Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Boxing Glove Book Review: When the Gloves Came Off: Billy Walker

The Boxing Glove Sunday Night Book Review By Peter Silkov
Written by Billy Walker with Robin McGibbon

During the 1960s, Billy Walker was one of the most popular and exciting boxers in Britain. He was a fighter rather than a boxer, a blonde haired heavyweight with an aggressive come-forward fighting style, and a big punch in his right hand. Variously nicknamed “The Blonde Bomber” and “The Golden Boy“, Billy was a promoter’s dream. Guided by his older brother, George, himself an ex-boxer who had challenged unsuccessfully for the British light-heavyweight title in the early 50s, Billy would become one of the biggest sporting celebrities in the country, with his popularity and earning power rivaled only by Henry Cooper. 

Walker became a star while still an amateur, when on November 2, 1961; he knocked out heavily favoured American heavyweight Cornelius Perry in the first round. The fight was part of an Ango-US tournament, which was staged at Wembley Stadium and broadcast live on TV to an audience of 12 million viewers. The tournament was a resounding success for the British team, with the home boxers winning by an unprecedented 9-0 whitewash. Yet, it was Billy Walker’s winning performance that stood out from all of the nine victories that night. Boxing fans have always loved a heavyweight with a big punch and an aggressive free throwing style. With his sensational victory over Perry, Walker really did become an overnight star and celebrity, even before he had turned professional. Perry was the Golden Gloves champion, and had been expected to do big things when he turned professional; instead, he went home to America following his defeat to Walker. He never boxed again, as neither an amateur, nor a professional.

Walker turned professional three months after his win over Perry amid much fanfare.  As a professional, he would certainly live up to expectations in terms of excitement and entertainment, the critics may have pointed out that Walker lacked some of the finer points of the sweet science, but no one could claim that he was dull or lacked heart.  Walker’s professional career would be full of drama, with some spectacular highs, and some equally disappointing lows, and his life outside the ring would turn out to be no less dramatic. 

It is fitting then that “When the Gloves Came Off “is a full octane ride, from start to finish, and pulls no punches.

Billy takes us from his humble beginnings in East London, through to the discovery of the fortune, which he made with his fists, and the ups and downs of his boxing career.  Billy’s career was very much a roller coaster ride, and to some extent, the fact that he was already a household name before he’d even had his first professional fight worked against him, as he had little chance of developing slowly as a fighter, and learning his trade away from the critical eye of the press. With just 34 amateur fights behind him, he was put in with relatively tough opponent’s right from the beginning. Yet, despite an often-critical press, Billy always had the support of the fans and right up until his final professional fight was able to produce a sell-out show, almost irrespective of whom he was fighting.

Walker takes us through his boxing career fight by fight, and there are interesting insights into some of his biggest matches, and the triumphs and disappointments that he experienced within the ring. Billy also lived a swashbuckling life outside, as well as inside the ring, and he tells us of his various encounters with celebrities and his constant pursuit of a multitude of glamorous female companions. This was ‘the swinging 60s’ and Billy was certainly living life to the full.

Billy’s boxing career ended in 1969, and many boxers autobiographies tend to run out of steam once they reach the point where their fighting career has come to an end, however, this is not the case with ’When The Gloves Came Off.’ From the start of this book, it is clear that here is a many layered life story, rather than simply a one-dimensional tale of a fighters escapades inside and outside the boxing ring.

There is the underlying story of his relationship with his older brother, George, who goes from being his mentor and hero, to being a stranger. One theme of  ’When The Gloves Came Off’ is the price that sometimes comes with success, when money changes people and their relationships with those who were once so close to them. As a boxer and manager team, Billy and George Walker achieved great success together, with Billy being one of the most popular and biggest grossing boxers of his time, and George having the entrepreneurial brain to be able to put the money earned by Billy’s fists into fledgling businesses that were soon thriving. Yet in the end, the brothers paid for their joint success with their relationship. Billy’s thoughts on the loss of his previously close relationship with his brother, throughout the course of this book, are candid and at times, very poignant.

Billy pulls no punches in his recollections, and is brutally honest about his own failings, as well as those of the people around him. Despite all of his popularity and success, and the wealth that he accumulated throughout his boxing career, Billy found contentment in his personal life hard to achieve. At the same time, that his relationship with his brother George was breaking down irreconcilably, Billy was also going through two failed marriages. He recounts the trauma and anguish of these marriages with unflinching honesty. Then just when he seems to have found happiness and contentment in his third marriage, to a woman he has known since his fighting days, she was tragically diagnosed with cancer. Walker’s description of her brave, yet, ultimately losing battle with cancer is deeply moving.

This is a fast-paced, hard-hitting, autobiography, which will surprise you with its depth of tone and feelings. Billy Walker has lived a very full life, and he and Robin McGibbon have done a great job in putting it together onto the printed page. It is therefore not surprising that last year the film rights to “When the Gloves Came Off” were purchased by Los Angeles film producers, with expectations of bringing the book to the big screen. With the current popularity of boxing movies, it’s not hard to see how this autobiography has all the raw material needed to make a big hit on the big screen. 

This is a book that will interest most people even if they are not boxing fans, as more than anything else, it is a great rags to riches story, with the underlying theme that while money can buy most worldly objects, it cannot buy contentment or love, and that in the end, those two things are more valuable than any amount of money one can have in life.         

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

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Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Boxing Glove Book Review: Lionel Rose: Australian-The Life Story of a Champion

The Boxing Glove Sunday Night Book Review By Peter Silkov
"Lionel Rose, Australian, The Life Story of a Champion" By Lionel Rose.  As told to Rod Humphries.

The book, which we are looking at this week, is an old one on the great 1960’s World bantamweight champion Lionel Rose.  “Lionel Rose: Australian, The Life Story of a Champion” is not a book that you will find in your local bookstore new, as it seems sadly to be out of print. Although it is out of print, it is available secondhand, and is one of those boxing biographies that are well worth hunting down. 

Rose was a brilliantly talented boxer, with fast hands and fast feet, and razor sharp reflexes. Although he didn’t have a big knockout punch, Rose would throw many punches in blistering combinations. Rose also had excellent stamina and the ability to fight at a pace at which few opponents could keep up with him.

Born in Warragul, Victoria, Australia, on June 21, 1948, Lionel Rose was the first Aborigine to win a world boxing championship. He was also one of the youngest men ever to win a world championship at the age of just 19 years and 8 months old.

First printed in 1969, this autobiography covers Rose’s life from his childhood beginnings, growing up in poverty in Jackson’s Track, a small Aboriginal settlement set in the middle of the bush, near Victoria, to his famous world championship victory over Fighting Harada in Tokyo on February 27, 1968, when he captured the world Bantamweight crown. 

We are given a fascinating insight into Rose’s life growing up as an Aborigine in Australia, the hardships and clashes of culture that he had to endure, but also the countries idolization of him after he won the World bantamweight championship.  Rose was named “Australian of the year” in 1968, a huge honour for a young 20-year old.

This book also gives a great insight into the dedication and deprivations that fighters need to make in order to reach the top. Rose’s battles making the weight for his fights are often as draining as the fights themselves.

There are detailed accounts of the fights, which saw Rose rise up the world rankings, and then secure his world title shot. We are then given a blow-by-blow account of Rose’s title winning effort against Harada, including the build up to the fight, and its aftermath. As would be expected Rose, with his Aboriginal background and youth, found it an incredible culture shock when he won the world championship, with all of the attention, demands, and money that it brought. While Rose is very proud and thankful for his success, it is clear that being a world champion is not always easy, and perhaps entails some problems and pressures, which had never previously been foreseen.

Rose takes us through his successful defences against Takao Sukurai, Chucho Castillo, and Alan Rudkin.  “Lionel Rose: Australian” ends before he lost his world title to Mexican Ruben Olivares in 1969, finally succumbing to a mixture of chronic weight problems, as well as Olivares dynamite punching. Rose's boxing career went into a tailspin, and while he would give a few near vintage performances, he suddenly found himself being beaten by boxers whom previously would not have come near him when he was in his prime.

When his career finally ended in the late 1970s, following another aborted comeback, Rose struggled to adjust to a life away from boxing and the crowds. Over the next few years, he would experience problems with alcohol and have a number of run-ins with the police. Despite this, Rose was still held in great affection by Australian fans, and his fellow Aborigines, and in his later years seemed to find peace of mind.

“Lionel Rose: Australian” is a fascinating book, giving us a great insight into the thoughts and memories of a young world champion when he is at the height of his sporting powers. Anyone who has heard Rose’s life story or watched him box will gain a lot out of this book, which remains the only biography that has been written about Rose, who outside of Australia at least, tends to be unfairly over looked today.

Despite the ups and downs which he was to experience later in life, Roses life story remains an uplifting tale of one mans rise from poverty to the championship of the world, and along with it fame and fortune.

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

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Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Boxing Glove Book Review: Raging Bull by Jake Lamotta

The Boxing Glove Book Review By Peter Silkov
"Raging Bull: My Story Jake La Motta"  Written by  By Jake Lamotta, with Joseph Carter and Peter Savage

Former World middleweight champion, Jake "The Bronx Bull" Lamotta, is one of boxing’s most enduring legends, whose life outside of the ring has been as stormy and controversial, as his life inside of it. Lamotta was world champion from June 16, 1949, until February 14, 1951, and is famed as having fought the great Sugar Ray Robinson six times, as well as being the man to hand Robinson his first professional defeat.  Ironically, it would be Robinson who would relieve Lamotta of his World Middleweight title.  As he approaches his 94th birthday this year and as far as I am aware, he is boxing’s oldest surviving ex-world champion. However, there is a lot more to Lamotta than just a straightforward story of a boxer fighting his way to the world championship. 

Lamotta is far from a straightforward person, just as he was far from being simply a take three punches to land one punch type of slugger that many today believe.  Jake’s life story was portrayed in the 1980 Martin Scorsese film “Raging Bull” with Robert Deniro giving one of the most powerful performances of his career. Raging Bull was hailed as one of the greatest boxing movies ever, and laid bare the rage and paranoia that both drove and tortured Jake Lamotta.

The film was based on Lamotta’s biography “Raging Bull” of the same name, which was first published in 1970. If “Raging Bull” the film is often operatic in its portrayal of Jake’s rages and struggles with his inner demons, then the book is altogether more darker and detailed. This is an autobiography of a man at war with himself, as well as the world around him. 

Jake Lamotta grew up in the Bronx New York, in a run down tenement, with an abusive father who beat him and his siblings, and his mother. By the age of 16 years old, Jake was in his own words a ’hardcore’ juvenile delinquent.  “I was a bum, and lived like a bum, in a bum neighbourhood.’ At about this age, Lamotta mugged a local bookie, and was left believing he had killed him. This early savage act is one of the main incidences that formed Jake’s outlook on the world and himself, he is a man riven with guilt, anxieties, and suspicion. Boxing eventually offered Jake a way out from the criminal life that he had become entangled. Yet, he could not get away from the insecurities that his upbringing and early experiences have sowed within him.  Lamotta has been married 7 times during his life, and it’s not hard to see why.  Within this book, he is very open about the paranoia and jealousy that eventually brought an end his marriage to Vicky Lamotta, his wife during his boxing days.

Lamotta seemed to trust no one and had few friends, save for his life long buddy, Pete.  He often had reason to be suspicious of people, but at other times, it was revealed that his own worst enemy was, too often, himself.   

Always a loner, Lamotta’s aloofness from the mob elements, who ran boxing at this time, meant that he was kept waiting for years for his chance at the world’s championship. In the end, Jake was forced to pay a tremendous price in order to receive his chance at the title; he was forced to take a dive against Billy Fox in 1947. Even after taking the dive, Lamotta was kept waiting almost another two years before he finally received his world title shot.

When he beat Marcel Cerdan for the World middleweight title on June 16, 1949, despite it being the greatest day of his life, it would also ironically prove to be the beginning of his downfall both as a boxer and a person.  Lamotta soon realized, through a number of incidences, that being world champion would not take away the turmoil that ate away inside of him. In many ways, it is as if he did not feel that he deserved to be world champion.

“Raging Bull” follows Lamotta through his bittersweet title reign and then looks at how his world quickly starts to fall apart after he loses the championship to Sugar Ray Robinson. As his boxing career fell apart, so did his private life. After his boxing career is over, Jake is bereft at having lost the one thing that held him together, and made him able to function in a world in which he felt so alienated.

There was a culmination of events that happen which eventually throw Lamotta’s life into a spiral of decline. Firstly, he was incarcerated for abetting prostitution, and then, later, testified at the 1960 Senate investigations into corruption in boxing, admitting he threw the ’47 fight against Billy Fox. With this admission, Lamotta is publicly humiliated and banished from the boxing establishment. While Lamotta’s confession is seen as brave in some quarters, it makes him a leper in most boxing circles, and has reverberations that continue until this day. Lamotta had confessed to doing the unthinkable, but perhaps more than the dive itself,  it was the confession itself that so enraged some elements within the boxing establishment.

Eventually, Lamotta was to enjoy at least a partial return to public favour. It was a process that began with this book being published in 1970, and eventually reached its full fruitation with the release of Scorsese’s film of the book in 1980.

Lamotta remains a controversial character, but in “Raging Bull”, he certainly doesn’t pull any punches regarding himself. This is a warts-and-all autobiography. There are strong parallels between Lamotta’s story and that of Rocky Graziano, who grew up in the Bronx at the same time as Lamotta, and won the World middleweight title, during a time when Lamotta was waiting his chance, and being called by many the ‘uncrowned’ champion. Graziano would also write a book about his life, and rise from juvenile delinquent to middleweight world champion, in “Somebody Up There Likes Me” (a great book in its own right.)  Graziano’s autobiography was also later made into a film, by the same name, starring Paul Newman.

However, despite the similarities between the two men and their life stories, “Raging Bull” is an altogether darker more complex book. 

Over 40 years since it was originally published, “Raging Bull” still packs a powerful punch. It is a brilliant study of Jake Lamotta’s rise to the top of the boxing world, despite many obstacles being thrown in his way by various elements other than his opponents in the ring. We also see how the very character traits, which make Lamotta so fearless and formidable in the ring, eventually prove to be his downfall in his private life, and come very close to totally destroying him.

Anyone who has ever watched the film “Raging Bull” can find where all of the inspiration and drama came from in this autobiography. The term ‘living legend’ is almost embarrassingly overused today, but it is a term that Jake Lamotta deserves.  “Raging Bull” tells us what a complex man he is, and also gives us a glimpse into the complex and often-nefarious world of boxing.

*Not all photos on this page are published in "Raging Bull."

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

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Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Boxing Glove Book Review: In The Ring with Jack Johnson

The Boxing Glove Book Review By Peter Silkov
"In the Ring with Jack Johnson, Part 1: The Rise"  Written By Adam J. Pollack

There is probably no figure in boxing history as controversial as Jack Johnson. While Muhammad Ali comes a close second, due to the tumultuous times that he lived through, his proximity in time makes him an easier book to read than Johnson. Ali lived much of his life in front of TV cameras and with a dozen or so pressmen constantly on his tail.  Johnson on the other hand, because of the time in which he lived, is still very much more of a mystery to us than Ali is. Certainly, Johnson, like Ali after him, lived much of his life pursued by the media, but there are still many questions regarding his character and the characters of those around him. It has often been said that much of the trouble that came Johnson’s way during his life was his own doing. He has been called a braggart and a self-centered bore, who when he won the World heavyweight title let his success go to his head and became a spoiled megalomaniac. Yet, this was a man who was as sinned against as sinning.

It is difficult for us today to have any real appreciation of the social pressures and conflicts that Johnson faced during his lifetime and boxing career. While it is true that racial inequality and stigmatization exists to this day, the social landscape of Johnson’s time was even more dangerous and unforgiving. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Jack Johnson took on the whole social establishment during his boxing career, and he did so with a rare mixture of talent, courage, intelligence, and sheer determination, that must be admired.  No man of lesser strength of character and will power, along with self-belief, could ever have accomplished Johnson’s feats. When he finally got his fight with Tommy Burns for Burns’ World Heavyweight title, it took a huge amount of work and will power on Johnson’s part. In the end, it was his strength of character, as much as his performances in the boxing ring, that made it impossible for Burns to ignore Johnson. In many ways, Johnson’s greatest feat was gaining his shot at Burns’ World heavyweight championship, and becoming the first colored world champion.  By doing so, he opened the way for later greats such as Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali.  If there had not been a Jack Johnson, then there would not have been either a Louis or an Ali.

“In the Ring With Jack Johnson: Part 1 The Rise”  by Adam J. Pollack is different from the many other books on Jack Johnson as it focuses upon his rise to the world championship, and ends with Johnson’s famous bout with Burns. This is the moment when he finally cornered the World heavyweight champion into the same ring as him in Sydney, Australia, and duly won sports greatest prize. 

Author Adam Pollack has spent the best part of the past decade writing a series of highly detailed biographies of the World heavyweight champions, beginning with John L. Sullivan, and later including, James J. Corbett, Bob Fitzsimmons, James J. Jeffries, Marvin Hart, Tommy Burns, and now Jack Johnson. Each book goes into an amount of detail seldom seen before; each book is not so much a biography, but a study of the men, their boxing careers, and the times in which they lived. Great use is made of newspaper reports and interviews of the day; we hear these fighters in their own words as never before. We are also given round-by-round reports of their fights, taken from first hand reports of the time. In addition to this, there are numerous photos, many never seen before in publications. These are weighty books of 500+ pages each, but they have been constructed with such care and skill that they do not weigh heavily when read.

Given his tumultuous life and career, and his multifaceted character, it is fitting that Pollock has decided to dedicate two books to the life and boxing career of Jack Johnson. It says much about Johnson that this is one of Pollock’s longest biographies so far, coming in at approximately 700 pages, despite the fact that it only follows Johnson up to the point where he wins the Heavyweight crown from Tommy Burns.  Yet, as we see, so much happened to Johnson, just in this early part of his life, and his journey to his title winning triumph against Burns proves fully worth the attention given to it by one whole book. We are shown Johnson’s development as a fighter step-by-step, and fight-by-fight. His fights are portrayed in minute detail, with attention given to pre and post fight interviews and anecdotes, as well as blow-by- blow, round-by-round reports of the fights. It is possible now to analyze Johnson’s fights with his great coloured rivals Joe Jeannette, Sam McVey, and Sam Langford, and see just whom he struggled with the most.

The portrayal of all Johnson’s early fights gives us a fascinating insight into Johnson’s fighting style and his development from a talented, yet, raw and inexperienced youth, into the best heavyweight in the world, and one of the greatest of all time. There is also great insight into Johnson’s character, with numerous interviews, and eyewitness reports allowing us some rare glimpses into his character and feelings at certain moments of his life. It is hard to imagine a more detailed biography of this period of Johnson’s life, both inside the ring, and outside of it. We are also given an in-depth portrait of the times in which Johnson was living and the various social frictions that existed between the races. The racist attitudes of the era, including many of the top white fighters of that time as well, are both enlightening and in many cases quite shocking. It becomes clear that Johnson had to be the character that he was in order to survive his times, and most importantly, to break through the barriers like he did.

This book is a fantastic portrait of a man who is still considered by many to be the greatest heavyweight champion ever. For what he had to overcome just in order to get reasonable fights, Jack Johnson was a very unique man indeed. Throughout this book, there are some great insights into the other fighters of this period, Sullivan, Corbett, Jeffries, Burns, Langford, McVey, Jeannette and Choynski, amongst others. Some of them do not come out of this book too well. While it is true that these men were all formed by the times in which they lived, it’s fair to say that some of them were formed rather more rigidly than others.

“In the Ring With Jack Johnson” is a must have for anyone who is interested in the life and boxing career of the first coloured man to perform the incredible feat of becoming the first black Heavyweight Champion of the world.  It was an achievement that sent shock waves through the sporting and social world, both for good and bad.

While there are other books on Johnson that give a good focus on his life in general and his character outside the ring, no other book on Johnson goes as deeply into the fighting side of Johnson’s life as this volume. This, along with the many detailed interviews with Johnson taken from newspapers of the time, gives us a view of Johnson that is both informative and refreshing. You will end this book wanting to read volume 2, which will focus upon Johnson’s life while he was world champion. It is sure to be another engrossing read.

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

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