Sunday, August 23, 2015

TBG Book Review: Slats: The Legend & Life Of Jimmy Slattery

 The Boxing Glove Sunday Book Review by Peter Silkov
 "Slats: The Legend & Life Of Jimmy Slattery" Written by Rich Blake

Alongside the era of the 1970s and 80s, boxing’s other great golden era is widely agreed to have been the 1920s and 30s. This was a time of million dollar gates, a multitude of talented fighters in every division, and numerous boxing clubs holding sold out fight cards every day of the week. At that time, the light-heavyweight division in particular held some of the most talented fighters of any weight in boxing.  Men like Tommy Loughran, Jack Delaney, Mike Mctigue, Paul Berlenbach, and Maxie Rosenbloom, but the man whom was thought by many to be the most talented of all the fighters in the 175 division was Jimmy Slattery.  

Born in Buffalo, New York, on August 25, 1904, and of Irish descent, Slattery was a unique and mercurial talent, with exceptional speed, mobility, and defensive wizardry.  Slattery would fight with his hands down by his sides, as he bounced about the ring in a manner akin to how a young Muhammad Ali would box some 40 years later. The Irishman also had a good punch in both hands, and the ability to lash out with blinding combinations.  Add to this a toughness, which defied his handsome, yet fragile looking physique and it seems that Slattery had it all. At one point during the 1920s he was heralded as the next World heavyweight champion, and praised and admired by figures such as Jim Corbett and Gene Tunney.  Former World heavyweight champion, Corbett, had described Slattery as “the most perfect fighting machine I ever saw."

Despite all of his ability, Jimmy Slattery was fatally flawed with a love of the nightlife and an idiosyncratic attitude to the serious side of boxing. After turning professional as a lanky 17 year-old, he began to find success as a boy wonder. The adulation and success that quickly came his way soon found him being drawn towards the bright lights, fast cars and glamorous women, rather than the humdrum repetitiveness of training.  Although Slattery would go on to win the World light-Heavyweight championship twice and finish his career with an impressive 111(49koes)-13 record.  His was still a talent perhaps only half realised.  Finished as a top fighter by the age of 28, Slattery’s life soon descended into the chaotic twilight world of alcoholism.

Since his death in 1960, at the age of 56, Slattery has been all but forgotten by the wider boxing world. All of that is about to change now, with Rich Blake’s meticulous and engrossing biography of the wayward, yet, immensely talented boxer, who was being called a ‘Will o’ the Wisp’ of the ring by boxing writers 20 years before the great Willie Pep made that nick name his own.      

Rich has produced a biography that is not only fascinating for the detailed facts, which he uncovers about Slattery’s life, but it is crafted in such a way that it is really hard to put down once you begin reading it. While Rich’s admiration for ‘Slats’ is clear, within these pages, he does not let it colour his work, and is not blind to the fighter’s darker side.
Slattery’s life reads like a film script. An unknown, fragile looking teenager discovers that he can fight when standing up to the street bully, and within five years, he is facing the great Harry Greb, and despite losing to Greb, is being hailed as one of the greatest talents in his or any division.  In the end, however, Slattery’s success would prove to be the trigger of his own ruination and demise.

Slattery rose to fame like a character from Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.”  With his fall from the heights being just as fast and spectacular, as his rise.  Slattery in many ways embodied the ‘roaring 20s’, and looked for a while as if he really might be able to burn the candle at both ends, and continue to be a success inside the ring. His boxing career eventually fell apart, just as the roaring 20s came to a devastating end with the wall street crash, and the beginning of the Great Depression.
Rich does a great job of bringing Slattery back to life within the pages of “Slats: The Legend & Life of Jimmy Slattery. Slattery is revealed to be a complicated, flawed, yet, courageous, and a good-hearted man. He succumbed to the pressures and temptations of a success and fame, which came too fast and too soon for someone who was still a teenager when he first started, to taste the forbidden fruits of the fast life.  Indeed, as you read through this biography, and read about the fame and fortune that Slattery’s fistic ability brought to him, it becomes clear how difficult it must have been for any young man to keep a clear head when faced with the intoxicating acclaim, and the increasing demands of the ever growing throngs of fans and ‘hangers on’ that increasingly surrounded him.

Slattery’s boxing career is very well described here, with many of his most important contests analyzed in great detail.  One thing that emerges from these pages is that, despite his flaws and self destructive nature, Slattery still achieved an outstanding career, with his victories over the very best light-heavyweights of his day, plus two reigns as world champion.  If he was a wasted talent, he was a wasted talent who still managed to achieve an awful lot in the short time that he made the boxing ring the stage for his talent.  Slattery’s greatest fights with the likes of Jack Delaney, Paul Berlenbach, and Tommy Loughran are all relived here in great style.  Rich also provides insightful portraits of Slattery’s greatest rivals and the overall effect is to bring back alive these great characters and fighters of the 1920s era.

Undeniably, this is a bittersweet biography.  After experiencing Slattery’s greatest triumphs inside the ring, and being entertained by his daring playboy lifestyle outside of it, we then witness his fall from grace, as both his boxing career and private life collapse, and his steady alcoholic decline to his early death in a tiny hotel room.

This book is a great read for anyone who is interested in boxing’s golden era of the 1920s, and one of that era’s most gifted and flawed characters.  In the end, Slattery was as golden and flawed as the era in which he tasted his greatest success.  Slattery’s life might be seen by some as a tragedy, but can someone who has achieved so much in his life ever be truly tragic?  One thing that Jimmy Slattery was not, is ordinary, he was an extraordinary man in an extraordinary time, and it is good to see him brought back to life here in such a stylish manner.

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