SPORTING BLOOD: TALES FROM THE DARK SIDE OF BOXING
Updated: Oct 15, 2020
Admirably described as a writer without ‘a wealth of contacts in the boxing industry…[due, in part] because he has never compromised his writing to curry favour or ingratiate himself to the powers that be,’ Acevedo’s maverick individualism and unyielding approach was always going to endure him to this writer. And whilst this book is not a new release and has thus been the subject of review before, I guess it is with the same emulous and egotistical attitude – a profound characteristic inherent to both boxers and writers – that I now walk mine into the ring.
From the outset, it is important to mention that this book is not one singular narrative. It is instead comprised of twenty-one distinct, snapshot vignettes, with each chapter given its own beguiling titular enticement, underneath of which lies an eponymous subheading that conveniently provides the reader with the name of the subject soon-to-be under scrutiny and explication.
Chapter centrepieces include Muhammad Ali, Jack Johnson and Jake LaMotta; Joe Frazier, Johnny Tapia, Mike Tyson and Roberto Duran, but when thinking as to which audience this book would best readily apply to, I am reluctant – and consider it perhaps reductive still – to simply pigeon hole it in for readership by an older audience, or to suggest that it would mainly be of interest to those with real-time, colour memories of occasions spent watching these fighters in action.
Boxing fans tend to coalesce into identifiable and stratified layers, like sediment carried wholly in fluvial motion, yet comprised of particles which either integrate or separate due to their relative densities, their corresponding Rouse numbers. There is the casual fan, seduced only by the larger events and by those fighters of massaged reputation and PR marketed renown; the pretentious, who often position themselves, either online or ruinously at social gatherings, as historians and statisticians, as the protective bastions of bygone eras, when, in the majority, they are only blessed with an average capacity for memory and recall, and an unfortunate access to Wikipedia; and, lastly, the discerning boxing fan, who takes his writing in the same way that he takes his pugilism: with the sole requirement being that they are replete only with enough intrigue and competition to rouse his percipient interest. And this book satisfies the often-diverging requirements of all three! Which casual hasn’t heard of Mike Tyson, for example; what historian doesn’t like telling you about Jack Johnson; and there is no discerning boxing – ‘Born from his own mother!’ – who could tell you with a straight face that he doesn’t admire the fluid, ferocious barbarism of a prime Roberto Duran.
The skill here, however, is that Acevedo doesn’t merely recall facts, or enervate you with folderol; he enlivens these fighters in new, compelling and intelligent ways. Let’s continue with Tyson, once one of the most (in)famous athletes in the world. One would think that given the caravan of mainstream reporters, photographers and the retinue of assistants and advisers that Tyson preoccupied during his heyday; the innumerable column inches, interviews, documentaries and features, combined with the publication of a ratified, detailed autobiography, that there could be no possible perspective or minutiae about his person yet inexhausted.
But herein lies Acevedo’s ingenuity; instead, he tells the story of Tyson during the year 1988, still situating Mike as the undeniable attraction in the narrative but approaches his account via circuitous, interesting and interrelating themes, and the indirect vantages of then peripheral and supporting actors. In the same way one may describe the flickering coruscation of candle light from either the perspective of an orbiting moth or as it may relate to the stained glass surround of the lantern it inhabits, the flame, and thus Tyson, remain in our awareness; the elephant remains firmly in the room, though in a softer, subtler, beguiling way, which then allows us to view it from an alternative perspective and to thus learn and to notice about its personage things which were not always perceptible in the immediacy of our first, cursory glance.
In his foreword, distinguished boxing journalist Thomas Hauser describes Acevedo’s writing as economical; though whilst it is certainly free from bombast, I’m not sure that I would go that far. I agree that stylistically, as a complete body of work, the writing is taut and sinewy, but there is still more than enough floridity in the prose to excite the sensibilities of the aspirant litterateur; floridity which is buttressed, further still, by the promiscuous interspersions of lofty literary and philosophical references, such as the transcendent links between pugilism, Dadaism, Surrealism and JG Ballard.
Indeed, Acevedo’s breadth of vocabulary concerts, in gestalt harmony, with his noble dedication to mot juste, resulting in accurate depictions of people, places and events; which, whilst still adhering to a traditional form of journalistic reportage, flirts teasingly with the anecdotal sensationalism characteristic of New Journalism.
To yield to the luxury of simile, apt as Acevedo himself employs several witty iterations of the form, this prose is punchy, powerful and tight, yet rather than think of it – as one mistakenly may – as the literary equivalent to the chiselled abdominals of a professional bodybuilder – restricted as they are in function to perform only specific movements – Acevedo’s prose is more closely akin to the toned torso of Iggy Pop, cavorting and defined, and capable of transmogrifying those same movements, and thus this same subject matter, into extraordinary portrayals that are perhaps replete with more augmented potency than they otherwise merited as actual, objective experiences.
I would therein recommend this book to anyone who has either a taste for boxing or for ‘bloody good’ writing. Given the accessible, oversimplified publications from many in this sporting subculture, one would be forgiven for thinking that these two enjoyments were in fact mutually exclusive. Mercifully, Acevedo dispels this notion for us here, eliding and presenting the two into one captivating 211-page read.
Lastly, it is important to emphasise, if only to gird this writer’s reputation as a reviewer, that whilst this review may read as a panegyric, it isn’t the intention. There is a saying, dated to Roman antiquity: Fiat justitia – ruat caelum – “Do justice, and let the skies fall.” And it is in the tenor of this statement that these reviews are intended.
In every industry, in every epoch, there are those who argue that greater goods, such as personal comfort or tribal solidarity should take precedence over the demands of justice. It is supposed to be the axiom of civilised media that no individual or truth should be sacrificed for hypothetical benefits, such as the fostering of relationships or quid pro quo. But, in actuality, in boxing media especially, cosy sycophancy and purchasable lip service is often the dominant, overriding ethic.
These reviews will be distinct from that, and, thus, it is likely that they shall not all read as effusively as this one, or as obsequiously promotional as others…though this book is just that good.
My rating 4.5/5
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