The Hauser Report: Literary Notes and More

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By Thomas Hauser

Headshot, a novel by Rita Bullwinkel (published by Viking), imagines the 12th Annual Daughters of America Cup - a two-day elimination tournament in Reno for women fighters age eighteen and under. There are eight entrants, all of them vying for what Bullwinkel describes as "a small plastic gold cup affixed to a four-by-four plaqueless marble stand. There is a slit in the cup where the plastic mold came together."

The book has an unusual structure. The early chapters are divided into short stream-of-consciousness-like segments that are separated by asterisks and are as brief as two lines each. Later, the asterisks are further in between and a single paragraph might run three pages.

The story isn't about who wins and loses each fight as much as the background and character of each fighter. Eight portraits of eight young women. Why they fight; what they hate, fear, and long for.

Bullwinkel writes nicely and conveys the nuances of women's boxing at the amateur level with gritty realism. Among her thoughts are:

* "There is glorification in the world outside of boxing of desperation and wildness while fighting - this notion that desire and scrappiness can and will conquer experience. No boxing coach has ever asked their athlete to be more desperate. Control and restraint are much more valuable than wild punches."

* "This bout is like watching two people talking where one person is doing all of the mouth work and only every once in a while the other person interjects."

* "This match will be a series of events gone wrong for Kate, things she thought she could control but that get thrown back in her face. Rachel Doricko will take Kate Heffer's movements one hit at a time and pull them into herself and then spit them back out, better articulated and better made."

* "That does happen in these youth matches, doesn't it? Don't people get hurt so bad that their faces are permanently damaged? Don't people get damaged so bad that their injuries become lifelong souvenirs of a fight?"

Headshot starts strong. Then it hits a speed bump. Instead of the tension building as the tournament proceeds, the narrative drags as the tournament goes on - not unlike a fighter who fades in the late rounds of a fight. Reading about the four opening-round bouts, I developed a rooting interest. Then I stopped caring who would win. And I had the feeling that Bullwinkel didn't care much either; that she was more interested in character development and each fighter's journey than the outcome of the fights. That's a fair choice for an author to make. But in sports, it matters who wins. The championship fight is anti-climactic and handled in cursory fashion. And the characters don't grow more interesting as the book evolves.

That said; Headshot is worth reading.

*****

In the Company of Kings, which premiered at the Philadelphia Film Society on April 1, is a documentary about boxing billed as "tales of courage, friendship, and despair from sport's meanest streets."

It's directed by Steve Read and narrated by Robert Douglas who says of his own childhood, "If you wandered down the road to a different street, you would get battered. You would get called 'nigger.' You would get humiliated. And you'd say, 'I don't care because the heavyweight champion of the world is Muhammad Ali.'"

The film begins with a portrait of the underside of North Philadelphia and the imposing presence of Bernard Hopkins, who declares, "There's two graveyards. There's the graveyard of the dead. And there's the graveyard of the living dead."

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Interviews with Larry Holmes, Tim Witherspoon, Earnie Shavers, Hasim Rahman, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, and others follow. Rahaman Ali serves as a stand-in for his legendary brother, while Carl King (who has long been absent from the spotlight) reemerges to speak for Don.

The film has good production values and there are some nice touches. Hopkins is compelling as always. And Larry Holmes rings true to form when asked why a long past his prime Muhammad Ali returned to fight him.

"How you gonna turn down ten million dollars," Holmes answers. "You'd let someone beat you up right now for ten million dollars; tie your hands behind your back, won't you? I know I would. Give me ten million dollars and my hands are right here behind my back. Bang! Bang!"

However, there's a downside. The film is intended to explore what the promotional material calls "the dark heart of American boxing" coupled with issues of race and struggle. But these themes aren't clearly enunciated, and too often In the Company of Kings lacks focus. The documentary has some worthwhile segments. But overall, its whole is less than the sum of its parts.

****

Many observers of the boxing scene (including this writer) are dissatisfied with the current state of boxing. Thus, it's worth quoting A.J. Liebling who in 1955 wrote, "One thing about the sweet science upon which all initiates are in agreement is that it used to be better. The exact period at which it was better, however, varies in direct ratio with the age of the fellow telling about it. If he was a fighter, it always turns out to be the time when he was fighting. And if a fight writer, it was the years before he began to get bored with what he was doing."

Then Liebling quoted the legendary fight manager Jack Kearns, who declared, "What right have the writers got to beef? In the old days, they used to have good fight writers."

Thomas Hauser's email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – “MY MOTHER and me" - is a personal memoir just published by Admission Press that's available at: https://www.amazon.com/My-Mother-Me-Thomas-Hauser/dp/1955836191/ref=sr_1_1?crid=5C0TEN4M9ZAH&keywords=thomas+hauser&qid=1707662513&sprefix=thomas+hauser%2Caps%2C80&sr=8-1

In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, Hauser was selected for boxing's highest honor - induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
 
"there used to have been good fight writers" gotta love it turn around is fair play in my play book. Not that anyone would read my book. Nothing is what it used to be well maybe bullshit can still rise to the top somehow and yet not past the smell test. Someone aught to write a book about boxing and call it the heart of boxing by someone who never fought. How about that sometimes it takes a guy who never spent his life in the ring to talk clearly about what is happening in the ring. Boxing has a lot of moving parts and a whole lotta people trying to rise to the top by that i mean trying to bullshit there way to the top hey fighters even try to do that now a days. They talk talk talk on socials and what not and they think bc they say it is true. They believe what they say is the truth bc they say it. Used to be first it happend in the ring then it got talked about if at all. Oh well older days and that kinda bullshit can go a long way even way back when.
Thanks for the write up and the tips on reading and viewing............
 
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