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Dark Trade by Donald McRae

Release date: 11th April, 2005
Publisher: Mainstream Publishing

List Price: £9.99
Our Price: £6.39
You Save: £3.6 (36%)
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Dark Trade: Lost in Boxing
By Donald McRae
Mainstream Publishing price: £ 6.39 (saving £ 3.60 on rrp)

I have to admit to enjoying Donald McRae's writing style, its intensity, its accuracy, its deep-rooted passion, although "Dark Trade" was not the first of his books I actually read. His classic rugby union work, "Winter Colours", was my introduction. It is a marvellous, occasionally brutal, often witty, account of a committed rugby fan following one of the toughest professional games across several continents over a two year period.

So when I discovered that his seminal work was to be reissued in paperback nine years after it first appeared and won the sports book of the year award, I was keen to get hold of a copy. I was not disappointed and nor will anyone else who appreciates good sports writing.

The new version has been revised and updated, not necessarily to explain the different emphasis boxing now has on McRae's life, but to draw one thick final line under the lives of the boxers he so eloquently first presented nearly a decade ago.

In Dark Trade, McRae exposes the harsh brutality of the professional boxing game, revealing the sport in its rawest state. He does this by frequently delivering descriptive passages with the intensity of thundering body punches, each one designed to remind the reader of the sport's ultimate purpose.

His description of the brutal Gerald McClennan - Nigel Benn clash in February 1995 is a fine example, interlinking his responses while watching the fight on television, with verbatim ITV commentary. Of course, McRae passes his considered opinion with the benefit of hindsight, something which makes Benn's behaviour in the ring immediately after the fight had ended appear crass. Yet even now, more than ten years after the fight, following which McClennan had a blood clot the size of an average man's fist removed from his brain, McRae's account adds something extra. It's as though he followed McClennan from the ring to the hospital and looked over the surgeon's shoulder as he made the first incision into the boxer's skull.

Throughout, McRae's admiration for boxers is evident; it was clearly a factor which helped him get so close to people such as Evander Holyfield, Oscar de la Hoya, Mike Tyson and his favourite, "the sullied star of my boxing world", James Toney. McRae's unique access may have influenced his opinion about the sport, but he continually steps back to reflect upon the state of boxing and the nature of the esteem in which he holds boxers. This, he suggests, derives from their intensity and bravery, but also from what he calls "that essential vulnerability beneath those hard layers of machismo".

Ultimately, even the very best boxers end up defeated, although some clever ones, Lennox Lewis among them, get out at the top. McRae followed Holyfield up to his fight with Lewis and wishes afterwards that this giant of a man was "saying farewell to boxing rather than just waving goodbye to the tiny group of us who watched his limo glide away into the darkness." But McRae knows that boxers always want one more fight, a final chance to prove themselves; the turnaround in Roy Jones' attitude, following a second round KO sums this up perfectly.

Re-visiting the pages which established him as an outstanding writer, McRae admits to a "changed relationship" with boxing, acknowledging that the sport's hold on him has diminished. I smiled when I read this as it has a classy symmetry, wrapping up McRae's tale. But, you know, I wouldn't expect anything else.

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