Mike Silver's 'The Arc of Boxing' by Bobby Cassidy. First appeared on Newsday.com January 19, 2009
If you care about boxing -- it's future, it's past or both -- then you have to read this book.
To engage Mike Silver in a debate -- and this corner knows from experience -- is like engaging Smokin' Joe Frazier for 15 rounds. Odds are, you won't last. So take a peak at Silver's book -- "The Arc of Boxing, The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science" -- and debate him if you dare.
The basic point of this book is that, while today's athletes are better than athletes from previous generations, and while that theory rings true in nearly every sport, it is just not the case in boxing. Here's a wonderful passage from the preface that illustrates the point:
"To blithely state that today's top professional boxers are better than their predecessors simply because measurable athletic performance has improved in other sports -- whose winners are determined by a stopwatch, ruler or scale -- is analogous to suggesting that a singer is great only because he is capable of reaching a higher note than anyone else. Of course, no reasonable person would agree with this statement because it totally ignores the complex nuances of the singer's craft, such as timbre, inflection, vocal range and phrasing."
There are few people who have the depth of knowledge to even mount this argument. Mike Silver is one of them. And he is perhaps the only one capable of making a believer out of you.
Throughout the book, Silver uses some of the top trainers in the game -- past and present -- to prove his point. Among those quoted significantly in the book are Emanuel Steward, Teddy Atlas, Mike Capriano, Rollie Hackmer and Freddie Roach.
There are several reasons that Silver believes fighters like Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Oscar De La Hoya don't measure up to the greats of yesteryear. One major factor is that they simply have not learned their craft the way fighters of 30, 40 and 50 years ago have. It is because they have not had the benefit of strong trainers and because they don't engage in as many fights. The author uses several interesting charts to track the average number of fights a fighter experienced before fighting for the title (70 in 1955 compared to 24 in 1995).
In this book, Silver dissects the fight game and the fighter, analyzing the myriad factors that contribute to the success or failure of a fighter. It ranges from a promoter's greed to conditioning to cultural influences.
While I don't necessarily agree with Silver's assessment that -- "Any top welterweight contender of the 1950s and 1960s would have pressured Mayweather into defeat or outboxed him. And you can throw in about a half dozen welter-champs from the 1970s and 1980s as well." -- it is hard to find fault with the author's basic premise of the book. Because when he writes that boxing asks questions of an athlete that no other sport does, he is essentially correct.
This book is so thoroughly researched and its point so articulately argued that you immediately want to rush out and buy fight films of Sugar Ray Robinson to see what we've missed. It is a thesis on why boxing is in the state it is in today.
Check out the book on Amazon.com.