A former professor of English, Toperoff has been a fight fan since childhood, when his father gave him hard-knocks schooling in the manly art of self-defense and spun possibly tall tales about WW II exhibition bouts with Benny Leonard. Aware that only the ring is dependably on the square at any level of boxing, he offers a savvy, rueful celebration of the blood sport that's in a class with A.J. Liebling's The Sweet Science and Thomas Hauser's The Black Lights (1985). Toperoff focuses on the exceptional career of Sugar Ray Charles Leonard, whose polished skills won him fame at the 1976 Olympics and then a considerable fortune in the professional ranks. The rise and retirement of the welterweight champ is by no means the whole story here. The author recounts in frequently hilarious detail how he led a modest fantasy life as an apprentice sportswriter helping to cover poorly attended Madison Square Garden fight cards during the 1960's; he paid for his ringside seats in kind, by interviewing main-event losers on behalf of a friend who held legitimate UPI press credentials. The author made the most of his informal access, gaining the confidence of a gallery full of Runyonesque rogues. The inside information he picked up moonlighting from academe also enabled him to break the first full account (in Sport magazine) of the scandal-ridden tournament Don King promoted for ABC-TV. Even at this remove, Toperoff bemusedly admits to an ""enduring fondness"" for conniving charlatans like ex-con King, who told him: ""You see, Sam, I'll always survive because l got just the right combination of wit, grit, and bullshit."" Indeed, the author is much harder on network heavies: ""Like their suits and their haircuts, the ABC guys had their morality cut to order too."" Toperoff knows his way around the venal, lawless netherworld of the ring. He names names in dozens of gloves-off yarns about betrayed pugs, mob influence, and workaday crookedness, using Sugar Ray's remarkable success to define the possibilities, but not the realities, of contemporary prizefighting. A knockout.