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Controversial Wilder – Fury Draw a Case of Déjà Vu All Over Again

Bernard Fernandez

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The moment ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr. revealed the official scoring of Saturday night’s Deontay Wilder-Tyson Fury bout – a controversial split draw in Los Angeles that enabled Wilder, the WBC heavyweight champion who to many people’s way of thinking, including mine, appeared to have received an early Christmas present – I had the feeling I had seen it all before.

And I had, 25 years earlier, on Sept. 10, 1993, in San Antonio, Texas. With one or two minor changes, what took place in the Staples Center ring closely mirrored what transpired in the Alamodome when WBC welterweight titlist Pernell Whitaker was obliged to settle for a hotly disputed majority draw against Julio Cesar Chavez in a heist of a fight which Whitaker appeared to have won handily. In this virtual replay a quarter-century later, British challenger Tyson Fury won – uh, make that should have gotten credit for winning – nine of the 12 rounds in the much-anticipated Showtime Pay Per View matchup, the most notable exceptions to the norm being rounds nine and 12, in which Fury (27-0-1, 19 KOs) was floored by an increasingly desperate Wilder (40-0-1, 39 KOs) who had to be aware his only chance at victory hinged on scoring a late, bolt-from-the-blue knockout. My personal scorecard thus gave Fury a 115-111 edge, the same tally arrived at by unofficial Showtime judge Steve Farhood, a vocal a majority of the 17,698 on-site spectators and, most vociferously, Showtime analyst Paulie Malignaggi.

Although Malignaggi, a former IBF super lightweight and WBA welterweight champion, presumably disagreed with the 113-113 scorecard submitted by the swing judge, England’s Phil Edwards, his most withering criticism was directed at Mexican judge Alejandro Rochin, who somehow saw Wilder as a 115-111 winner. Canadian judge Robert Tapper was the realist of the group, with a 114-112 edge to Fury (originally announced as 114-110).

“I don’t care about any replays,” the exasperated Malignaggi replied when fellow analyst Al Bernstein suggested they check the tape for possible moments that might have negated Fury’s steady stockpiling of rounds and thus allowed Wilder to surprisingly retain his title. “They matter nothing. This decision is a joke. Alejandro Rochin should better never work a day in his life again in boxing.”

The guess here is that Rochin and Edwards will continue to be in the rotation for high-visibility WBC title-fight assignments, as was the case with Switzerland’s Franz Marti and England’s Mickey Vann, both of whom figured that crowd favorite Chavez had done enough to merit a 115-115 standoff in a bout in which the beloved Mexican national hero appeared to have been thoroughly schooled by Whitaker. In tandem they overrode the 115-113 card for Whitaker turned in by Texas-based judge Jack Woodruff, which still was too close to my way of thinking.

But for those who might not go along with my premise that Wilder-Fury was a near-exact replication of Whitaker-Chavez, which did not feature any knockdowns, I offer two other bouts that also reminded me of certain aspects of Wilder-Fury: Bernard Hopkins’ 12th-round stoppage of Felix Trinidad in their middleweight unification fight on Sept. 29, 2001, in Madison Square Garden, and future heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko overcoming three knockdowns to register a unanimous, 12-round decision over Samuel Peter on Sept. 24, 2005, in Atlantic City Boardwalk Hall for Peter’s minor NABF title.

Mash those three fights together and the combined result would be, in relation to Wilder-Fury as well as the immortal words of the late, great baseball philosopher Yogi Berra, déjà vu all over again.

Like Chavez, who complained that it was he, not Whitaker, who deserved better than a kiss-your-sister draw because “Sweet Pea” had done “more running that fighting,” Wilder – whose nearly closed window of opportunity momentarily flung wide-open when he drilled Fury in the 12th round with the kind of power shots that had enabled him to win inside the distance 39 previous times – said the two knockdowns he registered should count for more than anything Fury had done in a performance that, on balance, was more impressive than his unanimous-decision dethronement of Wladimir Klitschko three years earlier.

“I think with the two knockdowns, I definitely won the fight,” Wilder said in a post-fight interview with Showtime’s Jim Gray. “You know, we fought our hearts out tonight. We’re both warriors. We both went hand-to-hand, but with those two drops I feel I won the fight.”

That argument was previously trotted out, with no success, by Ivailo Gotzev, Samuel Peter’s manager, who said that his guy’s three knockdowns of Klitschko – two in the fifth round, one in the 10th – trumped the fact that Wlad, with his metronome jab, had dominated virtually every other second of a fight that ended with all three judges favoring him by the same 114-111 margin.

“If a man who scored three knockdowns is declared a loser, to me, that’s no loser,” Gotzev groused. For what it’s worth, there would be a rematch, on Sept. 11, 2010, with Klitschko scoring a 10th-round knockout victory over Peter to retain his IBF and WBO titles in Frankfurt, Germany.

Now let’s flash back to Hopkins-Trinidad, which was presaged by the mind games played by B-Hop – which included his twice disrespecting the Puerto Rican flag at press conferences – and had the effect of so enraging Trinidad that he threw caution to the wind from the opening bell and tried to get the crafty Philadelphian out of there with every loaded-up punch that missed the mark. Hopkins fought superbly and under control until he felt it was time to really let loose, battering his favored opponent to the point that Trinidad’s father-trainer felt he had no choice but to throw in the towel in the 12th round to save his son from further punishment.

Although Wilder had vowed he would pick his spots to go to the heavy artillery against Fury, whose gift is not necessarily in looking good himself but in making the other guy look bad, he seemed to forget whatever strategical refinements laid out for him in camp by trainers Mark Breland and Jay Deas. Swinging wide and wild from the outset, Wilder’s fight plan, whatever it might have been as crafted by Breland and Deas, quickly devolved into pure brawling tactics. It seems a pretty safe bet that Fury’s constant putdowns of him had made the excitable Wilder, well, just a little bit crazy.

“All the build-up for the fight, the hype and everything … I really wanted to get him out of there and give the fans what they wanted to see,” Wilder told Gray. “It was just the simple fact that I was rushing the punches. When I rush my punches like that, they never land. I’m never accurate when I’m trying to force the punches. But the rematch, I guarantee I’m gonna get him.”

And maybe Wilder would, as Klitschko did to Peter in their do-over, if it actually comes to that. But the rematch clause in the contracts signed by Wilder and Fury could only be invoked by Wilder in the case of the loss of his title to Fury, and with the draw that did not happen. Yeah, a rematch with Fury no doubt would do good business, but Wilder and his support crew have to realize – as do Fury and his people – that it would not be a blockbuster on the scale of a fight with WBA/WBO/IBF champ Anthony Joshua.

Although Wilder and Fury both paid obligatory lip service to the notion of an immediate rematch, their thoughts seemed to drift more to a clear-the-decks showdown with Joshua for all the titles, a likely attendance of 90,000 in London’s Wembley Stadium and a super-sized payday beyond anything that even Wilder-Fury II could generate. For his part, Joshua and his promoter, Eddie Hearn, would now seem to have the luxury of picking which of the non-losers, Wilder or Fury, they would most want to share the ring with in what surely would be the most lucrative fight of 2019.

“There’s a third heavyweight out there,” Fury said in referencing the specter of Joshua that hung over the proceedings like a bad moon rising. Then, making clucking sounds, he yelped, “Chicken! Chicken! Joshua, where are ya, AJ?”

Wilder had hoped to use a victory over lineal champion Fury, preferably one ending in another emphatic knockout, as a springboard into the superfight with Joshua he most craves. It now seems reasonable to presume that to safeguard the route to Joshua, Wilder’s team of advisers – that would be promoter Lou DiBella, Premier Boxing Champions honcho Al Haymon and co-trainers Breland and Deas – will think long and hard before consenting to a rematch with Fury, whose difficult-to-solve style did indeed prove to be troublesome to the lean and lanky Alabaman. Despite the public outcry for Whitaker-Chavez II, one fervently shared by Whitaker and his handlers, that fight never happened. Chavez was too valuable a property to be exposed to the kind of risk and potential embarrassment that might have resulted had he again tangled with Whitaker.

Curiously, some of the key figures in Whitaker-Chavez were represented, either live and in person or by extension, at Wilder-Fury. The late Jose Sulaiman was president of the WBC and present in San Antonio that night 25 years ago; at ringside in LA was Sulaiman’s son and successor, Mauricio Sulaiman. And in the house at both widely separated fights was Shelly Finkel, who managed Whitaker then and is an adviser to Wilder now.

There is an old saying: the more things change, the more they remain the same. It’s as true in boxing, and maybe even more so, than in any other area of human existence. The faces and names may be different, but the game remains constant.

Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

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Yoka vs. Hammer Kicks Off the Thanksgiving Weekend Slate on ESPN+

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PRESS RELEASE— Tony Yoka, the dynamic heavyweight punching Parisian, aims to impress in his ESPN platform debut. Yoka, who won a super heavyweight gold medal for France at the 2016 Rio Olympics, will fight veteran Christian Hammer in a 10-rounder Friday at H Arena in Nantes, France.

Yoka-Hammer will stream live and exclusively this Friday, Nov. 27 in the United States on ESPN+ beginning at 2:55 p.m. ET/11:55 a.m. PT.

The ESPN+ stream will also include the return of unbeaten 2016 French Olympic gold medalist Estelle Yoka-Mossely against Pasa Malagic in an eight-round lightweight bout. Yoka and Yoka-Mossely, who have been married since 2018, welcomed their second child in May.

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Earlier this year, Yoka inked a promotional agreement with Top Rank, which will co-promote him with Ringstar France.

“Tony Yoka’s potential is limitless, and he is a grounded young man who is motivated to be a great professional fighter,” said Top Rank chairman Bob Arum. “France has never had a world heavyweight champion, and I believe Tony is the one to bring the sport’s biggest honor home.”

The 28-year-old Yoka’s stellar amateur run included a berth at the 2012 London Olympics and gold medals at the 2015 World Championships and 2010 Youth Olympic Games. Before his triumph in Rio, he’d already defeated the likes of former heavyweight world champion Joseph Parker and current undefeated prospects Joe Joyce and Ivan Dychko. At the Rio Olympics, he defeated Croatian standout Filip Hrgović in the semifinals and edged Joyce in the gold medal match.

As a professional, Yoka (8-0, 7 KOs) made his debut in June 2017 with a second-round stoppage over the previously undefeated Travis Clark. Apart from a decision win over Jonathan Rice in his second outing, Yoka has stopped every foe, including durable Englishman David “White Rhino” Allen and former European champion Alexander Dimitrenko. He made his 2020 debut Sept. 25 and stopped former world title challenger Johann Duhaupas in one round.

Hammer (25-6, 15 KOs) has fought many of the leading heavyweight names during his 12-year career, falling short against Tyson Fury, Luis Ortiz and Alexander Povetkin. He’s notched myriad upset victories, including a highlight-reel knockout over David Price and a 2016 split decision over Erkan Teper for the WBO European belt. In March 2019, he went the 10-round distance against Ortiz and has not been stopped since Fury forced him to retire on his stool after eight rounds in their February 2015 clash.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 115: Macho, Freddie and More

David A. Avila

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Camacho me and Mia

“Macho.”

That single word is how Hector Camacho presented himself when introduced. It was the only word needed for the three-division world champion from Puerto Rico who was raised in Harlem, New York.

The first time I met Camacho was in a dark and packed Las Vegas nightclub in the MGM where he was a guest of Oscar De La Hoya back in March 2001. Though it was difficult to see, when Camacho was introduced, I could see the large gold medallion with the word “Macho” in letters six inches high.

Showtime network will be presenting a documentary called “Macho: The Hector Camacho Story” on Friday, December 4 at 9 p.m. on Showtime. It sparks memories of how a fighter in the lower weight classes grabbed the attention of the boxing world.

Camacho was more than flash or words, he was an electrifying boxer who stood out in the 1980s, an era dominated by the “Four Kings” Marvin Hagler, Tommy Hearns, Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard. Oh, and also a guy named Mike Tyson.

The fast-talking Camacho was a phenomenal fighter who swept aside opponents with his blinding speed and shocking power. It was against Los Angeles-based fighters like Refugio Rojas and Louie Loy that I first read about his exploits. Both were knocked out.

A third Southern California fighter John “Huero” Montes was thought to be the one to give Camacho a real challenge. The fight was televised to a national audience in February 1983. At the time I was watching it on a tiny black and white television and at 1:13 into the first round Camacho unleashed one of those lethal uppercuts and Montes was out-for-the-count.

Camacho arrived that day.

From that point on few could withstand the speedy southpaw’s blinding charges. Six months later he stopped Mexico’s “Bazooka” Limon to win the vacant super featherweight title.

One fighter who heard the final bell was Freddie Roach who could take a punch and knew a thing or two about fighting southpaws.

“I liked fighting southpaws,” said Roach via telephone. “My dad taught me early to keep my foot on the outside and lead with right hands.”

Roach had never lost to a southpaw. The winner that day between Camacho and Roach in Sacramento, on December 1985, was supposedly going to fight Puerto Rico’s heavy-handed Edwin Rosario.

Using his surefire method of fighting southpaws, Roach managed a knockdown of Camacho with the help of his foot. But it was not enough.

“He was very difficult. Lot of people raved about how fast his speed was. You didn’t really realize until you got into the ring with him,” said Roach. “I wasn’t the slowest, but wasn’t the fastest. I just couldn’t keep up.”

Despite using roughhouse tactics against the lefty speedster, Roach said that Camacho invited him to dinner after the fight.

That pretty much explains Camacho, a talented and big-hearted guy.

Last Stages

The last time I ran into Camacho was at the Pechanga Resort and Casino when he and Mia St. John were about to fight on the same boxing card in 2009. He was much heavier but still able to defeat middleweights.

How good was Camacho?

He defeated two of the Four Kings when he beat Roberto Duran twice and stopped Sugar Ray Leonard by knockout when they fought in 1997. Yes, Leonard was 41 and had not fought in six years, but this was Sugar Ray Leonard.

“I didn’t think he would ever beat Leonard,” said Roach.

Neither did Leonard.

“I just felt that I was a bigger man. I was smarter, stronger, all those things, but the first time he threw a punch, it was like, Pow! And I said, ‘Wow, that hurt,’” said Leonard about their encounter. “I tried the best I could to just go the distance. When he was at his best, he was a thing of beauty.”

What I remember after Camacho beat Leonard was how sincerely apologetic he was after the victory. He could talk the talk and walk the walk but inside he remained the kid from Harlem who was given extraordinary talent. And he was humbled by it.

Roach remembers their dinner together after their fight.

“That night he took me out to dinner with his friends and said you fought a good fight,” said Roach adding that Camacho was a very likeable guy. “I saw him along the way in his career.”

Roach, who would later train another astoundingly fast southpaw named Manny Pacquiao, said he never fought anyone again as talented as Camacho.

“You hear rumors of drug problems and training problems. But when he fought me, he was in for 10 and I tried every trick in the book but it didn’t work. He was in a higher class than I was,” Roach said. “He was one of the best fighters in the world.”

Don’t miss this Showtime documentary next week.

Jacobs and Rosado

Speaking of Roach, the famous trainer will be working the corner of Gabe Rosado (25-12-1, 14 KOs) when he meets Daniel Jacobs (36-3, 30 KOs) on Friday, Nov. 27, at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Florida. DAZN will stream the Matchroom Boxing card.

It’s Philly versus Brooklyn.

Rosado has long proven to be a real professional who keeps adding elements to his fight game. Paired with Roach he has further developed under the guidance of the Southern California-based trainer. Plus, Rosado can plain fight.

Jacobs, a former world champion, has proven to be an elite middleweight and looks just as comfortable as a super middleweight.

Expect the kind of prize fight they used to show in the Golden Age of boxing in the 1950s when you had guys like Johnny Saxton fighting Denny Moyer. It should be that kind of battle of wits and skill. I’m looking forward to it.

Photo: Hector Camacho, David Avila, and Mia St. John. Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Muhammad Ali Biographer Jonathan Eig Talks About His Book and the Icon Who Inspired It

Rick Assad

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Given the breadth and depth of Muhammad Ali’s 74 years, it isn’t very easy to capture the complete essence of the man.

Dozens of books have been written about the three-time heavyweight champion including Jonathan Eig’s 2017 biography, “Ali: A Life.”

Born in Louisville, Kentucky on January 17, 1942 as Cassius Marcellus Clay, he would one day be known around the globe as a world-class boxer, civil rights advocate, philanthropist and cultural icon.

Like so many others, the Brooklyn, New York-born Eig became intrigued by Ali.

“I loved Ali as a child. He fascinated me. He was outspoken, radical, yet so very loveable,” he said. “And, of course, he could fight! I was astonished to realize, around 2012, that there was no complete biography of Ali, even though he was probably the most famous man of the 20th century.”

Eig, currently at work on a major offering about the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., added: “I had read lots of Ali books, including [David] Remnick’s “King Of The World: Muhammad Ali And The Rise Of An American Hero,” and [Thomas] Hauser’s “Muhammad Ali: His Life And Times,” and [Norman] Mailer’s “The Fight” – but those were not complete biographies,” he pointed out. “By 2012, enough time had gone by to put Ali in historical perspective. Also, there were plenty of people still alive to tell the story. I did more than 500 interviews, including all three of Ali’s living wives. I wanted to write a book that would treat Ali as more than a boxer. I wanted to write a book that would show the good and the bad. I wanted to write a big book worthy of an epic life, a book that danced and jabbed half as beautifully as Ali.”

Given Eig’s exhaustive research, what previously unknown tidbits about Ali did he come across?

“I learned thousands of new things. I think even hardcore Ali fans will find new information on almost every page,” said the former Wall Street Journal reporter and 1986 Northwestern University graduate. “I discovered things Ali himself didn’t know. I discovered Ali’s grandfather was a convicted murderer, for example. Ali didn’t know that! I read Ali’s FBI files, as well as those of Herbert Muhammad, Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad. I interviewed Ali’s childhood friends. I found MRIs of Ali’s brain. I counted the punches from all of his fights. I measured how those punches affected his speaking rate. Ali’s wives also confided in me things I never knew. I spent four years working on this book, and every day delivered revelations.”

Over the years, Ali, who posted a 56-5 ring record with 37 knockouts, seemed to mellow with time which helped ingratiate him to an even wider audience. How was this possible?

“People change. They grow. It’s hard to stay radical as you get older and richer,” said Eig, who has written five books including three that deal with sports. “The late Stanley Crouch had a great line about Ali. He said young Ali was a grizzly bear. Ali in the ’70s was a circus bear. Ali in his later years was a teddy bear. We all loved the teddy bear. We wanted to hug him and love him. But it was the grizzly bear who we should remember first. It was the grizzly bear who shook up the world.”

Sports Illustrated writer Mark Kram covered nearly the entirety of Ali’s career which spanned 1960 through 1981 and included a three-year period, 1967 until 1970 when he wasn’t allowed to box after being convicted of draft evasion because he refused induction into the armed forces.

In Kram’s book, “Ghosts Of Manila,” the author asserts Ali was essentially a pawn of the Black Muslims.

What’s Eig’s take?

“I love Kram’s book, but I think it’s dangerous to question anyone’s religious faith,” he said. “Ali was a true believer. The Nation of Islam took advantage of him at times. But does that mean he was a pawn? I don’t think so. He knew what he was doing. He made his own choices. One might argue that the NOI did more for Ali than Ali did for them.”

Ali wasn’t perfect and that included his fondness for women. As a Muslim, how did he hurdle this?

“He didn’t reconcile it – except to acknowledge that humans are human, they are flawed,” Eig said. “The thing I love about Ali is that he said he was the greatest, but he never said he was perfect. He talked to his wives about his weakness. He even talked to reporters about his flaws – his weakness for women, his disdain for training, his poor handling of money. He knew who he was and he never tried to be anything else.”

Eig, who has also penned “Luckiest Man: The Life And Death Of Lou Gehrig,” and “Opening Day: The Story Of Jackie Robinson’s First Season,” went on: “We’re all complicated, right? Ali was no more complicated than you or me, but he let the whole world see his complications – his racial pride and his racist behavior toward [Joe] Frazier, his love of women and his cruelty to his wives, his generosity with his money and his stupidity with money,” he said. “I don’t think Ali was different, just more open, more willing to let us see everything.”

Ali’s battles with Frazier, George Foreman and Ken Norton are legendary, but his two fights against Sonny Liston are filled with question marks, such as were they fixed?

Ali claimed the title on February 25, 1964 in Miami Beach when Liston failed to answer the bell for the seventh round and then faced Liston 15 months later in Lewiston, Maine, where he knocked out the challenger in the opening frame.

In Eig’s mind, were these two bouts on the level? “My hunch is that the first fight was legit. Liston quit when he knew he couldn’t win,” Eig said. “The second fight is more suspicious. Liston’s flop was pathetic. Bad acting! But I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure. As an aside, Liston’s wife said Sonny had diarrhea before the fight, which might have given him one more reason to throw it.”

Still, Ali in his prime was a sight to behold. “Ali before the exile, in my opinion, was the most beautiful boxer of all time. His combination of speed and power and ferocity was thrilling, elegant, frightening and marvelous,” Eig said. “Was he the greatest heavyweight of all time? Maybe, maybe not. Was he the most breathtaking? To me, yes.”

Early in Ali’s career his braggadocio was off-putting to many. But much of it was showmanship.

“One of the Greatest” doesn’t sound as good, does it? If we’re only discussing his action in the ring, Ali was one of the greatest,” Eig said. “But that’s like saying Louis Armstrong was one of the greatest trumpet players without considering his voice, his charm, his improvisational skills, his smile. In and out of the ring, Ali was the greatest in my book.”

For so many, Ali was many things. What traits in the man does Eig admire? “I love his fearlessness, his honesty, his insatiable appetite for people,” he said. “He was so very loving. But he could also be narcissistic. He wanted everyone to love him, but he wasn’t always sensitive to the feelings of others – including his wives and children. He turned his back on friends like Malcolm X and Joe Frazier when it served his purposes.”

While Ali could be polarizing, he had his legion of supporters including Howard Cosell, Jerry Izenberg, Robert Lipsyte, Larry Merchant and Jack Newfield.

“You could add Mailer, [George] Plimpton, and so many others to that list,” Eig noted. “Those men were lucky enough to spend time with young Ali and to bask in the great warmth of his sun. He was great to reporters. He was the best story they ever covered. And unlike most celebrities, he really paid attention to them.”

Eig continued: “I only met him once, six months before he died, and I envy those reporters who got to know him and got to see him at his best. I think those who knew and loved Ali became his disciples,” he pointed out. “Ali’s friend Gene Kilroy told me over and over that he thought Ali was like Jesus, that people would be studying his words and drawing inspiration from his life for centuries to come. That’s the feeling he gave to those with whom he spent time.”

Ali was a boxer, but so much more. How does Eig see him? “I think Ali will be remembered as one of America’s great revolutionary heroes – one whose courage went far beyond sports. Like Jackie Robinson, like Martin Luther King, like the abolitionists and suffragettes, he loved America but refused to accept its shortfalls,” he said. “He fought to make his country live up to the promises contained in the Declaration of Independence. He will also be remembered as an important world figure, one who united Africans, Americans and Asians, one who helped Americans better understand Islam and helped people of Islamic faith around the world better understand America.”

In Ali’s last quarter century, he was almost universally loved. This is a far cry from being labeled a draft dodger.

“Ali was always a spiritual man, but in his later years I believe he clarified and deepened his spirituality,” Eig said. “He became more focused and more thoughtful.”

When Eig turned in his manuscript, what was his immediate thought? “I wanted to take it back. I didn’t want to be done,” he said. “I had so much fun writing this book I wanted to work on it for the rest of my life. I knew I would never find anything more fun to work on.”

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