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The Good Fight 

The fascination is ancient, going deep into the vaults of single combat. When fists began to replace more lethal forms of weaponry, the creative writer was there to note the changes.

They are such differing activities. One alone in a quiet room, sedentary, reflexive, body on stand-by. The other showcased in a raucous hall, surviving, instinctive, body at risk.

Maybe it is the chasm itself, the vast discord between the writer and prizefighter, that has all too often led to the fascination that the fighter offers to the scribe, the man of action to the recorder of action.

The fascination is ancient, going deep into the vaults of single combat. And when fists began to replace more lethal forms of weaponry, the creative writer was there to note the changes. This is from the account of the great English essayist William Hazlitt of a bout at the start of the 19th century:

"There was little cautious sparring -- no half-hits -- no tapping and trifling, none of the petit-maitreship of the art -- they were almost all knock-down blows. Š If there had been a minute or more allowed between each round, it would have been intelligible how they should by degrees recover strength and resolution; but to see two men smashed to the ground, smeared with gore, stunned, senseless, the breath beaten out of their bodies; and then, before you recover from the shock, to see them rise up with new strength and courage, stand ready to inflict or receive mortal offence and rush upon each other Œlike two clouds over the Caspian' -- this is the most astonishing thing of all -- this is the high and heroic state of man!"

But not all boxing courage is measured in buckets; sometimes it is measured in dollops and not always only by the fighters. In his fine novel, Fat City -- made into a finer film by John Huston -- Leonard Garner wrote a chapter from the viewpoint of Ruben Luna, a long-suffering loser who trains boxers.

"Some trained one day and laid off two, fought once and quit, lost their timing, came back, struggled into condition, gasped and missed and were beaten, or won several bouts and got married, or moved, and were drafted, joined the navy or went to jail, were bleeders, suffered headaches, saw double or broke their hands. Š

"With a passive habitual smile, Ruben worked to suffuse them all with his own assurance. At times it was impossible for him to control the praise and predictions that issued from him like thanks, and he was aware of exaggerating, yet he felt a boxer needed someone who believed in him. Š"

Belief in self is the key to the prize ring and the other side of that coin is fear of failure -- as writers seem to know. This is from the short story "Sonny Liston Was a Friend of Mine" by Thom Jones.

"Reine marched across the ring in a straight line. He gave the kid a real cool dip and roll, feigning a left as he fired his best punch, the straight right. Kid Dynamite anticipated this, and Š countered with a picture-perfect left hook to the point of Reine's chin. It was the best punch Kid Dynamite had ever thrown, but Reine did not go down. It was no reason for discouragement. Reine had not gone down, Kid Dynamite knew, because Reine still had hope. His job now was to erase it."

Nietzsche, who knew a thing or two about psychological subjugation, once warned: "Whoever battles with monsters had better see that it does not turn him into a monster. And if you gaze too long into an abyss -- the abyss will gaze back into you."

Charles Bukowski knows the abyss well. He ends Ham on Rye with his down-and-out hero challenged by a boy in a penny arcade to a game with mechanical metal boxers.

"I put in another dime and blue trunks sprang to his feet. The kid started squeezing his one trigger and the right arm of red trunks pumped and pumped. I let blue trunks stand back for a while and contemplate. Then I nodded at the kid. I moved blue trunks in, both arms flailing. I felt I had to win. It seemed very important. I didn't know why it was important and I kept thinking, why do I think this is so important?

"And another part of me answered, just because it is.

"Then blue trunks dropped again, hard, making the same iron clanking sound. I looked at him laying on his back down there on this little green, velvet mat. "Then I turned around and walked out."

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