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Leonard, Hagler, Hearns, Duran, and the Last Great Era of Boxing
By George Kimball
McBooks Press, Inc.Copyright © 2008 George Kimball
All rights reserved.
In the Beginning ...
On May 7, 1973, what may have been the finest collection of American amateur boxers assembled under one roof in a non-Olympic year convened at the Hynes Auditorium in Boston for the National AAU Championships.
Most of the Olympians who had represented the U.S. at the star-crossed Munich Games a year earlier–including Sugar Ray Seales, the lone American gold medalist–had joined the professional ranks. A new and promising group of boxers (though few could have guessed just how promising) had moved up through the ranks to replace them.
The field of 324 included nine future world champions. Four of the boxers who would win a record five gold medals in Montreal three years hence were in attendance, three of them as participants, but just one of them, featherweight Howard Davis, Jr., would prevail in Boston. Davis beat LeRoy Veasley, the All-Service champion, in the 125-pound final.
Another Montreal gold-medalist-in-waiting, sixteen-year-old Ray Charles Leonard, who had yet to begin calling himself "Sugar Ray," defeated two of his future professional opponents, Bruce Finch and Pete Ranzany, on his way to the light-welterweight final, where he was outpointed by yet another boxer he would defeat professionally, Randy Shields.
Leon Spinks was knocked out by D.C. Barker in the light-heavyweight final. His younger brother Michael had been eliminated in the regionals of the 165-pound class, but he had accompanied "Neon Leon" to Boston. Both Spinks brothers would win Olympic gold three years later, and both would eventually become heavyweight champion of the world.
Another future world champion, eighteen-year-old Aaron Pryor, won the lightweight championship, while Marvin Camel, J.B. Williamson, and Arturo Frias, who would all capture world titles at a professional level, were eliminated in earlier rounds in their divisions.
Other participants included Roberto Elizondo, who would twice challenge for the lightweight title; Wayne Hedgepeth, who would later become a world-class referee in New Jersey; and Tommy Brooks, who would train many world champions, including, briefly, both Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield.
Brooks, the future son-in-law of Hall of Fame–trainer Lou Duva, experienced one of the more humiliating moments of the week when his trainer, former light- heavyweight champion Archie Moore, expressed his displeasure over Tommy's performance in his middleweight semifinal against Terry Dobbs by angrily slapping him in full view of the spectators as he sat on the stool between rounds.
The unquestioned star of the week was not one of the future Olympians, but a nineteen-year-old apprentice machinist from nearby Brockton. Marvin Nathaniel Hagler won all four of his bouts, two of them by knockout, and upset Dobbs, the twenty-four-year-old U.S. Marine Corps champion, in the 165-pound final.
Although Hagler was the lone New Englander to win a national title at the Hynes, the Boston newspapers barely acknowledged his presence that week until the night he beat Dobbs and was voted the Outstanding Boxer of the tournament. In one report on a preliminary round bout, a Boston paper called him "Nagler."
The local press had collectively hitched its star to what appeared to be a better story for the local angle. Robert C. Newton had boxed for the Naval Academy in his college days. Upon graduation from Annapolis, he had been commissioned an officer, and had spent the next four years in the service, three of them aboard a destroyer, the U.S.S. Finch, off the coast of Vietnam. Upon his discharge he had enrolled as a graduate student at Harvard and resumed his amateur boxing career. Newton was a few weeks away from receiving his Master's degree from the Ivy League school when he defeated future world champion Hilmer Kenty in the first round of the AAU tournament.
Bobby Newton won two more bouts that week, but the bandwagon ground to a halt when he lost to Pryor in the 132-pound final. Boston reporters turned, with seeming reluctance, to Hagler to fill their notebooks.
In provincial New England boxing circles Hagler was considered an outsider. He had moved to Brockton from New Jersey just three years earlier, and had been boxing for only two years. He represented an obscure gym operated by brothers Guarino (Goody) and Pasquale (Pat) Petronelli, who had been in business only since 1969, and when he reported for duty at the Hynes he was sporting a shaved head, a look that had yet to become fashionable.
Throw in the menacing scowl he had already adopted for those occasions when he was focused on the business of fighting, and it helps explain why sportswriters took one look that week and ran the other way-at least until they could no longer ignore him. Even after he won, the account of his triumph in the following morning's Boston Herald American described Hagler as "a Newark-born middleweight."
In the final round of the championship bout, Hagler knocked Dobbs down twice, and the Marine took another standing eight-count.
"The ref saved Dobbs," Hagler would recall later.
A few months earlier, Hagler had reached the 156-pound final of the National Golden Gloves tournament in Lowell before losing to Dale Grant of Seattle, Ray Seales' half-brother. The two might have met again in Boston, but fate intervened when Reinaldo Oliveira, who had qualified as the New England representative at 165, declared his intention to turn pro and was thus disqualified from participating. Hagler, who had made the team at 156, was allowed to move up to 165. There was no New England representative in the 156-pound division, and Grant, as expected, breezed through the field to win.
"I'd actually thought Marvin was too small for 156, and I couldn't believe it when he entered at 165 and won," recalled Emanuel Steward. In the 1980s Steward would win multiple Trainer of the Year awards, but in 1973 he was still in the early stages of building an amateur powerhouse at an inner-city Detroit gym called the Kronk Recreation Center. "And Marvin fought a lot of seasoned guys in that tournament."
"Marvin hurt everybody he fought in this tournament," Sam Silverman, then the pre-eminent Boston boxing promoter, told reporters. "He was easily the best puncher in the whole show."
* * *
Hagler was named the tournament's Outstanding Boxer. Having won forty-two of his forty-five amateur bouts, he might have been considered the brightest prospect of all as a future Olympian, but the night he accepted his trophy from Boston Mayor Kevin White, Hagler announced that it had been his last amateur bout. "You can't take a trophy and turn it into a bag of groceries," he said.
"Win or lose, I was turning pro," Marvin would recall years later.
Six days after the completion of the AAU Championships, he knocked out Terry Ryan in the second round of a fight at Brockton High School for the first of what would ultimately be sixty-two professional wins.
Marvin Hagler's take-home pay for the Terry Ryan fight was $40.
Four years later, an Olympic medal in hand, Sugar Ray Leonard would earn $40,000 for his professional debut. By then, Hagler had fought thirty-three pro bouts and might have earned $40,000 all told, but he had done it the hard way.
Eleven months earlier, on June 26, 1972, a crowd of 18,821-more than had watched any lightweight fight in history-had packed Madison Square Garden to see the estimable Scots champion from Edinburgh, Ken Buchanan, defend his World Boxing Association title against a scrappy Panamanian named Roberto Duran.
Duran had turned twenty-one a week earlier and was but a few years removed from life as a street urchin in his homeland, but he wasn't a complete stranger to New York audiences. When Buchanan defended his title against Ismael Laguna the previous September, Duran had knocked out Puerto Rican journeyman Benny Huertas in the first round of a supporting bout on the card.
"Duran blazed out of his corner and finished Huertas in about a minute," Vic Ziegel would recall in Inside Sports eight years later. "He was awesome. But I couldn't help noticing that he neglected to shower after the fight. 'Duran hardly worked up a sweat,' I wrote, 'and a good thing, too, because he didn't bother to shower.' Duran, Ziegel found out years later, hated the line.
The title fight was Duran's first U.S. main event, the first time all eyes would be trained on him, and he left an indelible impression.
* * *
The champion, who brought a 43-1 record to the fight, weighed in at 133 / ½, a quarter-pound more than Duran, who was undefeated at 28-0. Duran, comfortably ahead by margins of 9-2-1, 9-3, and 8-3-1 on the scorecards after twelve rounds, was going to win the fight anyway, but the outcome turned on an almost grotesque display of savagery.
Late in the thirteenth, the two were wrapped up in an exchange so spirited that neither seemed to hear the bell. Referee Johnny LoBianco tried to grab Duran from behind to pull him away, but as he did, the Panamanian unloaded an uppercut that came up from the floor and caught Buchanan squarely in the groin, beneath his protective cup.
Buchanan writhed in agony on the canvas, and eventually staggered back to his stool. There, he was visited by both the ringside physician and LoBianco, who eventually waved his arms, signaling that the fight was over.
Although 18,000 pairs of eyes had seen the low blow, LoBianco apparently did not. Under the rules, Buchanan could have been granted five minutes to recover from a punch below the belt. The referee also had it in his power to penalize Duran for the infraction, or even to award the fight to Buchanan on a foul.
None of those things happened. Roberto Duran was the new lightweight champion of the world, but all people would remember was that a man Budd Schulberg described as "a Panamanian street dog" had stopped Ken Buchanan with a punch to the family jewels.
While his career didn't end that night, Ken Buchanan was never the same fighter. The critical punch from Duran ruptured his right testicle, and he still experiences discomfort from the injury thirty-five years later.
"I still get a pain there," Buchanan told Duran's biographer Christian Giudice. "I'll have it till the day I die. I told Roberto 'I'll never forget you. Every time I take a piss I'll think of you.'"
When Derrik Holmes learned of plans to initiate a boxing program in 1970 at the Recreation Center in Palmer Park, Maryland, he was eager to give it a try, but was hesitant about showing up alone. He persuaded his best friend to accompany him.
Ray Leonard, then thirteen years old, was reluctant. His brother Roger had been boxing for a few years, and on the few occasions Ray had gone to the gym to watch, he'd found himself wincing whenever he saw his older sibling get punched in the face. But Holmes was determined, so Leonard agreed to tag along.
Holmes would box professionally, accumulating a 17-3-1 record that included an unsuccessful 1980 challenge for Wilfredo Gomez' World Boxing Council junior featherweight title. It was not immediately apparent that his friend Leonard might be even more gifted.
"Of the four boys in my family," Leonard would later recall, "I was probably the least likely to become a boxer. My three brothers were good at sports, and from the earliest time I can remember they all played football and basketball and had done well. I wasn't an athlete. I wasn't even athletically inclined. I relied on my mother for everything. Once when I was very small I did go to the gym with Roger, and he talked me into putting on the gloves. I cried when I got punched in the nose. I didn't like it a bit."
Dave Jacobs and Pepe Correa each claim to have initiated the boxing program at Palmer Park. Ollie Dunlap, the director of the rec center who would become Sugar Ray's closest friend and confidant, recalls that it was initially Roger Leonard's idea, and that while Correa, who had taught boxing in the Army, was also involved, "the paperwork I did for the boxing program had Dave Jacobs' name on it."
Jacobs, an AAU featherweight champion in his youth, would later become the salaried head of the boxing program at Palmer Park, but in 1970 he was an unpaid volunteer, and still earned his living driving a delivery truck.
When Jacobs asked Leonard what he knew about boxing, the thirteen-year-old struck a pose reminiscent of John L. Sullivan's fighting stance. It was all Jake could do to keep from laughing out loud.
Those who would later describe Leonard's "choirboy" looks were actually spot-on in their assessment. Up until the day he put on the gloves at the rec center, he had been an accomplished member of the choir at St. John's Baptist Church in Washington. Once he faced a choice between the two, the choir didn't stand a chance.
"My mother always used to tell me 'You sound like Sam Cooke' or 'You sound just like Ray Charles,'" Ray reminisced. "But I think she was just being kind. My sister Sandy was the real singer in the family."
Ray Charles Leonard was born in Wilmington, North Carolina, on May 17, 1956. That he grew up in a traditional nuclear family makes him unique among the Four Kings. He was the fifth of seven children born to Cicero and Getha Leonard, and at the age of four he moved with his family to Washington, D.C.
Cicero, the son of a sharecropper, had boxed in the Navy during the Second World War. He found work at a Washington produce market, and in time was promoted to night manager. Getha worked days as a nurse at a convalescent home, ensuring that one parent was always home to attend to their growing brood. By 1966 they were able to purchase a home in Palmer Park, Maryland, a lower middle-class, predominantly black enclave just across the District of Columbia line.
"Palmer Park wasn't a ghetto, but it wasn't what you envision when you think of suburbia, either," recalled Ollie Dunlap, who had played on Michigan State's 1966 national co-championship football team. After graduation he had signed with the Washington Redskins as an undrafted free agent and had a largely unproductive stint on the taxi squad. Although Dunlap later played for the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League, he continued to make the nation's capital his off-season home, and after leaving football found work as the full-time director at the Palmer Park Rec Center.
"To my way of thinking, it was only a 'sport' if its name had the word 'ball,' in it," said Dunlap. "Football, basketball, baseball ... But when Roger came to me and proposed the boxing program, I said 'Sure, why not? '"
Correa, in any case, soon departed Palmer Park ("for personal reasons" ) to begin his own inner-city boxing club in Washington, and Jacobs took charge of the Palmer Park boxing program. He was shortly joined there, at Dunlap's behest, by an insurance broker named Janks Morton.
Morton and Dunlap had been football teammates in Toronto (after being cut by the Browns and Redskins, respectively) and had become friends almost immediately. In addition, Ollie knew that Janks was a former boxer. Jacobs, Morton, and Dunlap weren't dreaming about producing an Olympic champion. They were just looking for another way to keep kids off the streets.
The initial outlay for the boxing program was $45-the cost of two pairs of gloves. The Palmer Park Rec Center didn't have a proper boxing ring, nor would there be one until 1976, by which time the program's most illustrious graduate had already won an Olympic gold medal. The young boxers sparred in a makeshift "ring" marked off with tape on the basketball court, a condition that made the Palmer Park boys acutely aware of the importance of balance. In the absence of a ring mat to cushion one's fall, a misstep or a knockdown could be doubly painful. Initially, boxers had to clear the gym whenever someone wanted to play basketball, but as Jacobs' charges began to assert themselves in matches throughout the area, the rec center devoted the 1–5 p.m. time slot exclusively to boxing.
Over the next few years Palmer Park accumulated a prodigious collection of trophies, many of them won by Leonard, who, once he learned the basics, proved to be the most naturally gifted boxer Jacobs had ever seen.
In Jacobs' recollection Leonard had weighed "a hundred pounds, soaking wet" the day he walked into the rec center with Derrik Holmes. A year later he had added twenty-five pounds, virtually all of it muscle, and when the fifteen-year-old soundly defeated Bobby McGruder, generally regarded to have been the Washington area's best amateur featherweight, in 1971, Jacobs realized that he might have something truly special on his hands.
"Up until then I'd boxed in the Novice class," recalled Leonard. "McGruder's opponent that night fell out, and somebody said 'Well, we've got this kid ...'
"I said 'Sure, I'll fight him,' and I not only beat him, I beat the hell out of him," said Leonard. "That was the end of Novice fights for me. I'd only been boxing competitively for a year, but I fought in the Open class after that."
Excerpted from Four Kings by George Kimball. Copyright © 2008 George Kimball. Excerpted by permission of McBooks Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsForeword by Pete Hamill, ix,
Chapter 1 In the Beginning ..., 3,
Chapter 2 Le Face-à-Face Historique, Duran–Leonard I, 62,
Chapter 3 Stone vs. Sugar, Duran–Leonard II, 87,
Chapter 4 Stone vs. Sugar, Hearns–Leonard I, 122,
Chapter 5 Toughing It Out, Duran–Hagler, 144,
Chapter 6 Malice at the Palace, Duran–Hearns, 170,
Chapter 7 The Fight, Hagler–Hearns, 184,
Chapter 8 The Super Fight, Hagler–Leonard, 205,
Chapter 9 The War, Hearns–Leonard II, 245,
Chapter 10 Uno Mas, Duran–Leonard III, 268,
Chapter 11 Après Le Déluge, 283,
Afterword and Acknowledgments, 301,
Appendix Ring Records of the Four Kings,
Sugar Ray Leonard, 307,
Marvelous Marvin Hagler, 310,
Thomas Hearns, 313,
Roberto Duran, 317,
What People are Saying About This
Very accurate and well-researched . . . a phenomenon . . . well-written. I couldn't put it down. I loaned it to a friend and he won't give it back! (Emanuel Steward, World Champion Boxing trainer)
Four Kings is a thriller and George Kimball a prince among sportswriters . . . an epic poem of a book, a book that lifts the heart. (Frank McCourt, author, Angela's Ashes )
George Kimball is one of America's best-loved sportswriters and Four Kings shows why. With skill, grace and humor, he brings to life a remarkable era and four uniquely gifted athletes. (Jeremy Schaap, ESPN reporter and author, Cinderella Man: James J. Braddock, Max Baer and the Greatest Upset in Boxing History)
George Kimball's excellent and accurate account of the grandeur-indeed the majesty-of the confrontations among Hagler, Hearns, Leonard and Duran is an exciting read. I highly recommend it. (Bob Arum, CEO, Top Rank, Inc.)
Bottom line: Check out the book. (Don Steinberg, ESPN.com)
Four Kings is a terrific book. Kimball was there and never missed a moment of it. His account of the fighters, the fights and the colorful supporting players is rich with insights and details. (Vincent Patrick, author, The Pope of Greenwich Village and Family Business)
Kimball writes with insight and humor. The bigger the fight, the better he tells it. (Thomas Hauser, author, Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book about the fab four of an exciting, yet twilight, era of boxing is informative. At times, Hamill forgets those who may be marginal fans of the sport, focusing too much of statistics rather than the nuances of the sport. The story weaves together the complicated lives of fame and ultimate downfall due to social pressure. A good book for anyone who lived through that era.
This book is about the last great era of boxing, when there were four superstars fighting at or near the same weight class. Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, and Roberto Duran will go down in history as four of the greatest boxers of all time. This book covers all four in equal measure. If you remember the great fights that these men had against each other, or if you want to learn more about them, this will be a great book for you to read. It is well written, factual with a lot of interesting anecdotes about the four boxer¿s fights and their lives. Even though I was able to watch these four men fight, I learned many things about them and their fights by reading this book. I really enjoyed this book. It was hard to put down.
Four Kings is a journalistic account of the boxing careers of 4 boxers who were prominent in the 1980's. Each fought the other at least once, and they were the most famous boxers of their time. George Kimball covered boxing for the Boston Herald American/Boston Herald so he attended all the big fights and many others. He retains many contacts in the boxing world and was able to interview many people and draw on his own extensive notes for this book. Mr Kimball also apparently was close to Marvin Hagler, who came out of Brockton (near Boston) and was a major figure in Boston.The book is reasonably well written and readable. I felt it went into too much detail and got overwhelming at times. Also, it didn't go very deeply into the subjects. It takes as a given that the reader is interested in boxing and either already knows or doesn't care about the history or sociological implications of the sport. Attempts to put the 4 boxers into their own historical context are pretty limited. Nothing really is learned which is why the details get tedious. I also had some trouble keeping the characters straight. There were a lot of characters and not a lot of difference between one and another. The book tells you who was in the corner of each boxer in each fight, and it isn't clear why it matters.This book would be most interesting to a fight enthusiast or maybe a big fan of one of the boxers.I wondered, while reading it, if Roberto Duran was drawn as more animalistic than he was, but the book draws on a big biography of Duran & it might all be true. It is nice to think of Marvelous Marvin at La Scala. The book also included a couple of negative stories about Howard Cosell which indicated, I thought, that either Mr. Kimball didn't like Mr. Cosell or (and?) Mr. Kimball thinks Mr. Cosell's reputation is over-rated. (which may be true.)
Boxing as a sport is at an ebb in the US. It has been chased from popular culture by such things as MMA and Professional (?) Wrestling. However there were times that boxing was a major draw in America. Starting at the turn of the twentieth century boxing grew to be the pre-eminent sport by the time that Jack Dempsey fought Gene Tunney to break the one million dollar threshold.Boxing continued to be popular through the 1960s but in the late 70¿s with the retirement of Muhammad Ali interest fell and the title holders that followed were known only to a few. But in 1980 the sport once again jumped to public view. Four Kings by George Kimball chronicles the events that made up what has been called the last great era of Boxing. With a foreword by Pete Hamill Kimball tells the stories of Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hit Man Hearns, and Roberto Duran.Ray Lenard ¿ who unretired himself for a split decisionMarvin Hagler who lost one of the most disputed fights in boxing Thomas Hearns who may have had a fight taken away by the referee but still shared in the largest split in sports history at that time.And finally Roberto Duran who may or may not have said one of the most disputed statements in boxing.And all the stories are tied together as the kings are matched and rematches against each other in nine of the best fights in US boxing history. If you ever loved boxing or have even wondered about boxing you will love this book.A copy of this book was provided free by the publisher for the purposes of this review.
Four Kings by George Kimball is a must read if your a boxing fan, or just want to learn about a great time in the sport. Leonard, Hearns, Hagler, and Duran, are names known to every boxing fan, You will learn about their fights and their lives, and all that went into their careers. I highly recommend this book to any sports fan.
George Kimball's Four Kings fruitfully conveys the story of "the last great era of boxing" as it could only be told by an eyewitness. By centering his book on the nine fights between members of the four kings- Duran, Hagler, Hearns and Leonard- Kimball captures the excitement of the bouts which attracted millions to follow the sport. In addition, the author does a great job in telling the story of each boxer's career, training and dealings with managers and promoters. Kimball uses his vantage point as a reporter covering boxing to great effect, giving the reader a ringside seat to the fights that electrified the world.
In the late 60's and 70's I grew up in a boxing town. My grandfather was a great fan and often took me to the fights on a Saturday night. And on Saturday afternoons we would watch Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Jerry Quarry, etc pummel whichever unlucky sap happened to be in the ring with them... and on rare occasions watch them fight each other. Then boxing went into a decline, both nationally and in my own interest. The story of how the "Four Kings" brought it back into the national spotlight is a good one. These were classic fights and fighters. And I thank Mr. Kimball for bringing them back to life for me. I recommend this book for anyone who loves boxing and those who wnat to know more about the sports world through the 80's. Good stuff.
The Four Kings is the story of Roberto Duran, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns. They were the preeminent boxers of the 1980's whose paths crossed in nine fights between the members of the group. The author worked for 25 years as a sports columnist for the Boston Herald and has begun his retirement with the writing of this book. He shows a great love of boxing and a thorough knowledge of the sport and the four fighters. His afterword and acknowledgment show that he was thorough in his research for the book. The book is a biography of the four men told through a chronological account of the nine fights that made the 80's a decade of glamor and big money in the boxing world. The author covers all aspects of boxing and the people involved in these events. The promotion, training regimen and the constant hype that went into each fight are thoroughly covered.As the author relates the stories of the fights themselves we get literally a blow by blow description of the events. There is a thorough examination of the famous "no mas" fight and an attempt to answer the question of what really happened. The author's conclusion is that Duran quit out of frustration because Leonard danced and boxed and refused to fight.At the conclusion of the narrative of the fights there is a where are they now chapter on the fighters and the author's thoughts on why boxing has virtually disappeared as a sport in America.The author blames the demise of boxing on the epidemic of the use of crack cocaine. Users of crack end up on a one way street to oblivion that eliminates the path of hard work and discipline required to become a fighter. The crack dealers have found a quicker and easier way to make a good living than getting beat up for a living. I think the author misses the fact that the violence of boxing has also contributed to its demise. Other sports, primarily basketball and football, find plenty of participants, but boxing has lost its audience. No longer do many Americans enjoy a sport where the primary goal is to inflict a physical beating on your opponent.This book does succeed as an interesting biography of the four individuals. Roberto Duran was a tough street kid from Panama with no education. In his prime he lived up to the image of a barely civilized man of violence. That is also the way he fought, little style but tough and strong. Now he lives quietly in Miami enjoying what is left of the money he made. Sugar Ray Leonard was probably the most intelligent of the fighters. He was able to adapt his style to what was required to win a fight more effectively than the other fighters. He was a natural celebrity and as the book points out saved his money from the beginning of his career. Thomas Hearns was at 6"1" the tallest of the four. That gave him a consistent advantage in the ring but he did not show the intelligence of Leonard in making use of it. He now lives the life of a rich man enjoying his money. Marvin Hagler was an old fashioned warrior in the ring. He always trained and fought hard. He could fight from both the right and left side making him a difficult opponent. He now lives in Italy and has appeared in a number of films. This book was well written and edited. The author's journalistic background is evident in his writing style. I would recommend it for anyone who is a fan of boxing. A copy of this book was provided free by the publisher for the purposes of this review.
Very good read. What a time for boxing fans. Sine then boxing is not a pimple on Durans ass. The book brings back a lot of good memories going to see these warriors at the big screen at the race track.
If you are a boxing fan of the 80's you will love this book.