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Three boxing books you need to read

This drawing shows fight action between heavyweight Jim

This drawing shows fight action between heavyweight Jim Corbett, left, and John L. Sullivan in New Orleans in 1892. Sullivan, champion for more than a decade, was defeated by Corbett in the first fight fought with padded gloves, $100 ringside seats and a purse of $25,000 with side bets of $10,000. Credit: AP

"The Irish and the Making of American Sport, 1835-1920," by Patrick R. Redmond

The premise of this well-researched book is that athletes from Ireland helped build the foundation of American sport. Redmond eloquently makes his point in this 480-page study that cuts across Irish-American history, culture and athletics.

Early in the book, Redmond writes, "The Irish alone didn't didn't change American sports: Equally important were urbanization, industrialization and the American Civil War. But they certainly played a part in providing many of its influential protagonists."

Long before baseball, football and basketball became America's three dominant sports, boxing was the country's most popular sport. Thus many of Ireland's early influences on the American sporting culture were fighters.

While England is the birthplace of the modern prize ring, it was in the 1830s that some of the sport's top fighters - Irishmen such as Sam O'Rourke and James Burke - began crossing the Atlantic to fight in America.

They paved the way for middleweight Jack "Nonpareil" Dempsey (no relation to the heavyweight champ), who was considered the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world in the late 1880s.  

Dempsey would, of course, set the stage for the emergence of the first three world heavyweight champions - each of them Irish-American - Paddy Ryan,  John L. Sullivan and James J. Corbett.

Boxing always has pulled its participants from the lowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder. It's no coincidence that the emergence of Irish fighters in America occurred at a time when the Irish occupied such a spot in America's class structure. Redmond writes about Irish discrimination as the common theme among business owners at the time - "Irish Need Not Apply." Sports, primarily boxing, was a way up the ladder for the Irish.

Redmond also examines other societal themes, such as the relationship between alcohol, sports and the Irish. He writes that in 1648 the city of Boston had 13 establishments where various types of alchoholic beverages could be purchased and consumed. He also notes that George Washington opened a distillery after his presidency. But the stereotype of the drunken Irishman long has endured. Part of that reason is that two of the most famous sporting figures at the turn of the century - heavyweight icon Sullivan and baseball Hall-of-Famer Mike Kelly had severe drinking problems.   

?While Redmond covers all sports in his book, he also traces the Irish contributions to baseball back to 1837 with the formation of the Gotham club, which eventually became the New York Giants.

The author also notes that Irish players were influential on many clubs as the game rose in popularity after the Civil War. However, it was the sons of those ballplayers who helped elevate the game as the century closed. The media called the 1890s, the "Emerald Age of Baseball" and in 1892, the Sporting News noted that one-third of all major leaguers had Irish surnames.

"The Irish and the Making of American Sport, 1835-1920," is published by McFarland and Company.

"No Middle Ground," by Sanjeev Shetty

Remember the heavyweight division in the 1970s? Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Jerry Quarry and Ken Norton? Those five American heavyweights engaged in a series of fights that riveted boxing fans worldwide. It is largely considered the Golden Age of the heavyweight division.

England can claim 1989-1993 as its Golden Age of the middleweight division. It was during that time when the rivalry between British middleweights Michael Watson, Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank captivated the boxing world.

Benn, Eubank and Watson fought a total of five bouts, often competing for middleweight or super middleweight belts. The only matchup in the series that did not have a rematch was the Watson-Benn fight. The fighters had that rarest of gifts in sports - each other. Mike Tyson may have been every bit as good as Foreman or Frazier, but he was born just a bit too late to prove it.

The author takes the reader  back to those classic fights by interviewing the fighters, their respective teams and many of the insiders who put the bouts together. But what really makes this book worthwhile is that Shetty goes back even further, tracing each fighter back to his childhood and the circumstances which led him to boxing.

Benn, Eubank and Watson were equally talented and employed just enough of a difference in style to make compelling fights. Benn was the brawler, Eubank the thinking-man's boxer-puncher and Watson the classic boxer. They boxed 51 rounds against each other, with Eubank proving himself the best. He decisioned and drew with Benn and he decisioned (majority) and stopped Watson. After the second Eubank fight, Watson suffered a brain bleed and spent 40 days in a coma. He never fought again but has made a full recovery.

"No Middle Ground," is published by Aurum Press.

"Steve Canton's Tributes, Memories and Observations of the Sweet Science," by Steve Canton

The title is self explanatory. This book is a fun collection of anecdotes, lists and observations from Canton, who has been in the boxing business for 50 years. His journey through the sweet science has included time as a trainer, cutman, promoter and radio host.

Canton knows - or has worked with - many of the figures he writes about. Among them are Emanuel Steward, Thomas Hearns, Jackie Kallen, Billy Joiner and Ezra Sellers. The book touches upon obscure fighters such as James Salerno and Ibar Arrington to legends such as Hector Camacho.

That's what makes this book unique. There are enough pages on the names that are well known. But if you've never heard of Tony Alongi, you will be glad you read the mini profile on him from Canton. And the list of "Boxing's Unusual Names," provides some interesting information.

Showtime boxing analyst Al Bernstein wrote the book’s forward and summed it up with this: “Despite its diverse nature, this book does have one connecting message – that boxing is a unique and special sport that is populated by some amazing and fascinating people. I’m here to tell you that message is accurate and well delivered in this fine book.”

"Steve Canton's Tributes, Memories and Observations of the Sweet Science," is self-published.

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