The King of White Collar Boxing

the-king

Review by Thaddeus Rutkowski

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A friend of mine took me to see the only boxing event I’ve ever been to. This friend was a large man, a mixture of black and Asian, and he was a tough guy. He told me he was once attacked by a man with a knife, and to protect himself he simply took the knife away.
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He and I had seats close to the ring in Madison Square Garden’s Felt Forum, where we could see everything—including flying sweat and spit—clearly. But what was appealing was not the boxers’ punches or footwork, it was the sight of blood. Whenever a gash would open on a boxer’s face or blood would drip from a nose, a roar would go up from the audience. The only thing better than blood was a knockout blow—a quick, final stun.
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Imagine being in the ring, trading punches, hitting and getting hit. That’s where David Lawrence takes us in this memoir, with vivid descriptions of breaking an opponent’s ribs or, conversely, being knocked senseless. Throughout much of the book, Lawrence lives the lifestyle of a “white-collar boxer”—a professional who trains, spars and occasionally fights in scheduled matches. Most mornings, Lawrence (an insurance-company owner) is driven in his Rolls-Royce to a Brooklyn boxing gym, where he can get some action before starting the day in his Manhattan office. The Rolls, the associated wealth, and an exhibitionistic personality bring Lawrence media coverage. He becomes a niche celebrity, featured in society and fitness magazines, as well as on television. He craves the attention and continues to fight, even though he “turns pro” at a relatively late age, in his mid-40s.
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Here is his description of one of his fights, against one-time welterweight champion Buddy McGirt: “Midway through the (third and last) round he caught me with a pretty good hook to the head. It was just a short tight little punch, but I saw stars for a moment. I shook my head and smiled, just to let him know I was a little shaken and I’d appreciate it if he didn’t take my head off. The bell rang and we tapped gloves. I didn’t want it to end. Yet I couldn’t wait to get into the office and tell everyone I had just fought a world-class fighter.”
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This description contains more than a touch of humor and displays Lawrence’s writerly skills. He holds a Ph.D. in English literature from City University of New York, has taught at Hunter College, and is a published poet, with a collection out from Four Way Books.
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On another occasion, Lawrence is invited to the “celebrity fights,” held in Donald Trump’s casino in Atlantic City. Former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes is Lawrence’s dressing-room mate, and Trump himself drops by to say hello to Holmes. Lawrence describes Trump as follows: “He was a chubby, arrogant man with hair that lay over his head like a gull’s wing. … He gave me a nod as if to say I didn’t exist. He was the supreme egotist. Worse than me. I’d seen him speak at an insurance engagement. Mindless. He had some sort of idiot savant talent for building.”
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This description is prescient, written several years before Trump’s presidential candidacy. It can be taken as an exaggeration or a joke, but Lawrence has a gift for stating truths through hyperbole.
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A couple of sub-storylines run through the memoir. One concerns a federal investigation of Lawrence’s insurance company—the crime is money laundering, and the feds have a strong case. Another subplot involves Lawrence’s relationship with his wife and son. It’s not easy being a family man, a successful business owner and an obsessive boxer, and something has to give. (What suffers is not the boxing.)
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Still, what comes across most strongly is the deep psychology of the sport (or martial art) of boxing. Once addicted, the boxer never really loses the craving or love for the activity. He can never get enough. He just gets a little older, maybe a little slower. Throughout the journey, I’m glad to say, he stays feisty as ever.
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Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of the books Violent Outbursts, Haywire, Tetched and Roughhouse. He received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts. http://thaddeusrutkowski.com/

 

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