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'Four Kings' book crowning achievement in boxing lore

Sep 30, 2008 7:05 PM

Pulling No Punches by Michael Katz |

October may well be aces for boxing action, but “Four Kings” easily trumps Vitali Klitschko’s comeback, Chad Dawson-Antonio Tarver and Kelly Pavlik-Bernard Hopkins.

“Four Kings” is the masterpiece of Boston bard George Kimball on “the last great era of boxing.” It has an October publishing date from McBooks Press and its 352 pages pack more power than this month’s fight schedule, which is a good one.

For those of you too young to have been there, “Four Kings” affords the view from both ringside and the back rooms of the magical 1980’s when the careers of Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran happily juxtaposed with that of Mr. Kimball.

Because Boston had a home “team” with Hagler, then suddenly boxing became of interest to the Boston Herald, which luckily had the Hub’s best fight writer since John Adams. It was a good time for the ancient game.

Besides the “Four Kings,” the ’80s saw first Larry Holmes then prime Mike Tyson rule the heavyweights; Michael Spinks topped a talented light-heavyweight division, Aaron Pryor was only a couple of pounds too light to engage in the Kings’ intramural contests, and there was a rising young talent in Julio Cesar Chavez.

Kimball, who never saw a club fight he couldn’t magnify into something just short of the “Iliad,” was in his element. He was one of the lucky ones who attended all nine of the matches among the “Four Kings” – yes, in the good old days, the great fighters fought each other, and Leonard, Hagler, Duran and Hearns met each other at least once each.

These were great fighters in great fights that rewrote ring history – from Duran’s upset of a bigger, faster, younger (and, let’s be frank, a better) Leonard in Montreal, to the infamous “No Mas” rematch, to the breathtaking eight-minute explosion of Hagler-Hearns, the classic Leonard-Hearns first meeting and the still controversial Leonard-Hagler result.

But “Four Kings” is not a mere recap of the nine fights, although that would be worth the $22.95 price of admission. Kimball was here, there and everywhere. I was with him most of the way. We were the only two writers who left the dry sanctuary of the press room that rainy night in Montreal to rush to where Cleveland Denny, knocked out on the Leonard-Duran undercard, was lying fatally injured on a stretcher.

We were writing on the kitchen table of my New York apartment after a Hagler press conference at the Waldorf=Astoria when we were interrupted by a summons to Police Plaza where the U.S. District Attorney announced he was indicting Don King and promised he had the flamboyant promoter nailed.

Even I was delightfully surprised by some of the revelations in “Four Kings.”

For example Leonard, after being seated ringside next to actor Michael J. Fox for Hagler’s defeat of John Mugabi, said later to Fox that evening at a post-fight party, “Know what? I can beat this guy.”

George and I have long been friends. We were lumped together as the Rhinoceros Twins by King’s late henchman, Al Braverman.

I also had the privilege of reading “Four Kings” hot off the computer and offering some modest advice (“George, I think you should have something about ‘No Mas’ in there”).

People ask if I might write a book. Now I can tell them that, “Kimball wrote it already.”

By the way, there is one fight on the line for next weekend, but I decided “Four Kings” was much worthier of your investment money.

Arthur Abraham, the undefeated IBF version of middleweight champion and the only guy I’m really interested in seeing Kelly Pavlik fight at 160 pounds, is a 13-1 or so favorite over Raul Marquez, who has no chance.

Save your money. Buy the book.