Diaz says he has all the talent to be a great pro.”

“We've got big plans for 2005 and this show should take up right where last months show left off. The huge crowd loved the action last time and I'm sure they'll say the same thing this time.”

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