Monday, August 6, 2012

Las Vegas Soul by Brian DeVido

Why I read it: A love of boxing history.

Summary: "TNT" Timmons and his trainer "Scrap Iron" Fletcher take the heavyweight title, lose it, and fight their way back.

My Thoughts: When one cursorily looks at it, there's not much to it. Stand toe-to-toe, bash each other's brains out. Right?

Wrong, of course. Watch one fight, then watch thirty more. Pick out the nuances, how and why the big punches get thrown, why they land. It can be a simple as a feint, a head bob, a step in the wrong direction, or an unanticipated jab step in the right one. DeVido's book, the sequel to Every Time I Talk to Liston, dives into the details of boxing skills and strategy. Along the way, as TNT and Scrap move from the chamopinship bout to the rematch and beyond, DeVido shows the evils of overthinking, overstrategizing, and how sometimes the easiest route to redepmtion follows the simplest, most comfortable path. He also shows that one man's version of redemption is not necessarily the same as the next man's, even if those men are training partners.

What I enjoyed most about this book was DeVido's deep knowledge of boxing history. He funnels it through his characters. Scrap and his uncle, who dispenses advice to both his nephew and TNT, from one generation back, talk in old issues of Ring magazine, taking the lessons of boxing's past and applying them to TNT's fights. More than that, he inserts the characters into that world. The heavyweight title in Las Vegas Soul once laid across the shoulders of Mike Tyson, of Muhammad Ali. TNT takes his place in that long ancestry. He someday will be an the topic of an article in an old issue of Ring magazine that a future champion will read.

In an interesting subplot, Scrap, in particular, is haunted, seeing what he believes to be the ghost of Sonny Liston, former heavyweight champ. Despite numerous trips to Liston's graveside to talk to him, Scrap sees his ghost in a jazz musician in a club, a man who shares the same first name, is about the same age as Liston would have been had he not died, and bares a strong resemblance to the former champ. He wrestles with asking the question when he meets the man, finally getting up the courage to find out if there is any connection.

Driven to achieve, Scrap pushes his fighter to the limit, taking the title, but then losing it quickly. Theirs was a maturity problem. They peaked too soon, on the raw energy of youth. They had much to learn. The story is of the journey from the top of the mountain back to its base, and the climb back up again.

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