A NEUTRAL CORNER
More than a dozen previously uncollected boxing essays (nearly all done for The New Yorker) from the sure hand of Liebling, whose The Sweet Science (1955) tightly earned him a knockout reputation among fans of the fight game--and of elegant writing. Floyd Patterson, who went from amateur glory at the 1952 Olympics to the heavyweight championship of the world, is the main event here. Liebling covers no less than six of his matches: a tuneup with English opponent Brian London; three brawls with Ingemar Johansson (a Swede with a devastating right but little else); and two losing efforts against Sonny Liston. The undercard is in many cases a stellar proposition as well, featuring the likes of young Cassius Marcellus Clay (now known as Muhammad Ali), Dick Tiger, and ageless Archie Moore. And Liebling does not confine himself to headliners or big-time arenas. In chronicling a brutal sport he relishes without apology on its own unsentimental terms, the wayward pressman reports on bouts between no-name pugs in London's East End, Tunisia, and other unlikely venues. In allusive, digressive fashion, Liebling pays graceful tribute to professional boxing's roots as well as its often colorful seconds--cut-men, managers, promoters, sparring partners, trainers, etc. Before being counted out himself at age 59 in 1963, he offers a prescient, if discontinuous, account of how TV began to co-opt the fight game during the 1950's. A 15-rounder that goes the distance and leaves one to mourn the impossibility of a rematch.