In the Ring with Jack Johnson - Part I: The Rise (Anglais) Relié – 1 décembre 2013
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The previous entrees have covered the boxers careers from begining up to the point they lost -- or, in Jeffries case, relinquished -- their heavyweight titles. (Pollack does try to cover historically post-championship bouts of his subjects in subsequent books of the series). 'In the Ring with Jack Johnson Part I' -- due no doubt to the mass of information Pollack has uncovered -- departs from this structure slightly, covering Johnsons career from start to the immediate aftermath of his winning the title from Tommy Burns. Even so, the book runs to over 700 pages. (Needless to say, I eagerly await the release of 'In the Ring with Jack Johnson Part 2: the Reign').
Pollack's books are boxing biographies. Their particular focus is the boxing contests, with a great deal of coverage as well given to match-making and the boxers preperations. Pollack also (in all of his books) gives coverage to social and legal factors influencing (often heavily) the boxers careers. Pollack is an ideal writer on the subject of the legalities of boxing, as he is a professional lawyer who is also significantly involved with organized boxing. Pollack is also knowledgeable regarding the social and -- particularly, but not exlusively, relevant to his 'Johnson' entrees -- racial attitudes of the time, both internationally, nationally to the United States, regionally within the USA, and also within the broad sporting community (boxers, trainers and managers, promoters, and journalists).
As a boxer, Jack Johnson was, and to some extent remains, an enigmatic figure. It's a generalization to say that he tended to be safety first, and sometimes seemed to do just about enough to win and to discourage his opponents from getting frisky; but there was sometimes justice in this view. He didn't always perform in a crowd pleasing manner, sometimes didn't seem to be exerting himself, and also was a fellow who was very difficult to look good against -- that last sometimes being interpretted to Johnson's disadvantage (i.e., people thought Johnson won because the other boxer was undistinguished, rather than holding that Johnson was so good he made other fighters look ineffectual). It was hard to guage Johnson: once he'd matured as a fighter he rarely if ever seemd pressed to his limits, so it was hard to say just what those limits were.
Granted that Johnson had a manner of fighting which tended to shroud is exact abilities, Pollack gives us as much information as to Johnson's (and his opponents) performances as we're liable to have at this time, and is sometimes as probing regarding Johnson's journalistic exponents and naysayers as he is regarding the fighters themselves.
[It seems to me that, around 1907, Johnson began to fight in a way that was more active yet still defensively secure. Notable white contenders, such as Al Kaufmann and Bill Squires, who might have done much to build (Kaufmann) or restore (Squires) a reputation by besting Johnson, were conspicuously averse to any talk of meeting Jack. Sports media began to relent a bit from talk of Johnson having a yellow streak. The book ends with Johnson's preeminence among contemporary heavyweights generally acknowledged, those having viewed his controlled, secure and steady dismantling of champion Tommy Burns having difficulty imagining any active boxer wresting the title from Johnson].
What I find most fascinating about this book is that Pollack intersperses various news accounts of lynching, riots, racial disharmony and prejudice in-between accounts of Johnson's bouts. This allows the reader to have a sense of what the world was like during Johnson's time as a boxer.
Pollack also analyzes each bout. He provides various and sometimes conflicting views that were published at the time of the fights and after the fights concluded.
Johnson often had to decide whether it was better to fight cautiously and win on points versus dominating a fight and perhaps scaring of contenders for future bouts. It also becomes apparent that Johnson improved steadily from early in his career until he reached his prime. He aged like a fine wine.
This book is a must have for your personal library. As I read it, I felt transported back to those times, to a world so different from our own. No 24 hour sports channels, no cell phone, you tube or even radio. You were either at the bout or you read about it.
Thank you Mr. Pollack for another great book and I am looking forward to the next edition.