‘Fight Town’ knockout novel

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The only trouble with the fight book of
the year is that it’s too darn big to read in the john.

“Fight Town,” subtitled
“Las Vegas — the Boxing Capital of the World,” is not your usual
coffee table tome. There is not only text to go along with the spectacular
pictures, but brilliant text supplied by longtime Vegas resident and Associated
boxing writer Tim Dahlberg.

But it’s hard to handle on the throne.
Yet, any reduction in size would be unfair to the collection of pictures and
fight posters that alone make the $34 price a bargain. There is the right hand
by Lennox Lewis that turned Hasim Rahman’s face almost inside out. How about
Oscar de la Hoya’s smile or Muhammad Ali squaring off with Elvis Presley, Joe
Louis with Floyd Patterson before Sonny Liston knocked Floyd out the second
time. Hey, don’t reduce a hair of Sugar Ray Robinson and Sugar Ray Leonard, or
any of Marvelous Marvin Hagler bald pate.

But when you get a chance, read the words.
Dahlberg has been one of America’s best boxing scribes for years. He was
tutored by his legendary AP predecessor “Fast Eddie” Schuyler, but
Dahlberg is no mere protégé. He is a winner of the Nat Fleischer Award, as
voted by previous winners of the prize for “excellence in boxing
And it’s just not the prose that makes Dahlberg so good. Rare is the boxing
book where the information surprises a jaded veteran like me. But Dahlberg has
been around the fights in Vegas since Sonny Liston ran out of gas against Leotis
Martin in 1963 and he knows everyone in town. He got frequent visitor George
Foreman to write the forward. He knows where Caesars Palace keeps its pictures,
when it keeps its secrets.

“Fight Town” was where I heard
first about how Bob Arum lost his bid to promote the first Muhammad Ali-Joe
Frazier fight by staying at the Desert Inn, where he was spotted by Howard
Hughes’s reputed mob buddy, Moe Dalitz. When Dalitz was told of Arum’s plans
to petition the Nevada State Athletic Commission to license Ali, he went
berserk, screaming how there was no way that “no-good, draft-dodging
SOB” would be allowed in Vegas.

Dahlberg also mentions the time Bob
Halloran, then the Caesars Palace fight director, was silently rooting for Gerry
Cooney to upset Larry Holmes. Not that Halloran, now working for the MGM, was
taking sides in the fight. But he had had secret negotiations with Cuban
officials in Mexico and had gotten an agreement that legendary Olympic champion
Teo Stevenson would be allowed one pro fight (1) if it were for the title
against Cooney. But, no, the Cubans said if Holmes won, forget it. Stevenson
would stay in Cuba.

There are detailed replays of Dahlberg’s
10 best Vegas fights, pieces on everything from the late great Johnny Tocco’s
gym to the late great gin mill, The Flame, which was “the” joint for
the boxing crowd. It includes the classic picture (on Fast Eddie’s 50th
birthday party) of the boxing kangaroo, complete with gloves, at the bar with
Schuyler, Dahlberg and yours truly. Bobby Goodman was hovering in the
background. Dahlberg and I had hair then. Schuyler still does. I’m not sure
about Goodman.

The book traces the history of the most
important fight town in the world. Yes, even this native New Yorker acknowledged
that when he moved to Vegas a couple of years ago. Vegas is linked from Doc
Kearns and Jack Dempsey all the way to Mike Tyson and Oscar de la Hoya.

There’s the surprising statement by Marc
Ratner, still the Nevada commission’s fine executive director, that he
questioned his decision to let the Tyson rematch with Evander Holyfield go to a
second bite.

“What if Tyson had won?” Ratner
told Dahlberg.

All the controversy and color are here,
from Richard Steele stopping Meldrick Taylor’s apparent victory over Julio
Cesar Chavez to Oliver McCall’s nervous breakdown against Lennox Lewis. There’s
the racist overtones from the Larry Holmes-Gerry Cooney bout, to Jack Nicholson
and Pamela Anderson in the audience (not together).

There are no action fights coming up this
week. But here’s a best bet: Save your money and start your holiday shopping.
What fight fan wouldn’t want to read about Sonny Liston and Dick Tiger and
Benny (Kid) Paret and the Hagler-Hearns thriller? Don’t forget to do yourself
a favor and get a copy for your house. Just don’t attempt to take it into the
john. “Fight Town” goes on sale this week. It is published by Stephens
Press, telephone (702) 387 5260, fax (702) 387 2997.

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