The CBZ Newswire

Ehrmann Weighs in on ‘One Ring Circus’

by on Jun.09, 2009, under Pete Ehrmann, Reviews

A book review on Katherine Dunn’s book by Peter Ehrmann


 As a general rule, I would rather read about Joe Simonovich, Red Green, Vigo Doman or some other long-forgotten ancient pug than open a compilation of pieces about modern-day boxing. And while I believe in and affirm the equality of the sexes, I still cannot bring myself to watch women’s boxing. So the last thing I expected was to be blown away by “One Ring Circus: Dispatches From the World of Boxing,” a collection of newspaper, magazine and CBZ pieces from the last 25 years by Katherine Dunn, published by Schaffner Press.

But in a bigger upset than Douglas over Tyson that’s what happened, Ms. Dunn’s collection is already my candidate for boxing book of the year.

Every one of the 24 articles and essays (and the introduction, to boot) is remarkable in its readability and wisdom. Ms. Dunn knows boxing and, more importantly, she gets it and the characters and personalities who inhabit the sport as spot-on as Heinz, Liebling and McIlvanney – and writes about it all just as deftly and lyrically.

Her profile of Lucia Rijker and other articles/essays about women’s boxing didn’t quite overcome my old-school prejudice against it, but Ms. Dunn’s strong arguments and insightful prose had me covering up on the ropes. She and I do share certain other prejudices, and I cheered reading, anent Sugar Ray Leonard: “I have never liked him. His showboat style in the ring offends me. His willingness to taunt and belittle his opponents with jeers and insolently lowered guard infuriates me. The flamboyant insult of his ‘bolo’ punch is particularly obnoxious when it works, which is usually. When this despicable bolo is used to humiliate and bamboozle my heroes … I consider it an abominable atrocity.”

The pieces about Holmes-Cooney, Hagler-Hearns and Alexis Arguello are as good as any I’ve seen in the anthologies, but my favorites are the quirky ones such as “Buckaroo Boxing,” about a club show in a carnival in Mollala, Oregon; “Fists of Fury: Francisco Roche,” whose “brand of sportsmanship in the ring is that of a bobcat in a hen house”; and “The Rumble in the Rectory,” about a fundraising bout between a priest and a priest-in-training.

Ms. Dunn’s brutally honest profile of poor Johnny Tapia is flat-out one of the best I’ve ever read.

Her defense of Mike Tyson’s biting of Evander Holyfield’s ears is slightly over the top, but it’s still riveting and gives some holier-than-thou people in boxing a deserved kick in the pants.

This one belongs on the top shelf alongside Heinz’s “Once They Heard the Cheers,” and McIlvanney’s “The Hardest Game.” Like the other two, I’ll be returning to it again and again, and learning more each time.

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