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Pete Hamill, American journalist and novelist, writes in his Foreword to George Kimball's book "This book is about the last Golden Age of boxing. That is, it is about a time when the matches themselves transcended the squalor of the business side of the sport, and focused only on the men who fought."
This lucky reviewer was privileged to see the end of this era, to watch the last two of the nine super fights these four boxers fought with each other. Thus I was delighted to find this beautiful book, which told me details I had never heard, even though I followed the fighters and the sport closely. "Four Kings: Leonard, Hagler, Hearns, Duran and the Last Great Era of Boxing" radiates the feeling boxing fans had in these glorious days.
Naturally, all of it began with the childhood of the four kings, Duran, Hagler, Hearns, and Leonard. Please note that I listed their names in alphabetical order because I do not want to give preference to any of them; the book makes clear how each of them helped to bring out the best in all others. Kimball tells us how it happened.
Duran came from the very poorest circumstances: "Food was scarce; unable to care for him, his mother literally gave the boy away on several occasions. He (Duran) followed Toti to a boxing gym at the age of eight, and had his first amateur bout a year later."
Hagler was shy: "On his first night Hagler once again watched in silence. On the second, Goody (Petronelli) walked over and asked with a smile, "Hey, kid, do you want to learn how to fight?" "That's what I'm here for," said Marvin. Goody told him to come back the next night and bring along his gear. Gear? All he had was a pair of cutoff jeans and some tennis shoes."
Hearns was skinny, worked hard, and was grateful to be able to participate at out-of-town trips Kronk Recreation Center's Emmanuel Stewart arranged for. Leonard, who among boxers was described as having "choirboy"-looks really sang in a church choir before he started boxing.
The book also tells the stories of their trainers, promoters, and gyms. All of them evolved with their respective fighters. There are also the stories in connection with their names. Ray Charles, after who Leonard was named, sang "America the Beautiful" before the second Leonard-Duran fight, at the Superdome, in New Orleans. Leonard won that fight. Hagler had his name legally changed from Marvin Nathaniel to Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Hearns had gotten his nickname because:"Tommy's like a Hit Man," the manager observed. "He does his business and then gets out of town." And Duran had more colorful descriptions assigned to him and his name, than anybody's mother would like to know.
Kimball's writing style is fast-paced, information-packed, and entertaining.
Fight Hagler vs Duran: "The rows of scar tissue Hagler wore like combat ribbons around his eyebrows could provide an inviting target, even for a boxer more observant of the Marquis of Queensberry rules than Roberto Duran."
Readers, who may not know about the "Queensberry rules for the sport of boxing", (written in the 19th century these are the rules, on which the rules of modern boxing are based), as well as other facts, might have a harder time with this book; boxing fans however will be mesmerized by the riveting content Kimball manages to tie together to complete a beautiful picture of the boxers, the sport and the times.
Those, who miss the days when boxing was shown on the networks rather than pay-per-view, when ratings came from who fought who and not from manipulated or hyped stories, and Tommy Hearns (hailing from Detroit) could be "Motor City Cobra" with pride, will love this book.
In a way it is a neat thing that this book was written now. I read it close to my computer and watched some of the fights again on Youtube.
If you are ever looking for a gift for an important man in your life age 55+, who lived through the Golden Era, I recommend to buy this book. The chances to go wrong with "Four Kings" are remote.
Thank you, George Kimball, for this treasure.
Gisela Hausmann - author & blogger