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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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Alycia Baumgardner vs Elhem Mekhaled: Female Splendor at MSG 

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Alycia Baumgardner vs Elhem Mekhaled: Female Splendor at MSG

Two bouts between women, which will turn the winners into undisputed champions in the featherweight and super featherweight divisions, will create an electrifying atmosphere this Saturday, February 4th at Madison Square Garden.

In the duel between the two southpaws, Puerto Rican Amanda Serrano (43-2-1, 30 KOs), based in Brooklyn), will defend her 126-pound WBC, IBF and WBO titles, while Mexican Erika Cruz (15-1, 3 KOs) will defend her WBA title.

Also, of great interest will be the fight between American Baumgardner (13-1, 7 KOs), 130-pound WBC, IBF and WBO champion and her opponent, French challenger Elhem Mekhaled (15-1, 3 KOs), who will try to snatch Baumgardner’s titles and get the vacant WBA title, which belonged to the undefeated Korean Choi Hyun-Mi (20-1, 5 KOs).

Choi, who was born in Pyongyang, North Korea but left the country with her family at the age of 14 and settled in Seoul, South Korea, was declared “Champion in Recess”, as she suffers from a medical condition that prevents her from fighting. Once she fully recovers, she will have the possibility of facing, as a mandatory challenger, the winner between Baumgardner and Mekhaled.

For Baumgardner, who was born 28 years ago in Ohio, but now lives and trains in Michigan, the fight in New York will once again allow her to showcase her skills in the United States after three consecutive fights in the United Kingdom.

In her most recent bout, Baumgardner defeated her compatriot Mikaela Mayer (17-1, 5 KOs) in a difficult brawl, from whom she snatched the IBF and WBO belts, while retaining the WBC belt. The bout was October 15th of last year at the O2 Arena in London. Two of the officials, Steve Gray and John Latham, scored the fight 96-95 in favor of Baumgardner, but Terry O’Connor saw it 97-93 for Mayer.

Four days later, Choi unanimously defeated Canada’s Vanessa Bradford (6-4-2, 0 KOs) in Seoul, earning the Asian her ninth successful defense of the WBA super featherweight crown, which she has held since May 2014, when she anesthetized the now retired Thai, Siriwan Thongmanit.

The following month, in November, the WBA ordered Choi to defend her belt in a mandatory duel against Baumgardner, making the winner the undisputed queen of 130 pounds.

ELHEM MEKHALED FILLS THE VACANCY OF SOUTH KOREAN CHOI

To fill the vacancy of the South Korean Choi, the IBF Committee awarded the position to Mekhaled who ranks third in the women’s 130-pound rankings.

Former interim WBC titleholder, Mekhaled, 31 years old and born in Paris, has recently lost by unanimous decision to Belgian Delfine Persoon (47-3, 19 KOs) at the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi where they disputed the vacant WBC silver belt.

The duel against Baumgardner not only allows Mekhaled to debut in the United States, but also provides her the opportunity to become the undisputed champion at 130 pounds.

Mekhaled emphasized that the February 4th event has great significance for women fighters and that this is a sign that the discipline is growing, with more and more fight cards in which women exhibit the leading role.

The French boxer said that after winning the interim title in 2015, she waited a long time for the opportunity to fight for the regular belt, but unfortunately it never materialized.

Mekhaled explained that after a long period of focusing on her personal life and not really training, she accepted the duel with Delfine Persoon with only two weeks of preparation, which led to the setback against the Belgian boxer.

“Since my WBC interim 2019 title, I’ve been waiting for this moment,” said Mekhaled. “Maybe fate has played well; instead of one belt, they’re all on the line. I am super excited to fight on February 4th at the legendary MSG in New York. God knows how determined I am! It’s my time to shine. Thank you to my advisor Sarah Fina.”

Article submitted by Jorge Juan Álvarez in Spanish.

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

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How good is Jake Paul? Shane Mosley’s Answer May Surprise You

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Few celebrities in the world today are as polarizing as Jake Paul. The 26-year-old Cleveland native who fights Tommy Fury in an 8-round match on Feb. 26 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, has fervent fans and equally fervent detractors. To long-time aficionados of boxing, especially those born before the arrival of the internet, Jake Paul and his ilk are widely looked upon as a scourge.

Paul first entered the squared circle on Aug. 25, 2018, at the Manchester Arena in England. He fought fellow YouTube star Deji Olatunji in the co-feature to a match between their respective older brothers, Logan Paul and the “influencer” known as KSI. The combatants promoted the event on their social media platforms

These were exhibitions fought with headgear. Jake Paul stopped Olatunji whose corner pulled him out after five rounds. However, the results wouldn’t appear on boxrec, the sport’s official record-keeper.

No serious boxing fan paid this curious event any heed, but the folks that profit from the sport without taking any punches stood up and took notice. The on-site gate reportedly exceeded $3 million. The event reportedly generated 1.3 million pay-per-view buys worldwide (youtube charged $10 a pop) with nearly as many beholders catching a free ride on a pirate stream. A new era was born, or at least a new sub-set of a heretofore calcified sport.

Jake Paul had his first professional fight on Jan. 30, 2020, in Miami. In the opposite corner was a British social media personality of Saudi Arabian lineage who took the name AnEsonGib. Paul stopped him in the opening round.

Paul fought once more that year, knocking out former NBA star Nate Robinson, and three times in 2021, opposing Ben Askren and then Tyron Woodley twice. Askren and Woodley were former MMA champions who had fabled careers as U.S. collegiate wrestlers, but both were newcomers to boxing.

According to Forbes, Jake Paul made $31 million from boxing in 2021. And therein lies the rub. While thousands of would-be future champions, many with deep amateur backgrounds, toiled away in boxing gyms honing their craft while hoping to attract the eye of an important promoter, a guy like Jake Paul came along and jumped the queue. It just ain’t fair.

In preparation for his pro debut against AnEson Gib, Paul spent time in Big Bear, California, training at the compound of Shane Mosley. A first ballot Hall of Famer (class of 2020), Mr. Mosley needs no introduction to readers of this web site. And when he says that Jake Paul is legit, one is inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

“I taught him the fundamentals,” says Mosley, “but Jake was a good listener and a hard worker. He’s a good athlete and he has a boxer’s mentality. We took him down the street to Abel Sanchez’s gym and had him spar with real professional fighters. He would spar with anybody and when he got caught with a hard punch he wouldn’t back down. He loves the sport and he relished the competition.”

Mosley stops short of saying that Jake Paul could hold his own with Canelo Alvarez – Paul preposterously called out Canelo after out-pointing 47-year-old MMA legend Anderson Silva in his most recent fight – but with so many titles up for grabs in this balkanized sport, it wouldn’t   surprise Mosely if the self-styled “Problem Child” latched hold of one before this phase of his life was over.

A three-time national amateur champion and a world champion at 135, 147, and 154 pounds as a pro, Shane Mosley put Pomona, California on the boxing map. He represented that city in LA county throughout his illustrious career. His son of the same name was born there.

Mosley fought twice in his hometown as he was coming up the ladder and will be back there again on Feb. 18 when Shane Mosley Jr appears on the undercard of a Golden Boy Promotions card at Pomona’s historic Fox Theater. It’s not official yet so we won’t divulge the name of Shane’s opponent, but the main event will pit Luis Nery against Azat Hovhannisyan in a WBC Super Bantamweight Eliminator, a match that shapes up as an entertaining skirmish as both have fan-friendly styles.

Shane Mosley Jr Sr

Shane Mosley Jr & Sr

Shane Mosley Jr, who turned 31 in December, will never replicate his father’s fistic accomplishments; his dad set the bar too high. But the younger Mosley is a solid pro who is on a pretty nice roll, having won five of his last six since losing a 10-round decision to Brandon Adams in the finals of season 5 of The Contender series. In his last outing, he out-slicked rugged Gabriel Rosado to win a regional super middleweight title.

The elder Mosely has been working with his son at Bones Adams gym in Las Vegas and will be in junior’s corner on Feb. 18. It will be a double-homecoming for Pomona’s favorite sons.

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Arne K. Lang’s third boxing book, titled “George Dixon, Terry McGovern and the Culture of Boxing in America, 1890-1910,” has rolled off the press. Published by McFarland, the book can be ordered directly from the publisher or via Amazon.

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Amanda Serrano Seeks Undisputed Status at 126 with Katie Taylor on the Horizon 

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After becoming the boxing icon of Puerto Rico last year, Amanda Serrano will try to make history again when she faces the Mexican southpaw Erika Cruz on February 4th at the Hulu theater in Madison Square Garden.

Promoter Eddie Hearn stated, “Puerto Rico vs Mexico fights always deliver fireworks, and we can expect nothing less when Amanda and Erika meet. Their clash of styles will make for a brilliant spectacle as Amanda and her army of fans return to the scene of her history-making fight of the year with Katie, and we can expect a similar atmosphere to one of the greatest nights the sport has ever seen.”

Champion in several sanctioning bodies, Serrano (43-2-1, 30 KOs) will put her WBC, IBF and WBO featherweight belts on the line, while Cruz (15-1, 3 KOs) will be defending the WBA belt. If she succeeds, the thirty-four-year-old Serrano, a native of Puerto Rico who has lived in Brooklyn, New York since childhood, will become the first boxer from Puerto Rico to hold the four most recognized belts in boxing.

“This is a pivotal moment, not just for me and my own career but for my home island of Puerto Rico,” said Serrano. “Earning the opportunity to be an undisputed lineal champion is something most fighters only dream about but becoming the first boxer from Puerto Rico to be an undisputed champion would make it even more special. I look forward to entering the ring in my hometown of NYC back at Madison Square Garden, taking on a Mexican champion in Erika Cruz and making Puerto Rican history. I encourage all my fans to turn up and tune in!”

The Puerto Rican boxer, who has won 30 of her 46 fights within the distance, said that if Cruz has a tactical plan in place that consists of exchanging punches, the bout will not go the 10 scheduled rounds.

Last September, Serrano unanimously defeated then-undefeated Dane Sarah Mahfoud (11-1, 3 KOs, in Manchester, England. Previously, in April, Serrano lost a split decision to Ireland’s Katie Taylor (22-0, 6 KOs) who successfully defended her four lightweight belts. Two judges scored the fight (97-93) for Taylor and the other (96-94) in favor of Serrano.

Taylor and Serrano became the first female boxers to headline a boxing match at Madison Square Garden. The two ladies also made history by each receiving a check for more than a million dollars which had an increase from pay-per-view earnings.

Referring to a possible rematch against Taylor, Serrano commented that if she beats Cruz, as expected, and if/when she meets Taylor for the second time (possibly in May in Ireland), it would be an epic duel between two undisputed champions: Serrano at 126 pounds and Taylor at 135.

Even though Serrano longs for a rematch with Taylor, she realizes that her immediate challenge is Cruz and has assured us that she is in excellent shape physically, technically, and mentally. She has increased the amount of sparring in camp, focusing on aggressiveness and explosiveness. She’s also added a sports massage therapist to her team which has helped with recovery.

In regard to a second confrontation between Serrano and Taylor, promoter Eddie Hearn stated, “For Serrano to become undisputed at 126 and then fight Katie again for the undisputed at 135 at Croke Park in Dublin, it would make that rematch even bigger if you can imagine that.”

Cruz, 32 years old and born in Mexico City, has put together a win streak of 14 following her loss to compatriot Alondra González on June 25, 2016, in Puebla, Mexico. Cruz conquered the WBA world belt on April 22, 2022, when she defeated Canadian Jelena Mrdjenovich who was unable to continue in the seventh round due to a cut caused by an accidental headbutt.

Erika Cruz

Erika Cruz

Five months later, on September 3, Cruz faced Mrdjenovich for a second time and again came out with her arm raised, this time winning by unanimous decision in Hermosillo, Mexico, where she retained the WBA title for the second time.

Cruz is looking forward to the matchup with Serrano. “I am grateful that this opportunity was finally given to me after many years of work,” said Cruz. “I have always gone against everything, but God is on my side, and he has given me the strength to achieve my goals. It’s time to make history and give Mexico its first unified champion at 126 lbs.”

Article submitted by Jorge Juan Álvarez in Spanish.

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

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