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Watson’s must-read boxing books, part three

The return of boxing may be in sight, but there’s still time to prise open one of these classics.

Lewis Watson is a sports writer from London, UK, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He has been a contributor at Bad Left Hook since 2018.

As we crawl towards the start of June, shoots are beginning to appear in boxing’s fertilised soil. After weeks spent feasting on the endless carcass of boxing nostalgia, next month looks a tad more positive as we await announcements of fights behind closed doors.

Until then, the final instalment of my must-reads should tide you over.

This Bloody Mary is the Last Thing I Own by Jonathan Rendall

Rendall had a real way with words. This Bloody Mary is the Last Thing I Own was one of the first books I picked up on the sport, and, since re-reading it over the last week, the most recent.

It’s a real triumph, detailing Rendall’s unique journeyed perspective through the bizarre world of boxing. Through managing Colin McMillan in the late eighties, Rendall’s account of the night Frank Warren got shot by the “Hooded Man” in 1989 is an absorbing chapter, closely followed by the night he spent in the Lionel Hampton Lodge with Donald Curry.

Rendall paints a confused and troubled picture of Curry in the build-up to his Parisian fight with Michael Nunn, accompanied by a search for Dunhill menthols for Angelo Dundee’s wife in exchange for an interview with the legendary trainer.

If you’re not familiar with Rendall’s other work, Twelve Grand is a joyful read, as he’s handed £12,000 to spend on gambling. This book also made a three-part documentary on Channel 4 in the UK, where Rendall’s addictive, eccentric, confused, but infectious personality overshadows any of the programmes main objectives.

“If there was ever a man born to be late for his own funeral, it was Jonathan Rendall.” Kevin Mitchell wrote of his friend “Jonny”, after his death in 2013. “Like a lot of writers, he regarded deadlines with a curious mix of excitement and trepidation, so he hid from them, like a boy cowering in a cupboard. In the end, there was one deadline he could not elude.”

“We have one more gig together: a 2.15 pm kick-off at Oxford Crematorium on Friday week. For God’s sake, Jonny, don’t be late.”

War in the Ring: Joe Louis, Max Schmeling, and the Fight Between America and Hitler by John Florio, Ouisie Shapiro

My “Gone in 180 seconds” piece led me to dig a little deeper into the 1938 rematch between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling.

Albeit short, this book is a fantastic leap into the complex world before the Second World War, with Louis vs Schmeling symbolic of two rival nations.

Florio and Shapiro piece together both Louis and Schmeling’s careers from the beginning to the end, alluding to the complexities of the social issues underpinning their careers and two contests.

There are sympathies offered to Schmeling’s contradicted story as truths uncover his efforts to save Jewish children in 1938. The German lived to the age of 99 with a successful life following his boxing career, whereas Louis struggled in his fight against the US tax system and ill health.

Both fighters are portrayed as flawed human beings who did their utmost to forge a positive path following troubled upbringings. Some beautiful pictures accompany the story.

Sporting Blood: Tales From the Dark Side of Boxing by Carlos Acevedo

Acevedo is a truly exceptional writer. He’s known for his honest portrayal of the fight game, referencing his tag of being on the “shit-list” for not sucking up to certain promoters throughout his career. He’s “old school”, but would probably wince at the thought of being described by such a cliche.

It’s the newest book to my collection – released earlier this year – but already one of the most memorable. Acevedo charts the rise and fall of some of boxing’s best-known and least-known characters, ranging from Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson to Don Jordan, who fought throughout the 50s and 60s.

Acevedo explores the heartbreaking decline of fighters once they reach the pinnacle of the sport and find the urge to self-implode too tantalising to resist.

110 Years of Boxing News by Boxing News

I’ve long been an admirer of the work produced by Boxing News. Their recent 110 Years of Boxing News edition has proved the perfect quarantine accompaniment. Celebrating their birthday with 164-pages of archived content, the Boxing News team have put together the perfect “coffee-table magazine”, with their “top ten fighters of each decade” one of the many treasures inside.

An old piece discussing whether Jack Johnson took a dive against Jess Willard in 1915 is a personal highlight, as Bat Masterson dissects the potential “frame-up” in Havana.

Letters from all of the past editors give you an insight into how manic running a weekly boxing magazine can prove, with their juxtaposition while trying to form relationships with fighters and promotors an interesting sub-plot. A special shout-out to the designers is also warranted.

Follow Lewis Watson @lewroyscribbles

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