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Tuesday 22 July 2014

Boxing: Four Kings ultimate tale of noble art at its finest

Thomas Myler

Published 17/12/2008|00:00

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Darren Sutherland at a press conference yesterday ahead of his first professional fight against Georgi Iliev at The Helix in DCU tomorrow night.

IN the late 1970s, the world boxing scene had lapsed into a moribund state, with Muhammad Ali close to his final retirement, and interest in the sport on the wane.

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Then in 1980, as though by magic, the sweet science was resuscitated by a riveting series of bouts involving Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvellous Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran.

The four greats would fight one another nine times throughout the decade and win no less than 16 world titles between them, producing unprecedented multi-million dollar gates.

Boston writer George Kimble has documented their classic matches in 'Four Kings' (www.mainstreampublishing.com), which is easily the boxing book of the year.

Kimble charts the remarkable effect they had on the sport and argues that it is quite likely that we may never see their likes again.

The 1976 Oscar-winning boxing movie Rocky turned an unemployed actor Sylvester Stallone into a major Hollywood star.

The Cinderella tale as to how it happened is one of many stories told by Kasia Boddy in the 478-page 'Boxing: A Cultural History, a must for any fight fan's collection (www.reaktionbooks .co.uk).

Stallone had landed bit parts in occasional movies without getting any kind of a big break, and supplemented his meagre earnings by working at a variety of jobs including zoo attendant and pizza chef.

Then one night in 1975 at his local cinema in Philadelphia he saw a film of Muhammad Ali's world heavyweight title win over game Chuck Wepner.

Against all expectations, Wepner had Ali on the canvas in the ninth round and was still on his feet at the end of the 15th, a loser but a hero.

Stallone went home and hammered out a draft of a story of a down-and-out fighter who triumphs over all the odds. Three days later he had it finished, called it Rocky, and sold it to two Hollywood producers -- and a star was born. It also picked up three Oscars.

'The Irish Champion Peter Maher' (orders@trafford.com) is the story of the Galway heavyweight who boxed around the turn of the 20th century and was a contemporary of greats such as Gentleman Jim Corbett, John L Sullivan, Bob Fitzsimmons and Peter Jackson. Written by Matt Donnellon, an Irish Amateur Boxing Association judge and coach with Kilmaine BC in Mayo, it traces Maher's colourful and successful career from Ireland to the US, and many points in between.

Maher laid a tenuous claim to the world heavyweight championship and hoping to get official recognition took on England's Bob Fitzsimmons in 1896 -- only to be knocked out in the first round.

Rinty Monaghan was unquestionably the finest flyweight this country ever produced. He held the world, European, British and Commonwealth championships in the 1940s when the division was packed with great fighters and there were no fragmented titles like today.

The Belfast battler fought all the best around and retired while still holding the belts. Journalist Eamonn O'Hara has written a riveting biography, 'Rinty: The Story Of A Champion' (brehonpress@aol.com). A fine boxer-puncher who fought from bell to bell, Rinty also always made sure to grab a microphone at the finish and belt out a song.

'The Boxing Yearbook' (www.mainstreampublishing.com) is an indispensable guide for fight fans.

Edited by historian Barry Hugman, it is packed with facts and figures dating back to the sport's early beginnings, and is guaranteed to settle many an argument.

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