Monday, December 27, 2010

Book Excerpt: The Prizefighters

The Prizefighters: An Intimate Look at Champions and Contenders

Written and Photographed by Arlene Schulman
Introduction by Budd Schulberg
Published by Lyons & Burford Press

The wolf loses his teeth but not his inclinations.
- Spanish Proverb

329 stitches

11 broken noses

2 broken cheekbones

8 cracked ribs

The stigmata of sixteen years in boxing are retold in the face of Chuck Wepner. From the beginning, he was marked. He fought Sonny Liston - and lost - in Liston's last bout, six months before Liston was mysteriously found dead. That bout gave Wepner 72 stitches, a broken nose, and a broken left cheekbone. "These were the kinds of guys that I was fighting," Wepner said without apology. "Why?" he repeated, his eyes searching around his living room filled with plaques and trophies. "Because I liked it."

They were born to become prizefighters and nothing else.

"I was born to fight," said Roberto Duran. "I don't know what else to do."

The best become legends, others legendary; some remain contenders or dilettantes - just a name under someone else's record. Their styles in the ring are as different as their origins and personalities. To study them is to see portraits of flattened noses and scar tissue, strong necks bearing proud heads, eyes that have seen victory, endured defeat, and, outside the ring, often look gentle, intelligent, whimsical, or tired, eyes, that sparkle with humor or are dull with disappointment. Features change over time. Evander Holyfield's handsome face has flattened itself in some spots and become lumpy in others. "Boxing's a rough sport," Muhammad Ali once said. "After every fight I rush to the mirror to make sure I'm still presentable. A lot of boxers' features change," he added, "when I fight 'em." The best physiques - whether large like Holyfield or small, like Michael Carbajal - look like sculpture, carved muscles in perfect proportion. And there is an aura about a man who knows that he is the best in the world.

A loud and persuasive voice shouts to them to stick their hands into a pair of sweaty gloves, to learn the basic techniques of boxing, to prove their skills against others, to compete, to win, to get out of the neighborhood, to become a champion. Some fight in the streetss, in school, at home, in prison; others hold it inside. Brother may follow brother, like Michael and Leon Spinks; a father may show off rusty skills to his son, like Nick Barbella to Rocky Graziano; and even a mother may instruct her son, like the light heavyweight Egerton Marcus, whose mother learned to box as a teenager in her native Guyana. Sometimes they find their way into the ring by chance.

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