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The Hate Game By Ben Dirs

Release date: 14th July, 2014
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

List Price: £8.99
Our Price: £6.95
You Save: £2.04 (22%)
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Boxing’s greatest contests are, inevitably, those where the protagonists genuinely dislike each other.

We saw it recently in the two meetings between Carl Froch and George Groves when the hard faced, nose-to-nose, pre-fight grimace and unbroken stare were for real, not for the cameras. Whenever there’s an undercurrent of deep dislike, these preliminaries don’t necessarily encourage us to watch the fight – they confirm the bad blood and make it essential viewing.

Think Ali v Frazier, Tyson v anyone and, as we’re reminded once again, Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank. No wonder Ben Dirs’ excellent account of their enduring rivalry is called The Hate Game.

Published in hardback last year, The Hate Game has been released in paperback to a hopefully much wider audience. Mike Costello’s short foreword provides a sumptuous taster, telling readers that Dirs has brought together “all the duckers and divers and dreamers and schemers whose input, from the centre to the periphery, created and then exaggerated the antagonism that captivated a nation.” How could you not immerse yourself in Dirs’ wonderful narrative after that?

Fortunately, Ben Dirs hits the floor running, transcribing a television interview in which presenter Nick Owen plays the role of referee. Even in these earliest exchanges (Eubank had just enjoyed a comfortable victory; Benn was in the studio), you sense the pair’s tangible, bitter enmity. As Eubanks’ manager, Barry Hearn says later in the book, “the hatred was real. It wasn’t to sell tickets.”

When all of the pre-fight ‘flim-flam’ and talking was done, the two met in a Birmingham ring for the first time in 1990. Not surprisingly, it was brutal. More surprising is the account of how Benn was more than six pounds overweight on the morning of the fight. The boxer maintains that he stayed in his hotel room and watched a Marlon Brando movie, but Dirs suggests otherwise with an explanation which highlights the remarkable extent of his research.

The pair would meet for a second time. It was just as intense, the hatred just as real, although the contest was nowhere near as good as their first encounter.

Ben Dirs has written a fine account of one of British boxing’s pivotal rivalries and though the pair may smile at each other nowadays, you sense they’re still the best of enemies.


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