SEPTEMBER 2006


01 | Rinsing Off the Mouthpiece
By GorDoom

02 | Poem of the Month
By Tom Smario

03 | Pollack's Picks
By Adam Pollack

04 | Top Women Worth Watching
and Televising

By Adam Pollack

05 | Tournament of Champions: Boxing's Lineal Mathematics
By Cliff Rold

06 | Roberto Duran, Unplugged
By Juan C. Ayllon

07 | Appreciating Chuck
By Thomas Gerbasi

08 | Thistle in the Rose
By James Glen

09 | Anton "The Sheik" Greek
By Jerry Fitch

10 | Interview with Don Fraser
By Juan C. Ayllon

11 | Boxing's Good Book [PDF]
By Don Cogswell

12 | "John L. Sullivan: The Career of the First Gloved Heavyweight Champion" [PDF]
By Adam Pollack

13 | Three Book Reviews
By Katherine Dunn

14 | What's in a Name?
By Ted Sares

15 | Audio From the Archives [mp3]
The CBZ presents another classic boxing-themed radio show. This month we bring you an episode of Duffy's Tavern ("Where the elite meet to eat"), from April 13, 1951, starring Maxie Rosenbloom.


Three Book Reviews

By KATHERINE DUNN

"Million Dollar Baby" author left behind a novel of caring and fighting in the boxing world

The man who wrote "Million Dollar Baby" died in 2002, before his story hit the big screen and won Oscars and a global audience. Still, by all accounts he was satisfied.

He'd written for decades with no response but rejection slips. Then a literary magazine published one of his stories. An agent read it and asked if he had more. He did and the result was published in 2000 as "Rope Burns," the acclaimed volume of boxing stories that includes "Million Dollar Baby."

He wrote under the name F.X. Toole, a moniker fabricated, he said, in salute to the missionary saint Francis Xavier and Irish actor Peter O'Toole. He was known in the boxing world as Jerry Boyd, a respected cut man and trainer in Los Angeles fight gyms for many years. Though his writing is set in the world of boxing, he kept it secret there until he was finally published.

When he died at the age of 72, F.X. Toole left behind the thick manuscript of a novel, "Pound for Pound." Edited by his agent and a freelance editor, the novel appears with an introduction by fight fan and noir stylist James Ellroy. It carries the Toole stamp of lean, conversational storytelling and dialogue rich in an American polyglot of tic and rhythm.

"Pound for Pound" occupies the same bruising terrain as Toole's short stories. The primary actors are fight guys -- boxers and trainers. There is plenty of pugilistic lore, but boxing is the setting, not the subject. For Toole the sport is a laboratory where human fiber is tested, dissected and displayed under crisis conditions.

The novel crystallizes Toole's deeply moral view of existence. His bad guys are one-dimensional, relentless and unforgivable. Evil is almost religiously defined as the absence of light. But "Good" is complicated and hard. His characters stumble, grope and struggle for it. When it happens it is a mystery and a blessing achieved through the oldest of verities -- love, loyalty and commitment.

"Pound for Pound" centers on Dan Cooley, an aging ex-boxer turned trainer. His auto repair shop in Los Angeles has a boxing gym out back. The stoic Cooley has endured harsh losses, including the deaths of his wife and children. But as the story opens he is a decent man maintaining his equilibrium with the clear purpose of teaching and caring for his small grandson.

When the child is killed in a traffic accident, Cooley loses it. All the contained pain of his life explodes in fury. He dives into the bottle and plots a terrible revenge against the driver who did the deed. Then he turns the rage against himself and the God he believes in and hates. He methodically prepares for a gruesome suicide that will obliterate any trace of his existence.

Meanwhile, far off in San Antonio, an old ring rival of Cooley's is also a grandfather. But this rival, Eloy "The Wolf" Garza, is dying and the vultures surrounding the sport are eager to strip all the hope and talent out of his grandson, a gifted boxer. As a last, desperate attempt to save his grandson's dreams, The Wolf sends him to Los Angeles to ask Cooley to train him for a professional career.

Predictably, the living grandfather steps up for the dead. Someone else's grandson stands in for the lost child. But nothing comes easy for Toole's characters. There are twists at every step. If goodness is to triumph it must out-connive evil. The savagery of "Pound for Pound" is inextricably melded with profound sweetness. That's how F.X. Toole saw the world.



Muhammad Ali and Howard Cosell: Hand in Glove

Okay, I did not jump for joy at the news of yet another addition to the mountain of books -- some excellent, many silly -- about Muhammad Ali. And admittedly, hearing that veteran sports reporter Dave Kindred's "Sound and Fury: Two Powerful Lives, One Fateful Friendship" pairs the great boxer with the late, grating sportscaster Howard Cosell, I sneered. Yes, I am one of what Kindred calls "the mean-spirited punks" who dismissed Cosell as a pompous twit. It's not the first time I've been wrong in several directions at once.

Kindred's perceptive book offers a deeper view. "Sound and Fury" is a charmer with three good stories -- the separate lives of Ali and Cosell, and the tale of their scriptless collaboration to create media storms.

Kindred's research is solid, but he also knew and liked both men. His personal anecdotes and interpretations are fresh and zesty. The book begins with a description of Kindred literally crawling into bed with Ali to get an interview in a noisy Las Vegas hotel suite crowded by "the Ali Circus madhouse of perfumed women, pimp-dressed hangers-on, sycophants, con artists, sportswriters, and other reprobates." Of Ali, Kindred writes, "I saw him naked. I am not sure I ever saw him clearly."

The sportscaster appears as Kindred is sitting at the breakfast table in Cosell's beach house. "I saw in the shadows across the room a ghostly shape that on inspection turned out to be my host shuffling barefoot from his bedroom, skeletal in a white undershirt and boxer briefs. He was bleary-eyed. He had not yet found his toupee. As Cosell noticed me, he raised his arms and struck a bodybuilder's biceps-flexing pose. Then he spoke, and this is what he said: 'A killing machine the likes of which few men have ever seen.' "

Cosell laughing at himself wasn't Kindred's only surprise for me. "Sound and Fury" snatches both men out from behind the flimsy cartoons that often represent them. Cosell was more than an arrogant poser. Ali is neither Superman nor saint. Kindred's entertaining prestidigitation reveals dynamic egos, remarkable gifts and plenty of warts.

Turns out the unlikely duo had a lot in common. The handsome young African American Muslim boxer from Louisville and the homely older white Jewish lawyer from New York were both bedeviled by stereotype and racism. TV demanded bland accents, faces and vocabularies. But Cosell powered his polysyllabic Brooklyn rasp and his non-Ken-Doll mug to the hugely successful sportscasting career that allowed him to escape the law practice he hated. The white America that adored polite Joe Louis and gentle Floyd Patterson was not ready to stomach the Louisville Lip, much less the radical separatism of Ali's conversion to the Nation of Islam.

Both men were driven by fear. Cosell had a horror of failure and disrespect. The deeply religious Ali was awed by the physical threat of the murderous Elijah Muhammad, then leader of the Nation of Islam. Kindred argues persuasively that the politically naive Ali's abandonment of his mentor, Malcolm X, and his refusal to be drafted into the U.S. military were in obedience to Elijah Muhammad.

Ali's willingness to appear on any show with Cosell was an asset for the broadcaster. Cosell -- who had changed his name from Cohen -- was the first to publicly agree to call Cassius Clay by his new Muslim name. Cosell defended Ali's right to refuse induction and attacked the New York commission that stripped Ali of his license to box, leaving the fighter unemployed and scrabbling for years at the height of his athletic powers.

Kindred takes them from their disparate beginnings through triumphs and hard times, and follows them into their parallel decline in the 1980s. Cosell's feuds and rants finally got him booted off television entirely. He lost heart and health when his beloved wife died.

When Elijah Muhammad died, Ali embraced a milder form of Islam, and the old aggravations evaporated from the public consciousness. Not forgiven, but forgotten. Muted by the Parkinson's disease that is probably the result of the beatings he took late in his career, the depressed Ali drifted into deliberate obscurity. When he emerged to light the torch at the 1996 Olympics his global fame rekindled. To get past grousers like me, Cosell's revival needed Dave Kindred.



The boxing match that broke America's color line in sports

In 1910, Jack Johnson shattered the color line that barred black athletes from competing with whites. His punishment for that defiance combined with his vivid, innovative talent to make him a haunting figure in American sports.

Many of today's fight fans first learned about the great black champion from Muhammad Ali, who hailed Johnson as a hero and role model. In 2005, an remarkable two-part documentary by Ken Burns, "Unforgiveable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson," was broadcast twice on PBS. The filmmaker launched a substantial movement including political and labor leaders, as well as boxers, petitioning President Bush to pardon Johnson from his federal conviction under the Mann Act.

Every substantial history of boxing in America pays respects to Johnson, and to the bizarre extravaganza that surrounded his smashing of the original Great White Hope, Jim Jeffries, in their July 4, 1910, bout. Still, as Wayne Rozen notes in his introduction to "America on the Ropes: A Pictorial History of the Johnson-Jeffries Fight," until now there has not been a book solely about this match, which defined Johnson and threw a harsh, clear light on the racial conflict in the United States half a century after the Civil War.

Rozen's book is a gorgeous monster in size and content. It is packed with amazing photographs, posters, cartoons, clippings and other ephemera that help bring the men and the era to life. Rozen's entertaining prose paints dynamic and cranky personalities and the hurtling momentum of their times. Though it is carefully researched and documented, "America on the Ropes" reads like adventure. We may already know the plot, but Rozen dishes up so much engaging detail, so many obscure or raucous anecdotes, and such a strong day-by-day progression toward the climax that we live the nervy suspense as the big fight approaches.

As Rozen writes, "America was the land of opportunity, a land where every man had his own shot at fame and fortune . . . Unless, of course, he was black . . . Between 1901 and 1910, 754 blacks were lynched in the United States . . . In 1910 the social and political rights of blacks were less secure than at any time since slavery."

In this volatile context, Rozen sketches the lives of Johnson and Jeffries, and of the dashing promoter, Tex Rickard, who orchestrated the historic clash. The story gathers steam as the heavyweight champion, Jeffries, retires, having enforced the color bar and refused to allow any black fighter to challenge for the title. When Canadian Tommy Burns took the championship, Johnson chased him to Europe -- enduring humiliations remarkable even for that era -- and then to Australia.

Burns had defended the title twice in Australia, but on Dec. 26, 1908, Johnson toyed with the out-classed Burns. The most significant character watching in the huge crowd was Jack London. Stopping off in Australia on his way home from covering the Russo-Japanese War for American newspapers, London reported the fight for the New York Herald. London was as racist as most people in those days, and his description of the white champion's humiliation at the hands of Johnson blanketed North America in a matter of days. The crucial paragraph was London's final plea for Jeffries to come out of retirement and "remove that smile from Johnson's face."

This inflammatory article and the press that followed powered the storm that drove Jeffries and the nation to the events in Reno on July 4, 1910.

Rozen's wonderful description of the Johnson-Jeffries bout itself is illustrated by an impressive series of round-by-round photographs of the ring action. The aftermath is swiftly dealt with, but the author sketches each of the fighters lives to their end. The book concludes with the popular Mutt and Jeff cartoon strips that ran on the funny pages of the nation's daily papers. The gritty ink comedians play out their shady triumphs and absurd catastrophes on the way to and from the big fight -- a wry mirror for a grand, if grotesque, folly.

Katherine Dunn is associate editor of the Cyber Boxing Zone. She can be reached at kkdunn0@yahoo.com. All three reviews first appeared in the Sunday Oregonian on August 27, 2006.

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