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Shadow Box An Amateur in the Ring By George Plimpton

Release date: 04th August, 2016
Publisher: Yellow Jersey Press

List Price: £12.99
Our Price: £9.99
You Save: £3 (23%)
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Boxing, like cricket and, more recently, cycling, is responsible for an even greater form of engagement with sports enthusiasts primarily because the calibre of the authors who write about this toughest of sporting disciplines tends to be of the highest level.

Donald McRae’s Dark Trade, Dominic Calder-Smith’s The Long Round and Patrick Myler’s Ring of Hate are three titles published over the last few years worth their place on anyone’s bookshelf. The supreme Muhammed Ali by Thomas Hauser is another. There’s room too for classics such as George Plimpton’s Shadow Box, published originally in the USA and now available in paperback here for the first time.

Plimpton, who died in 2003, was, during the 1950s, the resident ‘participatory journalist’ for American magazine Sports Illustrated, a role which catapulted him into professional baseball, basketball and American Football. Yet it was as a would-be professional boxer that Plimpton produced his most evocative sports writing.

While he was naturally athletic, Plimpton could never be described as muscular. Prior to accepting the commission to box three, three-minute rounds with a pro, he admits that the only time he had ever worn boxing gloves was at school when it was compulsory to do so once a month.

None the less, Shadow Box describes how he wrote to the world light-heavyweight champion, Archie Moore, asking if he would go toe-to-toe with him in an exhibition bout in a New York ring. When Moore immediately accepts, Plimpton reports that he is under “no illusions what a professional boxer can do to an amateur – the latter’s status just a jot above that of a mouse being cuffed by a finely-conditioned cat.”

He spent the next three months training for his ring debut, but when the time comes to face Moore, a nervous Plimpton is undoubtedly cast in the role of mouse. His description of being hit by a world champion boxer are unsurpassed. Moore would apparently hum as he glided about the ring, a noise that would “rise quite abruptly, then bang! he could cuff me alongside the head.” Plimpton could smell the leather on Moore’s gloves, but do little to trouble the champ.

This humbling introduction over, Plimpton’s admiration for the boxers and noble art he subsequently writes about is obvious, though never fawning. Nevertheless, the nine minutes with Moore afford him a unique insight into the world of boxing as, in the words of the book’s cover, he “documents what it truly means to be a boxer in some of the finest writing of his career.” It’s difficult to disagree.


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