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New Champ Teofimo Lopez Continues Upstaging Bigger Names; Lomachenko Next?

Bernard Fernandez

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New Champ Teofimo Lopez Continues Upstaging Bigger Names; Lomachenko Next?

NEW YORK – It is standard practice in all sports, not just boxing, that any phenom who draws growing attention is soon said to be the “new” someone or other, a stylistic successor to a superstar who previously set impossibly high standards of excellence. Such comparisons can place enormous pressure on the flavor-of-the-moment upstart, who has to deal with the long shadow cast by the legendary figure to whom he has been unfairly linked, in addition to the already-difficult task of establishing himself on his own terms.

Consider the plight of such OK-but-not-great heavyweights as Jimmy Ellis, Greg Page and Larry Donald, all of whom patterned themselves as wannabe Muhammad Alis both in and out of the ring, and in each case came up far short of replicating the one-of-a-kind original.

The iconic figure to whom newly crowned IBF lightweight champion Teofimo “The Takeover” Lopez has been most frequently compared is all-time great Roberto Duran. It is far too early in the 22-year-old Lopez’s career for such assessments to have any real validity, but what happened here Saturday night in Madison Square Garden, and quite possibly might happen next spring, could serve to legitimize the Brooklyn-born knockout artist’s chances of becoming something so much more than just another flash in the pan.

Not only did Lopez (15-0, 12 KOs) electrify the on-site crowd of 10,101 and an ESPN viewing audience with what basically was a one-punch, second-round dethronement of the formidable Richard Commey (29-3, 26 KOs), he essentially upstaged the ostensible star of the show, WBO welterweight titlist Terence “Bud” Crawford (36-0, 27 KOs), who retained that belt with a ninth-round stoppage of Egidijus Kavaliauskas (21-1-1, 17 KOs). And there are more than a few knowledgeable observers of the sweet science who consider Crawford to be the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet.

What makes Lopez’s latest tour de force so impressive is not the manner in which he destroyed Commey, who is arguably the finest fighter to come out of Ghana since Hall of Famer Azumah Nelson, but the fact that it was witnessed from ringside by WBC/WBA/WBO lightweight ruler Vasiliy Lomachenko (14-1, 10 KOs), whose next outing could pair him with the ultra-self-confident kid for the undisputed 135-pound title. There are those who would say that Lopez is still too inexperienced to test himself against Loma, another established king of the ring with ample support as the sport’s pound-for-pound best, but impatience has always been a distinguishing feature of the very young, who want what they want and want it now.

“Ya’ll know who I want to fight next,” Lopez, in a not-so-veiled reference to Lomachenko, said after he separated Commey from his senses with a crushing overhand right that sent the Ghanaian crashing to the canvas early in round two. A fighter’s natural competitive instincts enabled a discombobulated Commey to lurch to his feet on unsteady legs, and those same instincts sent him backing into the ropes for support, as if there was any to be had. Lopez knew just what to do, boring in and taking target practice against an opponent incapable of fighting back until referee David Fields stepped in and acknowledged the inevitable after an elapsed time of 1 minute, 13 seconds.

Lomachenko is just as cocksure in his assessment of his abilities as Lopez is in his, and he said, sure, he’d be open to a clear-the-decks showdown with Lopez, a match that seemingly could be made easily since both fighters are promoted by Top Rank and thus regularly appear on ESPN telecasts.

“We want all the titles,” Lomachenko said of a scrap Top Rank CEO and founder Bob Arum said he is just as anxious to make as the would-be combatants. “Now (Lopez) is a world champion and interesting for me, because he has a title. I think yes (that his next bout will be against Lopez). I will prepare for this fight.”

It could well be that Lopez, who won his weight class at the 2015 U.S. Olympic Boxing Trials but was inexplicably left off the American squad, obliging him to represent his father’s birth country of Honduras in Rio de Janeiro, is getting too far ahead of himself in pressing for an immediate go at Loma. Canelo Alvarez, then only 23, was not nearly as well-rounded a fighter as he is now when he took on Floyd Mayweather Jr. on Sept. 14, 2013, losing a unanimous decision. The more prudent move might have been for Team Canelo to wait a couple of years for the Mexican sensation, another claimant to the much-debated pound-for-pound throne, to gain more seasoning, but, again, youth always feels it must be served sooner rather than later.

Promoter Lou DiBella, who will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame on June 14, had a vested interest in the Commey-Lopez fight as he has Commey, but he couldn’t help but be impressed by what he’d seen of the winner.

“He’s got dynamite in his fists,” DiBella said of Lopez. “All you can do is just shrug your shoulders and say, `OK.’ That kid is a very athletic offensive force. Richard got caught with that dynamite and that was that. The fight was over when that big punch landed.”

But there is more to Lopez’s evolution as a potential megastar than a big punch. Style points count at the box office as much as talent, and DiBella said Lopez “has charisma coming out the ying-yang. When you have that kind of arsenal, you have a chance against anybody, including Loma.”

Lopez certainly understood – again – that this most recent occasion to shine came on the same night as the Heisman Trophy presentation in New York City. He celebrated another star turn by quickly tugging on an LSU football jersey bearing the No. 9 worn this season by Heisman-winning quarterback Joe Burrow, a virtual replay of what Lopez did on another Heisman night in 2018, when he needed only 44 seconds to demolish veteran contender Menard Menard at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, whereupon he produced a red Oklahoma jersey with the No. 1 worn by Sooners quarterback Kyler Murray.

It might be said that Teofimo Lopez is now the quarterback of his own destiny. And should he do unto Loma what he did to Menard, Commey and more than a few others, maybe those way-too-early comparisons to Duran won’t seem quite so wildly exaggerated.

Circumstances making the possibility of a Lomachenko-Lopez showcase event being made without fuss or bother must be at least a bit irksome to Crawford, who, despite still being at the top of his game, is 32 and possibly aware that his window of opportunity for making the high-visibility, high-paying legacy fights he desires must soon begin to close, at least a little.

No disrespect to Kavaliauskas, an Oxnard, Calif.-based Lithuanian whose full name is so long that for brevity’s sake it was shortened to his nickname, “Mean Machine,” on all promotional materials, but he is not on the more exalted tier as WBC/IBF welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr., WBA welter titlist Manny Pacquiao and former division champs Keith Thurman, Danny Garcia and Shawn Porter, all of whom are controlled by Premier Boxing Champions, Matchroom Sport, DAZN or Fox/Showtime. That is a reality that, whether fight fans like it or not, diminishes the likelihood of their ever sharing the ring with Crawford.

Nor is Crawford, an introvert by nature indisposed to the sort of chest-thumping that is second nature to others, apt to brag and preen his way into a brighter spotlight. He does most of his talking with his fists, and they again made a compelling argument as to his exceptional skill level, if perhaps at a lower audible than, say, Ali, Mayweather or even the evolving Lopez.

Deftly switching from southpaw to orthodox and back again, as is his wont, Crawford – a native of Omaha, Neb., who was cheered on by an actual Heisman Trophy winner, Nebraska’s Johnny Rodgers, who made his way to the Garden after appearing at the Heisman presentation – probed for weaknesses in Mean Machine’s defenses before turning up the heat in the fifth round, when, from an orthodox stance, he registered the first of his three knockdowns with a straight right. He put his game opponent down twice more in the ninth, prompting referee Ricky Gonzalez to wave a halt to the proceedings after an elapsed time of 44 seconds. At the time of the stoppage, Crawford led 79-72 on two of the three official scorecards and by 78-73 on the other.

“I thought I’d have to entertain ya’ll for a little bit,” Crawford said of his tactical delay before pressing the issue. “He’s a strong fighter, durable, and I thought I’d give the crowd something to cheer for.”

Arum suggested that, standard roadblocks to the contrary, Crawford’s next opponent could be Shawn Porter, but that hardly seems as inevitable at this point as Lomachenko-Lopez. To say Crawford is frustrated at being fenced off from the kind of competition that could certify his belief that he is an all-time great would be an understatement.

“I’ll fight anybody. I’ve been saying that for I don’t know how long,” he said, somewhat ruefully. “I’m not ducking anyone on the PBC side or Top Rank platform. I want to fight all the top guys.”

In the third fight of the card televised by ESPN, two-time Olympian Michael “Mick” Conlan (13-0, 7 KOs), the Northern Island representative who believed he was screwed out of a medal in Rio on a controversial decision that went to Russia’s Vladimir Nikitin, and responded to the verdict by taking off his gloves and giving obscene single-finger expressions of his discontent to Russian president Putin, who was seated at ringside, got his revenge of sorts on a wide, 10-round unanimous decision over Nikitin (3-1, no KOs).

“I needed to right this wrong,” Conlan said. “Full credit to Nikitin, who fought his heart out. There’s no bad blood. There never was. Now, we can put this chapter of my career behind me.”

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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

Arne K. Lang

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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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