Sunday, May 3, 2015

Book Review: Fighting the Demons: The Lester Ellis Story

The Boxing Glove Sunday Night Book Review by Peter Silkov

Fighting the Demons: The Lester Ellis Story

As told to Robert Drano.

First published in 2007, “Fighting The Demons: The Lester Ellis Story” is the searing autobiography of Lester Ellis, former IBF World junior lightweight champion, who also held multiple belts in different divisions in his career. To say that Ellis had a meteoric career would be an understatement. He won the world championship in 1985, one month before his 20th birthday, after just 15 fights, and barely two years as a professional fighter. In the end, it was too much too soon for Ellis. He lost the world title after just five months to friend and archrival, Barry Michael, and although he would carry on fighting until 1996, and win other titles, he would never again win a major world championship.

In fact, when reading this book one can see that in many ways Ellis’s life started a slow spiral downwards from the moment he lost his world title to Barry Michael.  “Fighting the Demons” is more than just a story about boxing; it is a story about a man struggling to cope with a life that is slowly spinning out of control. By the time Ellis retired from boxing in 1996 (although he made an ill-fated one-fight comeback in 2002 against Anthony Mundine) he was in the grip of depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, and alcoholism. Things would get much worse before he hit rock bottom and started to fight back.

In many ways, “Fighting the Demons” was a catalyst for the beginning of Ellis’s recovery. He says in the introduction that he was still in denial about the extent of his drinking problem during the writing of the first 10 chapters of the book, then in an incident, which made the news nationwide in Australia in 2006, Ellis tried to commit suicide. From the 11th chapter on, “Fighting The Demons” focuses on Lester’s fight against alcoholism, and his return from a rock bottom that saw him at one point drinking 200 cans of beer a week. 

Ellis was born in Blackpool, Lancashire, on March 15, 1965.  He was born premature weighing only three pounds and two ounces, with under developed lungs.  When he was five years old, the Ellis family relocated to Melbourne Australia, partly because of young Lester’s asthma. Not long after their move to Australia Lester’s parents marriage broke up. This would turn out to be a huge life changing event for young Lester, who went from being happy, and well adjusted to being a troubled, and angry.  Boxing would turn out to be his salvation and a focus and outlet for his rage.

As a fighter, Ellis was, at his best, a very hyper fighter. He could both box, and slug it out, and fought at a pace that seemed to be close to perpetual motion. His trademark two-fisted attacks, with blinding hand speed and knockout power, gained him the nickname “The Master Blaster.”  Ellis was a great in-fighter and vicious body puncher. Ellis describes himself as an angry fighter, someone who fought with emotion and anger, rather than a cool head, which you are supposed to do inside a boxing ring. Despite what the experts might say, this approach certainly worked for Ellis, and for a time he was simply overwhelming his opponents. This is one of the reasons why he got a world title fight so quickly; because many fighter were refused to fight him and so he was fast-tracked to the very top.
This is an extremely vivid book, written as if Ellis is talking to you. Overall, the book is captivating, entertaining, moving, and disturbing. Despite some of the harrowing subject matter, there is a lot of humour within the book. Ellis comes across as having a good line in black humour. There are also fascinating insights into the world of boxing, and the whole merry-go-round of fame and success, which young boxers can experience so suddenly during their careers, and then just as suddenly, have taken away.

“Fighting The Demons” gives a fascinating insight into the pressures that come with success and the fickleness of many of the so called ’friends’ whom befriend fighters when they are at the top, only to abandon them when they start to lose.

Like many of the best boxing autobiographies, “Fighting The Demons” is far more than just a book about boxing. It is a fascinating story of a life lived on the edge, in fast forward, which eventually spins into self destruction.  It also shows the courage that is needed to turn away from the brink.

Lester Ellis’s autobiography resembles the way in which he fought in the ring, exciting, fast paced, and hard hitting. This was one of the most moving autobiographies I have ever read and made me admire Ellis even more both as a man and a fighter. 

Copyright © 2015 The Boxing Glove, Inc. Peter Silkov Art. All Rights Reserved. Peter Silkov contributes to and

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