Boxing novel

Jan 11, 2011 7:07 AM

It is somewhat financially fortuitous that the new year in boxing is off slowly, though starting next week with my opinions on the first major fight of 2011 – Timothy Bradley and Devon Alexander – you should be forewarned not to believe everything you read here.

For now, though, I have perhaps the best bet of the year for aficionados – a compilation of George Kimball’s ring writings from the last decade.

In the time it is taking me to write this column, George probably could have knocked off one or two books. But he is not only prolific, he is proficient, for my money the best active boxing writer on this land mass. Manly Art, subtitled "They can run – but they can’t hide," offers Big George at his best.

Let me come clean. Kimball is a dear friend, not just a colleague. I named my big clumsy mutt after him, with great affection. Most of the pieces in this collection I have read before, but Kimball is worth re-reading.

Not too many things get past him. For example, he begins his farewell to Vinnie Vecchione, his buddy who managed the hapless Peter McNeeley into a major pay day against Mike Tyson, with "He’d be the first to tell you he made his share of mistakes in his 64 years on this earth, but rescuing Peter McNeeley that night in Vegas wasn’t one of them."

George, in fact, named Vin his "manager of the year" for 1995. This is a book ($24.95 from McBooks Press in Ithaca, NY, for not only Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao fans, and detractors.

This is a must for fight freaks. It starts with a piece on Battling Siki and Mike McTigue and their famous St. Paddy’s Day meeting in Dublin, and ends with a long treatise – maybe a book outline? – on what he calls "The Last Great Heavyweight Rivalry," the 10 bouts between Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Ken Norton.

I would disagree. The last great heavyweight rivalry, although largely unrequited, was among Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis and Riddick Bowe – though I agree George’s four kings beat mine.

An Ali poem about his old running mate, Howard Cosell, covers the price of admission: "Cosell, you’re a phony/And that thing on your head/Comes from the tail of a pony."

Kimball doesn’t deserve all the credit for the great lines in Manly Art. He is wise enough to quote his superiors, like A.J. Liebling after Rocky Marciano knocked out Ezzard Charles in their rematch:

"Rocky landed a right to his zygomaticus [yes, I had to look it up, it’s the bony projection that forms part of zygomatic arch and is joined to the cheekbone], and he went sprawling down, forgetting to tread water, until he hit the bottom of the pool."

There was no suggestion, by Liebling or Kimball, that Charles should have turned the other zygomaticus.

Elsewhere, in a piece on the old Madison Square Garden ring that is now at the hall of fame in Canastota, NY, George recalls the night when ring announcer Harry Balough was introducing organist Gladys Gooding when a loud heckler bellowed, "Gladys Gooding [blanks!]" Kimball says Balough paused maybe half a beat before continuing, "Nevertheless, Miss Gladys Gooding will now…."

There are loving pieces about writers, from Liebling and Sam Lacy to F.X. Toole (whose short stories were the basis for the Oscar-winning "Million-Dollar Baby") and Leonard Gardner (author of Fat City) and his good buddies Budd Schulberg and Pat Putnam.

I can’t wait for the next addition to Kimball’s book-of-the-month club.