Great Boxing Writing, by George

From ringside scribes, a knockout anthology
April 10, 2011

Throughout its history boxing has attracted a dazzling range of literary voices, from the sportswriting ranks and beyond. Surely, though, the fight game has never had a more vivid countercultural presence than the one George Kimball has provided at fights big and small for the past 40 years. Now Kimball, 67, has joined with longtime SI contributor John Schulian to produce At the Fights: American Writers on Boxing, a superb new anthology that proves that the sweet science has left both men with a heightened literary sensibility as well as an appreciation for a crisp left hook.

In their 517-page collection Kimball and Schulian showcase such literary heavyweights as Jack London and Norman Mailer as well as sportswriting icons A.J. Liebling, Jimmy Cannon and W.C. Heinz. But there are surprises, too: H.L. Mencken on Dempsey-Carpentier, Village Voice writer Joe Flaherty on Sonny Liston, novelist Katherine Dunn on a woman who likes to knock people out.

Stories of great fighters abound—there are six pieces on Muhammad Ali alone—and with them come tales of great fights, including Mark Kram's classic on the Thrilla in Manila and Pat Putnam's dissection of the Hagler-Hearns brawl, both of which first ran in this magazine. But some of the best stories are understated and focus on lesser-known lifers, like Pete Hamill's touching portrait of trainer Cus D'Amato and Pete Dexter's tribute to the modest Philadelphia gym where he used to spar.

Kimball's own story belongs in this last category, even if he has seldom done anything quietly. To identify him as simply "a boxing writer" would be like saying Ben Franklin flew kites. An Army brat, Kimball was a true child of the 1960s, arrested enough times at antiwar protests to merit an FBI file. He caroused with Hunter S. Thompson; ran for sheriff in Lawrence, Kans., on a pro-marijuana platform; wrote beatnik poetry; and was a regular at the legendary Greenwich Village literary bar, the Lion's Head. In the 1970s he was sports editor of The Boston Phoenix, the alternative weekly at which he gave Mike Lupica, among others, his start. Kimball moved to the daily Boston Herald in 1980 and spent the next 25 years writing a pointed, irreverent column covering golf, baseball, football and, of course, boxing. Along the way he bent elbows with Bill Lee, warred with Roger Clemens and was married (in 2004) with the Reverend George Foreman presiding.

Through it all Kimball has been a natural raconteur, gruff, optimistic and tireless. That didn't change when, shortly after his retirement, his esophageal cancer was diagnosed as terminal and he was given six months to live. That was in 2005, and since then Kimball has produced five books, including Four Kings, the definitive account of the celebrated middleweight rivalries of the 1980s. A collection of Kimball's boxing pieces, Manly Art, was released last week.

At the Fights is a fine complement to Kimball's own work. It depicts a world of men (and a few women) from hardscrabble beginnings, dedicated trainers, crooked promoters, and losers often more compelling than the winners. One of his own pieces graces the collection, but as the past five years have proved, he is more than a writer—he is a fighter.

Ray-ded!

Taking stock of the odd array of items—yes, that's an AK-47—that have been pilfered from Tampa Bay baseballers this spring

From Bad To Verse

Reviewing the new-look NCAA tourney

The 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament is now history—and with it the first foray into four-network coverage. All those ways to watch may have produced a gargantuan audience for March Madness, but more isn't always better. With that in mind, here are seven haiku reviews of the hits and, more often, misses of this year's coverage:

Charles Barkley

A raging bull goes Quietly into the night We say, Good day, Sir

Reggie Miller

Scream, shriek, wail, howl, moan Gators, 'Dogs; what could have been Poor, poor Gus Johnson

Steve Kerr & Marv Albert

Mutt/Jeff; gin/tonic Of twosomes, where doth thou stand? On top, we deem. Yessss!

Craig Sager

Purples, plaids, paisleys Color man? Ah, that kind. Whoops What would Wooden say?

John Adams, Officiating Coordinator

Instant replay? Bah! "Good call, zebras!" comes his cry Dear John, you err on

Kenny Smith

His insights: duh-uh Captain Obvious, we deem A grade? Incomplete

TruTV

Flash forward two months Lizard Lick Towing? I pause Nothing to see here

PHOTOANGIE CARLINO/COURTESY OF GEORGE KIMBALL (KIMBALL)PROSE WITH A PUNCH Iconoclastic writer Kimball (with Mike Tyson in 1986) has helped produce a heavyweight anthology. PHOTOKEVORK DJANSEZIAN/GETTY IMAGES (BARKLEY) PHOTOKEVORK DJANSEZIAN/GETTY IMAGES (KERR) PHOTOJEFF LEWIS/ICON SMI (MILLER) PHOTOKIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT/US PRESSWIRE (ALBERT)
PHOTOICON SPORTS MEDIA (SAGER) PHOTOCOURTESY SI.COM (ADAMS) PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGH (SMITH) PHOTOJENNIFER R. GRAD (TV) PHOTOHAROLD CUNNINGHAM/GETTY IMAGES (WATCHES) PHOTOSONY (HEADPHONES) PHOTOMEL LEVINE (LAPTOP) PHOTOCOURTESY OF MICROSOFT (XBOX) PHOTOPATRICK LLEWELYN-DAVIES/OJO IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES (RIFLE) PHOTOCOURTESY OF CHANDLER, ARIZ., POLICE DEPARTMENT (CAMARO) THREE PHOTOS

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)