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Literary Notes: “Grimmish” (Book Review by Thomas Hauser)

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Grimmish by Michael Winkler (Westbourne Books) is strange book. And an intriguing one. The book focuses on a one-year period in 1908-1909 when boxer Joe Grim toured Australia engaging in fights. Winkler describes his writing as “experimental non-fiction.” Experimental fiction with a factual underpinning would be more accurate.

Grim (ne Severio Giannone) was born in Italy in 1881. His family came to the United States when he was ten. Fighting was in his nature. He was famed in his day for the ability to endure punishment and being virtually impossible to knock out.

Boxrec.com credits Grim with 179 known bouts between 1899 and 1913 resulting in 17 wins, 33 losses, 6 draws, and scores of “newspaper” defeats. He entered the prize ring well over three hundred times and was battered by myriad opponents whose names have been lost to history and also by Bob Fitzsimmons, Joe Gans (twice), and Jack Johnson. During and after his ring career, he was committed to facilities for the treatment of mental health issues. He died in Philadelphia Hospital for Mental Diseases in 1939 at age 57.

Winkler views Grim through the eyes of a first-person narrator and a man who may or may not be the narrator’s much older uncle. The book opens with a pseudo-review by the author himself that functions as a preface, foreword, introduction – call it what you will.

In this opening, Winkler warns readers of “the question of authenticity and the impossibility that this presentation of Grim will bear much or any connection to the flesh-and-blood fighter Joe Grim. The inclusion of extracts from contemporary newspaper accounts,” he adds, “lends context, although less tenacious readers may find they impede progress. There is no narrative arc, close to zero love interest, skittish occasional action, incident rather than plot.”

All true. And I might add that there are passages in Grimmish involving a talking goat where I had no idea what Winkler was trying to accomplish.

That said; through a collection of fragments and vignettes, Winkler crafts a compelling impressionistic portrait of Grim.

“Joe Grim,” he writes, “reminds us of where the bounds of the normal are drawn, and stands conspicuously and spectacularly outside that compass. Without obstacle, without evasion, without contradiction.”

Other thoughts advanced by Winkler include:

*         “Grim’s philosophy in its entirety – or more than a philosophy, which implies a distance between self and thought however small; his tao, his raison d’etre, his self – was simply this: I can take more punishment than they can deliver.”

*         “Grim withstood hundreds of blows every fight. He was a one-off, the ultimate boxing outlier. But his metier was resilience rather than resistance. He absorbed and accepted. His contests changed in a profound sense, becoming not about winning or losing, but hinging on whether or not he could endure the punishment meted out. And on that score he invariably triumphed. Grim became a spectacle rather than a fighter, but he was popular and he made a living.”

*         “There was always a third person in the ring, but the role of the referee was neutered by Grim’s resilience. The crowd had paid, quite explicitly, to come and see if Grim could endure the beating, and no referee had the imprimatur to stop that fun.”

*         “Try picturing a baseball bat swung with great force into your exposed ribs, under the armpit. Try to conceive of a well-aimed mallet landing erratically just above your left ear, and you with no means to stop it. Imagine these things are happening to you in front of a crowd baying like starved dogs. Imagine a single vicious punch to your face, and then multiply it by many hundred, and then think of the cheering that each punch drags from thousands of jeering onlookers. Then we have some gesture towards understanding Grim.”

Winkler also recreates Grim’s voice:

*         “I think of myself as a travelling artiste. The crowds love me, and then they speak of me once I’ve gone, and that adds value to my days on the planet, somehow.”

*         “In that boxing time, I am outside of time. Six rounds, three minutes each, and in that span I belong to that span only. There is no connection to clock time, to earth time. And that is how I live, with and for those ripped out portions where time has no dominion. Six three-minute rounds, five one-minute breaks, twenty-three minutes that are as long as you need them to be, or they can be devoid of time altogether.”

*         “I stand in front of the hardest hitting men on the planet, and then the promoter still tries to f*** me sideways on fight payments as I make my way home. It is a pitiful racket and I have been in it too long, and I have no other path ahead, and that is that is that.”

*         “I worry that I am outside the scope of nature. I am not just at the edge of my species, but over the margin. I do not belong. I worry that one day my fighting might end, and that without the pain I will have no map to find myself.”

Pain – “the rich realm of pain,” Winkler calls it – is a recurring theme throughout Grimmish. At the beginning of the narrative, he concedes, “The sustained depiction of physical violence is likely to alienate some, while others may weary of the defiant wallowing in the sludge of masculinity. [But] there is likely to be a readership, however small, that finds within these covers something sincere and worthwhile.”

This pain isn’t confined to the prize ring. There are tales in Grimmish of men mutilating each other with hot poker irons in tests of will and the ability to endure pain. Other fragments include:

*         ” What is the thing we call pain? It is something that captures the attention of the sufferer but otherwise has no meaning. It makes no sound, has no colour or smell, occupies no physical space. And yet at its most extreme, pain becomes the only thing of which the sufferer is aware, bigger for the victim in that instant than any object in the universe.”

*         “Some might think that the glory of pain is that it teaches you things. And I say as one who might know, if there is enough of it then pain is just pain. A lot of pain is a lot of pain, and it is not a friend and not a teacher and not a guide and not a redemption. It is just pain.”

*         “My audience wants to travel with me on a pain journey, so I give them as much as they need. And for the rest, I block blows, I absorb the force of punches through my neck and spine, I stall and distract, I allow myself to be knocked down in order to intensify the spectacle and to wear some extra seconds off the clock. It is a show, and my body is the stage and the instrument, and that is why they pay, and that is how I get to eat well and put money in my name into the bank.”

And some parting thoughts from Grimmish:

*         “Interesting what humans will pay for, what we actually like. When James Corbett went to England, they wanted to entertain him and their idea was to take him to a rat pit and have a champion bulldog kill a thousand rats in a thousand seconds.”

*         “Anybody can learn to box. But to fight, it is different.”

*         “There’s a trick to life. I think you’ll find it, even if you have to wait until you’re very old. Just keep looking. You’ll probably get there in the end.”

If you’re intrigued and want more, read Grimmish.

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – Broken Dreams: Another Year Inside 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. In 2019, he was selected for boxing’s highest honor – induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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David Avanesyan: “My Aggressive Style is Going to Give Crawford Problems”

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With determination and total confidence in his abilities, Russian David Avanesyan rejects the idea that he will be the “ugly duckling” when he faces Terence Crawford who will be defending his WBO welterweight title for the sixth time this December 10th.

“This is an opportunity of a lifetime for my family and me, one I will not take for granted,” Avanesyan said. “I know going in that I’m a huge underdog and no one is giving me a chance, but let me tell you, I’m going to surprise everyone watching. I’ve had enough time to prepare, so I’ll be ready for the southpaw.”

Thirty-four-year-old Avanesyan (29-3-1, 17 KOs) was born in Russia but resides in England, where he has been preparing for the momentous matchup against Crawford.

European champion in the welterweight division, Avanesyan has won six straight, all within the distance; the most recent being in the first round against Finnish Oskari Metz (16-1, 6 KOs) in London.

Ranked sixth by the WBO and seventh by the IBF, Avanesyan says he has learned many tricks over the years and is now a completely different and more mature boxer.

“Coming from the amateur ranks, I had to learn how to sit on my punches correctly, which can take a lifetime for some fighters. The bad habits that plagued me early in my career are now fixed. Today I’m a completely different fighter in the ring, and my last six fights have shown my growth when it comes to my power punching. I believe my aggressive style is going to give Crawford problems,” said Avanesyan.

Prior to his six-fight winning streak, Avanesyan was knocked out in the eighth round by California-based Lithuanian Egidijus Kavaliauskas in the city of Reno, Nevada where they fought for the NABF belt.

Avanesyan is not misguided as he assesses the enormous task ahead. “There’s a reason Terence Crawford is considered the best fighter in boxing, his skill set is amazing, and he knows how to win,” stated Avanesyan. “I know my hands are full, but I’m going to do everything I can to become a world champion. I need to stick to the game plan we have in place, and if adjustments need to be made during the fight, I will have to make them.”

Although Avanesyan logically praises Crawford’s career, the match-up has created a sea of ​​criticism for the undefeated Crawford (38-0, 29 KOs), who is ranked among the best pound for pound fighters. The vast majority of fans wanted to see him face his countryman, the undefeated Errol Spence Jr (28-0, 22 KOs), the current title holder of the other three most prestigious belts: the WBC, WBA and IBF.

But the thirty-five-year-old Crawford from Omaha, Nebraska says that regardless of his results and whatever adversary he faces, he will continue to be blamed by the people who just don’t like him.

“Before, I always cared a lot about what the fans say and say about me,” stated Crawford. “But the older I got, the more I came to the fact that you can’t please everyone. No matter what you do, no matter who you beat and how many fights you won, how many divisions you conquered, there will still be those who will not love you for their own reasons. It seems to me that all the great fighters went through this. All the greats who were before me, and all those who will be after me, it will be the same with everyone.”

In his brilliant professional career, Crawford has been world champion in three divisions: lightweight, super lightweight and welterweight.

Six years after his professional boxing debut, Crawford claimed the WBO 135-pound world title by unanimously defeating host Ricky Burns in Glasgow, Scotland.

Thirteen months later, Crawford added the vacant WBO 140-pound title by anesthetizing Thomas Dulorme in the sixth round. Dulorme could not endure Crawford’s powerful punch and visited the canvas three times in the fateful sixth round.

Crawford became the undisputed king of the super lightweight division in August 2017, when he chloroformed Namibian Julius Indongo in Lincoln, Nebraska. The African lost the WBA and IBF belts, while Crawford retained the WBC and WBO belts.

In June 2018, Crawford conquered the WBO welterweight belt after putting Australian Jeff Horn (20-3-1, 13 KOs) to sleep in the ninth round at the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas.

Thanks to his blazing hand speed, ring savvy, counterpunching skills, as well as his ability to switch from right guard to left guard and back again, Crawford is considered a heavy favorite to take down Avanesyan.

*Note: As of December 2nd:  Crawford  -1600 / Avanesyan  +780

Article submitted by Jorge Juan Alvarez in Spanish.

Please note any adjustments made were for clarification purposes and any errors in translation were unintentional.

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Juan Francisco Estrada Holds Off ‘Chocolatito’ Again

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Once again Juan Francisco Estrada jumped out in front early and Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez needed time to crank up the engine, but fell too far behind as the Mexican fighter won the vacant WBC flyweight world title on Saturday.

Estrada wins the trilogy 10 years in the making.

Once again Estrada (44-3, 28 KOs) surged ahead early in the fight against Nicaragua’s Gonzalez (51-4, 41 KOs) and then navigated toward another win, this time at the Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona on the Matchroom Boxing card.

“We had excellent preparation at high altitude and I think we left the fight clear on who won the fight this time,” said Estrada about the third encounter.

Ten years ago, the trilogy began in Los Angeles as “Chocolatito” confronted an unknown fighter at the time in Estrada. The two surprised the crowd who expected Gonzalez to destroy yet another Mexican fighter. But it did not happen that night though Chocolatito proved too experienced and battered his way to victory in a light flyweight world title clash.

Then, in March 2021, Estrada finally fought Gonzalez in a rematch and the two engaged in a closely-fought super flyweight world title match. This time Estrada proved slightly better according to the judges and won by split decision in Dallas, Texas.

Few knew what to expect in a third encounter.

At first the coronavirus stalled plans for the trifecta so Chocolatito fought a replacement and dominated. Meanwhile Estrada fought another Mexican and did not look good.

On Saturday, a decade after their first encounter, Estrada looked fluid and accurate in dominating the first six rounds of the fight. Though he did not hurt Gonzalez, he was repeatedly scoring at will.

Gonzalez woke up around the seventh round.

Suddenly the Nicaraguan who was once considered the best fighter Pound for Pound showed up and fired rapid combinations. The spring in his legs suddenly appeared and the energy level was cranked up high after nearly being on idle.

Estrada suddenly found himself against the ropes forced to slip and slide away from Gonzalez’s powerful combination punches. A real fight suddenly erupted during the final six rounds.

“All fights are different and all fights are difficult and this was the most difficult one,” said Gonzalez, a four-division world champion.

Though neither fighter was ever visibly hurt, Gonzalez’s pressure kept Estrada expending too much energy trying to evade the Nicaraguan’s traps during the final six rounds.

“He always goes 100 miles an hour,” said Estrada of his nemesis.

Estrada used uppercuts and slide steps to maneuver against Gonzalez’s hard charges. It seemed to work and allowed the Mexican fighter more room and time to apply counter-measures.

In the final round, those maneuvers allowed Estrada to connect with a hard punch to the body that forced Chocolatito to cover up. It also allowed Estrada to unravel a combination that gave him the last round if needed. After 12 rounds one judge scored it 114-114, while two others saw it 116-112, 115-113 for Estrada who becomes the new WBC super flyweight world titlist.

“We did an excellent fight and I got the victory,” said Estrada. “I’ve always said Chocolatito is a future Hall of Famer.”

Gonzalez was gracious in defeat.

“What is important is we gave that good fight to the fans and we came out in good health,” Gonzalez said.

There is even talk of a fourth fight.

“As long as they pay well, of course,” said Gonzalez.

Other Fights

Julio Cesar Martinez (19-2, 14 KOs) retained the WBC flyweight world title by majority decision over Spain’s Samuel Carmona (8-1) in a rather dull affair. Mexico’s Martinez chased Carmon all 12 rounds in a fight that saw Carmona slap and run, then hold.

No knockdowns were scored and Martinez won 114-114, 117-111, 116-112.

Diego Pacheco (17-0, 14 KOs) ran over Mexico’s Adrian Luna (24-9-2) with three knockdowns in winning by stoppage in the second round of the super middleweight fight. It was no surprise.

The 21-year-old from South Central L.A. once again showed that despite his youth his power seems to be continually increasing as evident in the knockout win.

Now training with Team David Benavidez, the young super middleweight looked sharp, especially with the lead overhand right that floored Luna in the second round. Luna was floored two more times and the fight was wisely stopped by his own corner.

“You put in the hard work then you come in here and shine,” said Pacheco. “I joined team Benavidez this year.”

Nicaragua’s former world titlist Cristofer Rosales (35-6, 21 KOs) won a dog fight over Mexico’s Joselito Velasquez (15-1-1, 10 KOs) by unanimous decision after 10 rounds in a flyweight clash.

It was a back-and-forth struggle that saw the taller Rosales take over in the second half of the fight and win by simply out-punching Velasquez and handing the Mexican his first loss as a professional by scores 97-93 three times.

Photo credit: Milena Pizano

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Tyson Fury TKOs Derek Chisora in Round 10

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It was a chilly night in London but that didn’t deter a near-capacity crowd from turning out at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium to witness the third rumble between Tyson Fury and Derek Chisora. The Gypsy King was heavily favored to retain his WBC and lineal heavyweight title and performed as expected. Indeed, this fight closely resembled their second encounter back in 2014.

In that bout, Chisora absorbed a terrific amount of punishment before his corner pulled him out at the conclusion of the 10th round. Tonight’s fight ended nine seconds earlier at the 2:51 mark of round 10 and it was the referee who terminated the match.

When is a heavyweight not a heavyweight? When the man in the opposite corner is substantially bigger. With an 8-inch height advantage and a 15-inch reach advantage, the six-foot-nine Fury was simply too big a mountain to climb for the brave Derek Chisora, a fighter who changed his nickname in mid-career, transitioning from “Dell Boy” to “War.”

Fury dominated round two, especially the last minute, a round in which he was credited with landing 18 power punches. The writing was on the wall for Chisora who ate a lot of thudding uppercuts in the ensuing rounds and ended the contest with a badly swollen right eye and a bloody mouth. With the victory, Fury improved his ledger to 32-0-1 with his 24th win inside the distance. The Zimbabwe-born Chisora falls to 33-13.

Oleksandr Usyk and Joe Joyce were in attendance and the Gypsy King addressed both before he left the ring. Calling Usyk “The Rabbit,” he indicated that he would fight Usyk next in a true unification fight, but said if there were a snag in negotiations he wouldn’t mind trading blows with the Juggernaut, Joe Joyce, who wore down and stopped former heavyweight title-holder Joseph Parker, a former Fury sparring partner, in his most recent engagement. However, Fury also revealed that he had an issue with his right elbow that may require surgery.

Co-Feature

In a heavyweight match that lasted only three rounds but was chock-full of action, Daniel Dubois overcame three knockdowns to retain his secondary WBA heavyweight title he won at the expense Trevor Bryan with a third-round stoppage of upset-minded Kevin Lerena.

In the opening stanza, Johannesburg’s Lerena, landed an overhand left on the top of Dubois’s head that put the Englishman on the canvas and left him all at sea. He went down twice more before the round was over, the first time of his own volition when he took a knee (reminiscent of his match with Joe Joyce) and the second from a glancing blow.

Dubois, whose legs are spindly for a man of his poundage, had trouble regaining his equilibrium in round two, but Lerena didn’t press his advantage. In the next frame, a short right from Dubois penetrated Lerena’s guard and down went the South African. Smelling blood, Dubois knocked him down again and was pummeling him against the ropes when the referee interceded just as it appeared that Lerena would be saved by the bell.

It was the fourth straight win for Dubois (19-1, 18 KOs) since his mishap versus Joyce. Lerena, who entered the bout on a 17-fight winning streak, lost for the second time in 30 fights.

Also

In a ho-hum affair, Denis Berinchyk, a 24-year-old Ukrainian, captured the European lightweight title and remained undefeated with a unanimous decision over French-Senagalese warhorse Ivan Mendy. Berinchyk (17-0, 9 KOs) was making his first appearance in London since winning a silver medal at the 2012 Olympics where he was a teammate of Oleksandr Usyk and Vasiliy Lomachenko.

The judges had it 117-112 and 116-112 twice for the Ukrainian. The 37-year-old Mendy, who has answered the bell for 380 rounds, falls to 47-6-1.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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