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The boxing bookshelf

Boxers Nonito Donaire, left, and Guillermo Rigondeaux pose

Boxers Nonito Donaire, left, and Guillermo Rigondeaux pose for photographers during the weigh in on Friday, April 12, 2013, in New York, for the upcoming fight. The pair square off on Saturday at Radio City Music Hall for Donaire's WBO and Rigondeaux's WBA Super World junior featherweight titles. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer) Photo Credit: AP Photo Mary Altaffer


Here are three offerings for your summer reading list.

Author Brin-Jonathan Butler traveled to three different countries, a dozen states and watched thousands of rounds of boxing in pursuit of this story. The result is 192 pages of thoroughly-reported and carefully crafted prose that makes up "A Cuban Boxer's Journey: Guillermo Rigondeaux, From Castro's Traitor To American Champion." Simply put, it's the story of boxing champion Guillermo Rigondeaux and his journey from Cuba to the United States. 

But, as with most things regarding Cuba, the story is so much deeper than the pursuit of boxing glory. 

"To explore the meaning of Rigondeaux's success as a pro fighter and his role as Fidel's "traitor" in Cuba, A Cuban Boxer's Journey looks at his story from many angles and perspectives, including all the great champions who stared down the same heartbreaking decision in their own times," said Butler. "If the book succeeds, it does so on the basis of taking the reader's preconceived notions about Cuba and Cuban values and allows them to look at themselves and their own values from a new perspective. That a boxer from this strange island aids in that process, hopefully, is part of the fun."

Rigondeaux was a two-time Olympic gold medalist and would have easily joined fellow Cubans Teofilio Stevenson and Felix Savon as a three-time champ. However, a failed defection resulted in Rigondeaux's dismissal from the national team. Thus, he sat at home in Havana as his teammates traveled to Beijing for the 2008 Summer Olympics. That set into motion Rigondeaux's subsequent defection and move to the United States.

Butler made a dozen trips to Cuba and probably has more knowledge about the island and its sports machine than any other sports journalist in North America. He goes to great lengths to tell the story from both the Cuban and American perspecitve, as well as the point of view from the athlete who defected and those who chose to stay.

"Rigondeaux was Cuba's answer to Bobby Fischer who transformed into a kind of Lee Harvey Oswald traitorous creature in that society," said Butler. "He escaped on a smuggler's boat and toppled one of the best fighters in the world in 2013 with his obliteration of Nonito Donaire at Radio City Music Hall. He made it look so easy his career has never recovered."

In addition to the book, published as an e-book by Picador, Butler has directed a compelling documentary on the very same topic. 

"The Longhaired Boxer," from Urban Madness Publishing, is the personal memoir of Edwin "Chu Chu" Malave, a former junior welterweight contender of the 1970s. Malave was a Golden Gloves champion who fought professionally from 1970 to 1973. He fought some of the top fighters of his era, including Harold Weston, Ray Lampkin and Ken Buchanan. As popular as Malave was in the ring, he was equally as popular outside of it. He had matinee idol looks and wore long, shaggy hair at a time when most boxers dressed and acted much more conservatively.

On any given night, Malave could be seen winning a bout at the Garden, talking with Mick Jagger or Gore Vidal at Studio 54 or critiquing artwork at Andy Warhol's Factory. He turned to acting and had some success, appearing the television series, "Barney Miller," a number of times. He also had bit parts in "Dog Day Afternoon" and "The Main Event."

In his book, Malave, though, concentrates on what could have been, in the ring and on the silver screen. The former boxer opens his soul and examines his often tumultuous childhood. Early on in the book, he writes, "I'm finally saying what I've always wanted to say when no one cared to listen."

Malave writes candidly about being neglected by his mother and the sad decline of his brother Cano, a former boxer who gets derailed in a battle against drugs.

While Malave had plenty of exciting moments in New York, but he ultimately goes to some dark places to tell this story. And he tells it effectively with some very solid writing. As he ponders what could have been and contemplates the rut that he experienced after the limelight faded, he writes, "Survival wishes to live another miserable day." 

Pretty good stuff from a former boxer.

"Counterpunch," from Triumph Books, is a collection of boxing stories and columns from former New York Times sports columnist Ira Berkow. The range of articles spans from 1867 to 2005 and every major boxing star is covered. Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Joe Louis, and Mike Tyson are featured as well as some of the sports biggest fights - the Ali-Frazier rivalry and the night Tyson bit off Evander Holyfield's ear. A fan of boxing really can't lose with this book. A reader can sit down and devour page after page, or simply pick out a pair of columns to read over a lunch break.

What is really cool, though, is a 1969 column about Freddie Menna and Geme Moore, a couple of fight guys from Long Island. Menna, a former middleweight, managed a bunch of Long Island fighters, and Moore, a matchmaker, was inducted into the New York State Boxing Hall of Fame this year. Some other really strong columns featured Nigerian champ Dick Tiger, slick Philly welterweight "Gypsy" Joe Harris and one about a boxer who was hanged at Auschwitz but lived to tell about it because the rope broke.

Berkow worked for the Times for more than 25 years and shared the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting in 2001 and was a finalist for the Pulitzer for commentary in 1988. He is the author of more than 20 books.

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