Natty, cogitative essays on the sweet science, often from the perspective of the small boxing venue.
Boxing, writes Rotella (Good With Their Hands, 2002; English/Boston College), “self-consciously takes form around the impulse to discipline hitting, to govern it with rules, to master it with technique and inure the body to its effect.” This is how one could approach life, he suggests, though he lets that idea sit lightly on the proceedings, a metaphorical tap. Still, there’s the climate of hurt: “In boxing, hurt is what people do to each other, an intimate social act, a pessimistically stripped-to-the-bone rendition of life as it is lived outside the ring.” Here lies the lesson: to get an education in the ring and not die from it. “Mastering the craft means fashioning a style that takes maximum advantage of one’s root capacity for hitting and minimizes the necessity of taking advantage of one’s root capacity for being hit.” Being hit results in being like the fellow whose eye “resembled some kind of meat custard with a black rubber band pulled tight around it,” or—in Rotella’s relaxed evocation of the language of the ring—like the one with “arms flung over his head to create about nine feet of horizontal British heavyweight, when a guy from Baltimore named Hasim Rahman starched him with an overhand right.” When Rotella was teaching in the Lehigh Valley, he had a chance to attend fights on the Pennsylvania mill-town circuit and in the no-flash champ Larry Holmes’s training center in Easton—the kinds of places where the fight game obtrudes into the local culture, pomp and celebrity don’t apply, and the act of boxing—the principle of defense with bad intentions—can be observed in all its expressions, with enough heart and high action to renew your faith in the game.
Rotella gives back to boxing some of its old-school, venerable aura.