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Book Review

DON DUNPHY AT RINGSIDE – A TSS Book Review

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DON DUNPHY AT RINGSIDE

DON DUNPHY AT RINGSIDE Autobiography, Published in 1988 by Henry Holt and Company, New York. 276 pages.

Don Dunphy is a legendary sports announcer who worked in both radio and television from 1940 into the 1980’s.  He was born in July of 1908 and passed away in July of 1998, so this book was written in his retirement as he approached 80 years old.  While Dunphy did work as a correspondent for newspapers while attending Manhattan College in the late 1920’s, he never claimed to be a writer or an author, and this is the only book that Dunphy wrote.  Because of his status in the field of broadcasting, Dunphy is in the The National Radio Hall of Fame and the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame.

Dunphy is also a member of the Canastota, New York International Boxing Hall of Fame for his work broadcasting the sport.  Though he worked in a diverse range of sports such as baseball, football, horse racing and Track & Field throughout his long career, Dunphy is most remembered for his work in boxing where he called more than 2,000 total fights, including more than 200 championship fights.

Dunphy chose the word “ringside” as part of the title of his book, and in the pages he refers to it as a boxing book, but most readers will likely find that an incorrect statement.  As an autobiography, Dunphy spends large portions of the book detailing his career and the business of broadcasting both radio and television.  As an example, he dedicates 19 pages of the book in a chapter called “Great Fights” where he re-collects such fights as Rocky Graziano vs Billy Arnold and Sugar Ray Leonard vs Thomas Hearns.  He dedicates an entire 11 page chapter to the Joe Louis vs Billy Conn fight.  He dedicated an equal 30 total pages to mini-biographies on other broadcasters such as Ford Frick, Mel Allen and a truly legendary group of men, many of whom have nothing to do with boxing.

Dunphy does not go into great depth at any point in his stories, though several of his anecdotes reflect the unique position he was in so close to the sport.  The book serves more as a look back on his life and career as a whole rather than a true book about boxing.  That is not to say that Dunphy does not detail several interesting events, and he certainly was witness to some of the greatest fights of the twentieth century.  His insights as he discusses Rocky Marciano’s infectious confidence prior to winning the world championship are a good example of his nice personal touch. Dunphy is engaging as a writer and the book is relatively easy reading.

If you are a fan of Don Dunphy or in the business of broadcasting, the book probably has a place in your collection.  For boxing fans, it is a nice retrospective look at four decades of the sport through the stories Dunphy has selected for the book, but if your looking for a boxing read through and through, or perhaps a more in-depth work on the sport you may want to look elsewhere.  This reviewer would describe the book as a “light read” more than a scholarly work.

DON DUNPHY AT RINGSIDE / Check out more boxing news and videos at The Boxing Channel.

Book Review

Literary Notes: Rocky Marciano and More

John Jarrett has been writing about boxing since 1951 when his first article, a piece about Rocky Marciano, was published in Boxing News. Since then, he has been involved with the sweet science in myriad ways

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Marciano

John Jarrett has been writing about boxing since 1951 when his first article, a piece about Rocky Marciano, was published in Boxing News. Since then, he has been involved with the sweet science in myriad ways including ongoing service as Northern Area Secretary for the British Boxing Board of Control for forty years. During that time, he has written nine books, he most recent of which (Rocky Marciano published by Pitch Publishing) brings Jarrett back to his creative roots.

All biographies of Marciano are written in the shadow of Russell Sullivan’s definitive work, Rocky Marciano: The Rock of His Times (University of Illinois Press, 2002). But Marciano is a subject who continues to inspire writers to write.

Rocco Francis Marchegiano was born into a struggling working-class family in Brockton, Massachusetts. The first time that he auditioned in the gym for trainer Charlie Goldman (who would ultimately sculpt the rough-hewn block of marble into greatness) Goldman told him, “If you done anything right, I didn’t see it.”

Shirley Povich of the Washington Post later quoted an unnamed observer of the boxing scene as saying, “Rocky Marciano can’t box a lick. His footwork is what you’d expect from two left feet. He throws his right hand in a clumsy circle and knows nothing of orderly retreat. All he can do is blast the breath from your lungs or knock your head off.”

No fighter trained harder than Marciano. That was one of the keys to his success. Asked to elaborate on his training regimen, he noted, “After a while, you get to hate all the guys around you. You get to hate the sight of their faces and the sound of their voices.”

Marciano lost four of the twelve amateur fights that he engaged in. Three decades later, Bob Girard (one of the men who beat him) reminisced, “I beat him because it was three rounds. There were a hundred guys who might have stayed three rounds with Rocco. But no man in the world was gonna beat Rocco in fifteen rounds.”

Jarrett offers an extensive recounting of Marciano’s ring career. There’s a particularly good retelling of the September 23, 1952, fight between Marciano and Jersey Joe Walcott when Marciano, trailing on all three scorecards at the start of round thirteen, seized the heavyweight throne with a highlight-reel knockout.

But as is often the case in this book, the most compelling writing with regard to Marciano-Walcott I comes from Jarrett’s judicious choice of quotes rather than his own prose. Here, the choice verbiage originated with Peter Wilson of the Daily Express, who wrote, “Then, like the car you never see on the dark road, the shell which you never hear, shocking, irrevocable, came that tremendous horrifying right. It left Walcott looking down his own spine with eyes that could not see. He crumpled forward, clutching for a rope, knees grayed by the resin dust. A brown paper bag burst by a thoughtless child. A headless, thoughtless, sightless, senseless, paralyzed man. Style, skill, pacing of the fight and good punching, all had availed nothing. Youth and strength are invincible.”

In his dressing room after the fight, Walcott was asked about the knockout punch and acknowledged, “I don’t remember anything. He caught me open and that was it. I don’t know if it was a right or left. I just don’t remember anything.”

Jarrett has done a great deal of research regarding Marciano’s fights. But there’s no new scholarship in his book, nor does he do much to place Marciano in the political and social context of his times. Also, when it comes to Marciano’s personal life, Jarrett tends to view him through rose-colored glasses, painting the portrait of a man who felt ambiguous about boxing because “he hated the time it took away from his family in Brockton.”

In truth, the historical record developed by Sullivan and others suggests that Marciano was more interested in whoring around than in being a good husband and father.

That said; Jarrett’s writing flows nicely and he’s passionate about his subject. Fans of Rocky Marciano will enjoy the book.

*     *     *

Never Stop by Simba Sana (Bolden Books) isn’t a boxing book. It’s a coming-of-age memoir written by a man who grew up in inner-city poverty, escaped, and then had to navigate the world outside it. But boxing keeps popping up in his life.

There’s a warning flag of sorts in an “author’s note” at the beginning of Never Stop that states, “This is a work of creative nonfiction. The events are portrayed to the best of Simba Sana’s memory. While all the stories in this book are true, some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of the people involved.”

Changing names to protect privacy is understandable. And memory is what it is. The phrase “creative fiction” might leave readers a bit wary.

But Sana writes well and his work demands attention from the start. The opening paragraph reads, “My mother never told me anything about her past – not one thing. This may be hard to believe, but she talked to herself more than she ever actually spoke to me. I grew accustomed to this at home. But as I got older, I became keenly aware that her habit of engaging in intense conversations with herself was not ordinary behavior.”

As Sana (then named Bernard Sutton) moved through adolescence, he trained at several boxing gyms and developed an affinity for the sweet science. Later, he earned master’s degrees from Howard University and St. John’s College and moved into the corporate world.

The most intriguing portion of Never Stop insofar as boxing is concerned deals with the period of time that Sana managed Beethaeven Scottland.

During his sojourn through various gyms, Sana had established a rapport with Scottland. By 1997, “Bee” had fallen out with his manager and walked away from boxing with an 11-4-2 record. In 1998, Simba began managing him on a handshake agreement. Scottland won his first fight back and, by late-2000, had a 20-6-2 record. Meanwhile, Sana was roughly $5,000 in the hole, not having cut Bee’s purses for most fights and having advanced the money for various expenses.

In November 2000, Scottland dumped him. It hurt.

“All the work I’d put in with Bee,” Sana recalls, “and then bam! Just like that. I was no longer Bee’s manager. It was like all my work meant nothing. Bee avoided me, and I didn’t go out of my way to find him either.”

On June 26, 2001, Scottland fought his first fight under new management against unbeaten George Khalid Jones and was knocked out in the tenth round. Sana watched it unfold on ESPN2 and acknowledges, “As Bee lay on the canvas, I felt vindicated. I had been wronged and part of me wanted him to pay for what he did to me.”

That’s impressive honesty given what soon turned Sana’s “sense of satisfaction” to concern. Scottland was carried from the ring on a stretcher and died six days later.

Never Stop is a good book.

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book – There Will Always Be Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.

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Book Review

David vs. Goliath: Notes and Nuggets from Thomas Hauser

The Biblical battle of David vs. Goliath has endured for thousands of years as an inspiration for underdogs in one-on-one combat. But few people have written of that storied confrontation in a more intriguing fashion than Malcolm Gladwell.

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Goliath

The Biblical battle of David vs. Goliath has endured for thousands of years as an inspiration for underdogs in one-on-one combat. But few people have written of that storied confrontation in a more intriguing fashion than Malcolm Gladwell.

Gladwell authored a collection of essays published under the title David and Goliath (Little Brown and Company). The book examines nine individuals from various disciplines who battled powerful forces in contemporary times. The introduction to the book explores the original David vs. Goliath.

Three thousand years ago, the Bible tells us, an army of Philistines was seeking to militarily divide the Kingdom of Israel into two parts which would then be vulnerable to conquest. The warring armies faced each other from opposite sides of a ravine. Neither army dared attack since doing so would require descending into the ravine and being assaulted from above.

Finally, Gladwell writes, “The Philistines sent their greatest warrior down into the valley to resolve the dead­lock one on one. He was a giant, six-foot nine at least [six cubits and a span] wearing a bronze helmet and full body armor. He carried a javelin, a spear, and a sword. An attendant preceded him, carrying a large shield. The giant faced the Israelites and shouted out, ‘Choose you a man and let him come down to me. If he prevail in battle against me and strike me down, we shall be slaves to you. But if I prevail and strike him down, you will be slaves to us and serve us.”

David, a shepherd boy who had come to the field of battle to bring food to his brothers, accepted the challenge. King Saul sought to dissuade him, warning, “Thou art not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him for thou art but a youth and he is a man of war.”

But David was insistent. You know the rest.

At least, you think you do.

“We consistently get these kinds of conflicts wrong,” Gladwell writes. “We misinterpret them. Giants are not what we think they are.”

Or phrased differently, in Gladwell’s eyes, David vs. Golaith wasn’t an evenly-matched fight. David had several crucial advantages.

“Goliath was expecting a warrior like himself to come forward for hand-to-hand combat,” Gladwell explains. “It never oc­curred to him that the battle would be fought on anything other than those terms. To protect himself against blows to the body, he wore an elab­orate tunic made up of hundreds of overlapping bronze fishlike scales. He had bronze shin guards protecting his legs with attached bronze plates covering his feet. He wore a heavy metal helmet. He had three separate weapons, all optimized for close combat.”

All David had was a shepherd’s staff, a sling, and five smooth stones.

“Am I a dog that thou comest to me with sticks?” Goliath demanded of his young adversary. “Come to me and I will give thy flesh unto the fowls of the air and to the beasts of the field.”

Not so fast, big guy.

As recounted in 1 Samuel, chapter 17, verses 49 and 50, “David put his hand in his bag and took thence a stone and slang it and smote the Philistine in his forehead that the stone sunk into his forehead and he fell upon his face to the earth. Therefore, David ran and stood upon the Philistine and took his sword and drew it out of the sheath and cut off his head.”

Now for Gladwell’s keys to victory.

“Ancient armies,” he explains, “had three kinds of warriors. The first was cavalry: armed men on horseback or in chariots. The sec­ond was infantry: foot soldiers wearing armor and carry­ing swords and shields. The third were projectile warriors, or what today would be called artillery: archers and slingers. Slingers had a leather pouch attached on two sides by a long strand of rope. They would put a rock or a lead ball into the pouch, swing it around in in­creasingly wider and faster circles, and then release one end of the rope, hurling the rock forward. Slinging took an extraordinary amount of skill and practice. But in experienced hands, the sling was a dev­astating weapon. An experienced slinger could kill or seriously injure a target at a distance of up to two hundred yards. The Romans even had a special set of tongs made just to remove stones that had been embedded in some poor soldier’s body by a sling. And projectile warriors were deadly against infantry because a big lum­bering soldier weighed down with armor was a sitting duck for a slinger who was launching projectiles from a hundred yards away.”

“Goliath is heavy infantry,” Gladwell continues. “He thinks that he is going to be engaged in a duel with another heavy-infantryman. When he says ‘Come to me,’ he means come right up to me so that we can fight at close quarters. David without armor has speed and maneuverability. He puts a rock into his sling and whips it around and around, faster and faster, aiming his projectile at Goliath’s forehead – the giant’s only point of vulnerability. What could Goliath do? He was carrying over a hun­dred pounds of armor. He was prepared for a battle at close range where he could stand, immobile, warding off blows with his armor and delivering a mighty thrust of his spear.”

“Goliath,” Gladwell quotes his­torian Robert Dohrenwend as saying, “had as much chance against David as any Bronze Age warrior with a sword would have had against an oppo­nent armed with a .45 automatic pistol.”

Moreover, in many respects, Goliath seems to have been like an aging boxer past his prime.

“Goliath is supposed to be a mighty warrior,” Gladwell notes. “But he’s not acting like one. He comes down to the valley floor accompanied by an attendant – a servant walking before him, carrying a shield. Why does Goliath, a man calling for sword-on-sword single combat, need to be assisted by a third party carrying a shield? What’s more, why does he say to David, ‘Come to me’? Why can’t Goliath go to David? The biblical account emphasizes how slowly Goliath moves, which is an odd thing to say about someone who is alleged to be a battle hero of infinite strength. Why doesn’t Goliath respond much sooner to the sight of David coming down the hillside without any sword or shield or armor? When he first sees David, his first reaction is to be insulted. He seems oblivious of what’s hap­pening around him. There is even that strange comment after he finally spots David with his shepherd’s staff: ‘Am I a dog that you should come to me with sticks?’ Sticks plural? David is holding only one stick.”

“What many medical experts now believe,” Gladwell continues, “is that Goliath had a serious medical condition. He looks and sounds like someone suffering from what is called acromegaly. One of the common side effects of acromegaly is vision problems. Why was Goliath led onto the valley floor by an attendant? Because the attendant was his visual guide. Why does he move so slowly? Because the world around him is a blur. Why does it take him so long to understand that David has changed the rules? Because he doesn’t see David until David is up close.”

“What the Israelites saw, from high on the ridge,” Gladwell concludes, “was an intimidating giant. There is an important lesson in that for battles with all kinds of giants. The powerful and the strong are not al­ways what they seem.

****

If you think David went in tough . . .

One man fought both Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis. And the loser was . . . Jack Sharkey.

On July 21, 1927, in the next-to-last fight of Dempsey’s storied ring career, the Manassa Mauler knocked out Sharkey at Yankee Stadium in the seventh round. Five years later, Sharkey won a split decision over Max Schmeling to claim the heavyweight throne. But a year after that, he lost the crown by knockout to Primo Carnera.

Fast-forward to August 18, 1936, when Sharkey had the misfortune to enter the ring against Louis. It was the Brown Bomber’s first fight after suffering a devastating knockout defeat at the hands of Schmeling. The feeling was that Louis still might not be right.

The feeling was wrong. He KO’d Sharkey in the third round.

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book – There Will Always Be Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.

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Book Review

Book Review: “Latino Boxing in Southern California”

Modern boxing has existed for more or less 160 years after the Marquis of Queensbury rules were adopted. Since that time hundreds and perhaps tens of thousands of pages have been quilled or typed depicting the sport’s torrid and colorful history.

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Queensbury

Modern boxing has existed for more or less 160 years after the Marquis of Queensbury rules were adopted. Since that time hundreds and perhaps tens of thousands of pages have been quilled or typed depicting the sport’s torrid and colorful history.

Prizefighters such as John L. Sullivan, Harry Greb and Georges Carpentier have had numerous novels written about their worthy exploits. Yet, though Southern California can match historic boxing footsteps with any region in the country, the heroes from Bakersfield to San Diego scarcely have been touched.

That’s where author Gene Aguilera steps forward.

Raised in East L.A. during the 1950s and 60s, the author saw firsthand many classic fights that took place in venues such as the Olympic Auditorium, Inglewood Forum and L.A. Sports Arena. And with his own eyes he saw the rise of Salvador Sanchez, Julio Cesar Chavez and Oscar De La Hoya.

Now he’s writing about the other heroes that fall into the cracks of forgotten exploits. Those pugilists who were not only of Mexican roots, but Latino fighters from areas like Nicaragua, Cuba and Panama.

Aguilera wrote a previous book Mexican-American Boxing in Los Angeles published in 2014. In Latino Boxing in Southern California, the subject matter parallels his previous work with many of the same heroes mentioned again and with the new heroes described and their contributions to fistic lore.

Los Angeles has always been a vibrant center for prizefighting. Even in the days when it was illegal and boxers were forced to fight outside the city limits in places like Burbank, Vernon and San Bernardino, the boxing scene was red hot.

The author chooses to write about the era that he actually lived from the 1950s to the present. In the first book and in this book he fills the mind and eyes with stories of the past when black and white newspaper photos were the norm and television fights had most of the population entranced with heroes like Sugar Ray Robinson and Kid Gavilan. In the Los Angeles area weekly shows had been going on for decades and continued even when Major League Baseball, the National Football League, and the National Basketball Association arrived. The sport of boxing thrived and held its fans captive with its own heroes such as Manuel Ortiz, Art Aragon and Keeny Teran. Then came a wave of Mexican fighters like Raul “Raton” Macias, Jose Becerra and Gaspar Ortega.

Wave after wave of Latin American fighters followed and still continue to venture north to the magnetic lure of fame, fortune and glory in the U.S.A.

Aguilera has seen these waves many times over. First as a child attending the fights with his parents, then as a youth taking one bus after another from his East L.A. neighborhood to the now closed Olympic Auditorium where prizefighting had been a staple since the late 1920s. He also was a regular patron at the Inglewood Forum that saw boxing first arrive in the late 1960s and at the L.A. Sports Arena that just recently was demolished in favor of a soccer stadium.

Today, a sort of renaissance is taking place with new venues replacing old but it’s important to realize that boxing has remained part of the fabric of Los Angeles and the rest of Southern California through its population explosion.

Each page written by Aguilera describes that former era with the names of fighters who have mostly passed away, but some remain.

One of the author’s former heroes is Ruben “El Puas” Olivares who has become his close friend. The pair make annual treks to Canastota, New York for the International Boxing Hall of Fame ceremonies. Olivares was involved in one of the biggest fights that ever took place in Los Angeles when he met Nicaragua’s legendary Alexis Arguello at the Inglewood Forum in 1974 for the featherweight world title. It remains one of the classic battles of all time in the City of Angels.

It’s just one of the memorable fights that Aguilera talks about. It’s not a thick book, but with its numerous photos, posters and quotes gathered throughout the decades it provides a marvelous companion for anyone who loves boxing history.

Truthfully, it’s one of the most important books ever written because it describes an era that is seldom touched regarding the Southern California region.

Why is it important?

Today, Southern California has become the heart and soul of boxing for the entire world, not just the U.S. Fighters arrive from almost every country in the world to practice the art of boxing in one of the more than 100 boxing gyms existing in the Golden State.

Latino Boxing in Southern California in essence, describes those early waves of prizefighters that continue today. This book helps explain why Southern California has become a hub for many elite boxers seeking fame and world titles. Perhaps soon Aguilera will write a book about this International flood of prizefighters that is taking place.

Latino Boxing in Southern California is rich in information and one of the most important works to ever touch the subject of pro boxing in the greater Los Angeles area.

The book is available at www.arcadiapublishing.com or via Amazon or at book stores.

Pictured left to right: Wilfredo Gomez, Alexis Arguello, and Danny “Little Red” Lopez

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