Slow-moving, gabby novel from a British poet, about a young boxer's passionate romance; ringside action is confined to the closing chapters. At 24, Yorkshireman Dave Ruddock is World Middleweight Champion, unmarked after five years as a pro, gearing up for the biggest fight of his career, against the unbeaten American Earl Hayes; focusing on the nine months in 1982 preceding the fight, the novel provides an in-depth portrait of Dave as son, husband and lover, as well as Dave in training, turning himself anew into the man of iron every champ must be. Outside the ring he is a pussycat, the innocent who stumbled into marriage to prim, sex-hating Aileen. Along comes Judy Styles, glamorous concert-hall singer, whom Dave remembers from childhood as a fairy-tale princess; their passionate involvement becomes the heart of the story. There's a complication--Judy has a sugar-daddy, and dumping him causes her to miss Dave's warm-up fight, and the champ to cry into his pillow--but the pair are soon reconciled and thereafter it's smooth sailing; Aileen gets herself to a nunnery, so divorce will be no problem. But there's a sucker punch coming for the reader; in the 12th round of a magnificent seesaw fight, Dave is knocked out by Hayes and dies from a brain hemorrhage. Scannell uses two minor characters to repeat the familiar pros and cons of boxing, but he offers no new insights into the fight game and just the barest acknowledgement that Dave is a ""bloody goldmine""; only at the end, with the fight and its bleak aftermath at the hospital, does the writing assume genuine power. The rest is soap opera.