DEAR SUMMER…

…please stop offing my idols. This Summer has been pretty piss-poor thus far. That doesn’t just apply to the inclement weather – in Britain, that’s a given. There’s been too many high-profile passings these last few months. Beyond the obvious departees, boxers Alexis Arguello, Arturo Gatti and Vernon Forrest were found dead in suspicious circumstances from gunshot wounds. Gatti’s career had come to a conclusion, Arguello’s was long over and Forrest was on the comeback trail. While premature death places all three in the amber capture of eternal cultdom among fight fans, it’s been a brutal and unnecessary time.

Trite by comparison, but on a battling note, Affliction Entertainment’s demise meant a highly-touted MMA bout with Fedor Emelianenko cracking some skull in his inimitable deadpan style never came to pass, and Setanta’s British wing going into administration lost us many a pay-per-view opportunity. To see Lacy and Jones Jr. go toe-to-toe last week, we UK-heads had to get our illegal stream on. Dark days. I’ve never taken too much interest in other sports, but beyond the (percieved) purity of a bout and the athleticism required, plus a low-attention-span friendly round system, I’m drawn in by boxing’s heart of darkness too.

Recently revisiting F.X. Toole’s work, the man, whose government name was Jerry Boyd, deserves many more literary plaudits beyond just being the author behind the admittedly decent movie ‘Million Dollar Baby’ – his book ‘Rope Burns’ which contained the short story that led to the film has at least two superior tales of equal poignancy and grit deserving of adaptation. Boyd was actually a cutman, hence the authenticity with which he approaches the topic. The narrative technique, knack for storytelling and aptitude for capturing LA’s mixed-bag of dialogue, accents and slang? I’m presuming that was an innate skill.

Doing his day job while sending his stories to several publishers who continually rejected them, he finally saw ‘Rope Burns’ published in 2000. He passed away in 2002 at the age of 72. I can’t recommend the book enough. James Ellroy, another author with a knack for authenticity is a huge fan of the stories, and his one and only novel, released posthumously, ‘Pound For Pound’ – another necessary read, regardless of whether boxing is your ‘thing’ or not.

At least, unlike that other Toole, John Kennedy, whose ‘A Confederacy Of Dunces’ was released 11 years after his suicide, and many, many knockbacks, F.X. got to see his name in print, and some glowing reviews. Infuriatingly, after the success of the TV show ‘Mad Men’, AMC promised a min-series called ‘Cutman’ a couple of years ago, based on Toole’s short stories which never materialised. On a positive note, this week it’s been announced that king of the sports flick Ron Shelton (‘Bull Durham’, ‘Tin Cup’, ‘Play It To The Bone’) will be directing the film adaptation of ‘Pound For Pound’ with Billy Bob Thornton in the lead.

As far as inspirations for storytelling go, boxing just spews ’em up. There’s plenty of sourness in the sweet science, and I’m not just talking the corruption that’s send me towards mixed martial arts, and a heavyweight division that, after the Buster/Mike bout has degenerated slowly to the point where one might be inclined to pull the plug on it like Frankie did Maggie. The most substantial lowlights in the sport include apparently bisexual welterweight Emile Griffith destroying Benny “Kid” Paret in the ring after Benny called him a “maricón” – Benny died a few days later. The 2005 documentary ‘Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story’ breaks it down well – there was some serious bad blood, but Emile can’t be held accountable for the outcome of what was an admittedly brutal fight. Check the Sports Illustrated retrospective here.

Thene there’s the November 1982 fight between Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini and South Korean Duk Koo Kim that ended after 14 rounds with Kim suffering fatal brain injuries. As a result, 15 round fights were trimmed to the 12 you see today. Kim’s mother committed suicide by drinking pesticide in February 1983, and in July of that year, the match’s referee, Richard Green (who refereed the Holmes-Ali fight too) racked by guilt and depression, which we could speculate were over claims he should’ve ended the fight earlier, shot himself. Sports Illustrated always captures these sombre stories perfectly. This 1987 article is no exception. It also links to the sad story of middleweight journeymen Willie Classen who died in 1979 after a particularly unnecessary knockout. Kim’s sad story is also told in the 2002 biopic ‘Champion’.

In 1983, welterweight undefeated prospect Billy Collins faced Louis Resto. Billy was expected to be the victor, but over 10 rounds he floundered at the impact of journeyman Resto’s punches, marked up and bleeding. It transpired that Resto had the padding removed from his gloves by at least someone in his corner team, and Collins had taken the brunt of it for half an hour. Injured to the point where he couldn’t fight again because of a torn iris, he became depressed and in 1984, died in a drunken car crash. Both Resto and trainer Panama Lewis served a small time in jail, yet inexplicaly Lewis still trains fighters, even prepping Zab Judah to lose against Miguel Cotto in 2007. Fuck Resto and fuck Panama Lewis. There’s a great Jeff Pearlman ‘Sports Illustrated’ piece on the scandal from 1998 here, and the story has been documented in both 2008’s ‘Cornered’, renamed  ‘Assault In The Ring’ which elicited a feeble admission of guilt and remorse from Resto, and the revelation that his bandages were coated with plaster-of-Paris, plus talk of pill-laced water.

Middleweight Tony Ayala Jr. the “Baby Bull” is a scumbag, no doubt about it, and once one of boxing’s brightest prospects, who started his professional career in 1980. A force to be reckoned with offensively, he could’ve been fighting Hagler and Duran, but instead committed a brutal rape (his third assault against a woman apparently) and was imprisoned in 1983, where he stayed for 16 years. Just watching footage of his TKO victory against Robbie Epps, it’s clear that he’s something of a hothead. Prior to release in 1999, the prodogy who went off the rails promised no more funny business, telling Timothy Smith of the New York Times, ”I’ve done more time than others, but I’d like to believe that I have a greater responsibility. There is a message here. I’d like to show people that you can come back, and not in boxing terms, but in life terms.

He proved on release he could still pack a punch with several KOs, was shot in the shoulder breaking into a woman’s house , then got sentenced to another 10 years in jail after being found speeding, unlicensed, with heroin and porn in the vehicle. And that, as they say, was that. There’s a few great articles that get into that psyche to understand why Tony is such a troubled individual.

All that at professional level. Just imagine the stories Jerry Boyd picked up among the amateurs. No wonder his writing is so compelling.

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