Here’s a one-two punch for you on recommended boxing reads…
While we’re growing long-in-the-teeth for the great rivalries of the ’80s to return to the ring, I picked up George Kimball’s ‘Four Kings: Leonard, Hearns, Hagler, Duran, and the Last Great Era of Boxing.’
Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, and Roberto Duran are among the major colonnades of the ’70s and ’80s for boxing. A lot of fight fans can argue what era and class remains the golden age of boxing. Yet, when you observe the careers of these four fighters, you would be hard-pressed to argue against the tenure of their time.
In fact, if HBO and their mesmerizing 24/7 series portrayals of boxers today would have been available in the mid-80s, boxing would have remained one of the most popular sports today. I just wish that someone could turn the classic footage from the HBO Boxing preludes for each fight into a mini 24-7 series…HBO’s Greatest Fights are close, but we need more.
Yes, it’s true. The stories of Leonard, Duran, Hearns, and Hagler and how they intertwined haven’t been highly described or investigated in detail. Fortunately, Kimball had the inside look at each fighter’s climb with his job writing at the Boston Herald.
Throughout the book, he details the camp, pre-lim fights, and although Kimball interjects a lot of his own personal recollections and ‘I was there’ descriptions that can stall the stroies, he provides sharp detail in each fighter’s career. He also gives the chewy analysis upon how each fighter intertwined with one another for each fight.
Yet, the treats are found in the details provided by his notes and hanging with the great men who were in the corners. For example, due to his proximity to Brockton, Massachusetts as a Boston Herald reporter, Kimball pulls scintillating details from the rise of Hagler and through his conversations with Hagler’s trainers, Goody and Pat Petronelli. (Check out Phil Berger’s 1987 NYTimes article for a short snapshot of their triangle.)
From Kimball’s insights, you’re not only able to see what drove Hagler for his fights, but also feel the loyalty, trust, and close bonds that Hagler had instilled throughout his career. Throughout the read, I grew to be a huge Hagler fan just alone upon the close circle that he kept throughout his career.
The sincere frustration that Hagler and the Petrocellis must have felt waiting for the big fights to come with Leonard and Hearns is symbolic of Hagler’s final fight with Ray Leonard…He was robbed. The saving grace is that we saw him dominate the middleweight division for the time that we had. The bottom line here says that Hagler is the statue of this era, and I wish that we could grab more details upon him and his management team. He is what boxing is about and how fighters should handle their business.
Gems are also found in the conversations and details that Kimball gleams from Emmanuel Steward with his experience with Thomas Hearns. Kimball takes great care to compile all of the tidbits to determine who was the greatest talent of them all, and if not for the drama often found in Hearns’s camps and pre-fight preparations, we may not even be questioning who the greatest fighter of all-time was.
Just for fun, take a look back at the Hearns-Duran fight…What a master display of three minutes. The talent is incredible.
As for Leonard, Kimball eases through the events and depiction of Leonard. During the read, you definitely get to see the gloss that followed Leonard throughout his career and how the shine shielded a lot of his shortcomings in both in and out of the ring. After Leonard’s rise from the ‘76 Olympics to the mainstream, you almost want to snicker at his results after the ‘No Mas’ decision.
Kimball also finds nice details surrounding the rise of Duran and his camps throughout the book. If there is a fighter who seems to be neglected for his legendary career, it’s ‘El Cholo’, Roberto Duran, and Kimball fits the bill with great anecdotes and inside details.
(Here’s a treat for you classic fightheads out there…Special thanks to the person who put the tune behind this vid.)
Although the read provides great details, I would have liked to have seen more details and insights upon Roberto Duran, Kimball touches upon a lot of strong theories into Duran’s strategies, his famed ‘No Mas’ call, and his rise to the top of the heap. Yet, I would have liked to have heard more details from “Los Manos de Piedras” himself.
As a side note, unfortunately, with the passing of Duran’s long-time trainer and boxing legend, Ray Arcel, we’re not able to hear Arcel’s voice as often as any boxing aficionado would hope to have from the legendary cornerman…(Check out Dave Anderson’s “In The Corner” if you’re looking for more Arcel nuggets. I’ll have another review for you shortly…I’m still reading the chapters on Eddie Futch, Kevin Rooney, and George Benson for a second go-around…Yes, that much fun.)
This reader would also like to see more answers of why Aaron Pryor couldn’t have been included into rotation…Now, the neglection of Aaron Pryor for the great welterweight division runs, that’s an overlooked story…Talk about a travesty for fight fans. (Note of bias: Pryor is this blogga’s favorite all-time fighting talent…Bar-none.)
In a lot of ways, I found that the read is more like the diving into the footnotes of the great depictions that were found in SIs and Ring Magazines. Lots of facts and interview snippets without a lot of gloss. The read also explores the great question:
Where are the big rivalries in the sport of boxing today…?
The book offers the mainstream opinions surrounding the topic.
First, the separation of divisions absolutely killed the rivalries. Second, the networks of HBO, Showtime, and other cable outlets dividing the fighters for their own promotions and not allowing them to have bouts within their divisions in order to protect their own promotional interests for their boxing schedules.
Kimball adds another theory from Gil Clancy that is a simple one to add to the answer the puzzle for the fall of boxing in the late ’80s and ’90s…Crack. According to Clancy, you had a whole generation that was skipped because of the inner-city drug wars, and the result is that boxing lost it’s hold in the great urban cities.
From this blogga’s point of view, after watching the fall of USA Boxing over the past decade from our dominance in the Olympics, we need to know more. I wish that we could see rivalries nurture and grow like the ‘Four Kings.’ Yet, I think we’ll have to turn to tennis or even …Yeeech, the UFC in 40 years, to ever see a time like this one again.
Here’s to Brockton, Mass, Washington, D.C., Guarere, Panama, and Detroit, Michigan…Enjoy this read.
From the Parking Lot of Caesar’s Palace,