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Book review: Championship Rounds – Round Three, by Bernard Fernandez  

Fighters Network
16
Feb

After more than a century of history, only a few cynical minds could possibly view boxing merely as the act of having two people trading blows inside a roped enclosure. Those unfortunate souls, who probably see Dostoyevsky’s novels as nothing but a clever combination of paper and ink, should not concern us.

For everyone else, there is an ample library of books that describe boxing as the enormous ecosystem of human endeavors, from the most questionable to the most glorious. And Bernard Fernandez’s compendium of his best work is an essential part of that library for those who wish to understand the sport’s journey through the ages.

Through his many decades as a boxing scribe, Fernandez did not simply limit himself to stopping by training camps, transcribing comments from press conferences or covering fights. Instead, his search for a good story took him on a remarkable journey that he has fortunately decided to share in the form of several books, all named “Championship Rounds”. Now, the third installment of that saga aptly named “Round Three” is available.

The diversity and the quality of the stories shared in this book are nothing short of fascinating.



In Chapter One (“His Enthusiasm Lives On”) a touching remembrance of Butch Cummings, Fernandez shows what a gifted storyteller he is. In “Long Goodbyes”, Fernandez paints a thorough portrait of all the right and wrong reasons that lead fighters to return to action. In “Futile Gesture…” he discusses the Donaire brother’s heartbreak in the early portion of their careers.

“Boxing Needs to Co-sell Its Product” is a nuts-and-bolts analysis of the industry that is understandable by anyone. And his profile of Cosell is impeccable, a portrait of an era in which boxing didn’t shy away from controversy, but rather fostered it and promoted it in the name of social change in one of the most challenging times in America.

“Dancing to a New Tune” is a funny and quirky take on Holyfield taking dancing lessons to improve his footwork. “Card Carriers” is a eulogy of the club fighter as working class hero, and “Orlando Cruz’s Longest Journey” is a touching feature on one of boxing’s first-ever openly gay practitioners.

As in every good book, there is something for everyone. Even for Trump voters, who will find “Art of the Matter: Implosion of Trump Plaza End of an Era in Atlantic City Boxing” to be an enlightening and funny take on the real-state-mogul-turned-politician’s years as a failed hotel operator. “Damon Feldman Aims to Bring His Wild Story to Silver Screen” is about a delusional plan for a movie about the insanity of tough men contests, and it’s a must-read. “Gary Shaw’s Version of Conor McGregor Was Kimbo Slice” is a masterfully sarcastic and often hilarious take on the whole no-holds-barred combat sports craze that I particularly loved as a recovering former Kimbo fan (cringe, I know).

And that’s just the first section of the book.

Whenever appropriate, Fernandez adds an epilogue that puts those stories in context and updates them, and he exploits that device with good taste, and not seeking to rewrite his own stuff or remedy old errors.

Throughout the book, Fernandez’s rate of details-per-square-inch is amazing. His pieces pack so much information that it would take a lesser writer a much greater word count just to list every detail, and yet he manages to weave them all together in one single bundle of superb literary work. His vocabulary and his semantic choices are kept simple, as a message that there is more than enough complexity in the stories themselves to be muddying them with grandiose words.

Along with the diversity of his stories, Fernandez’s clarity and forthrightness are his greatest assets.  Putting stories within reach of the reader is what he does best, and in reading his work we immediately know that we would be comfortable recommending it to either the most neophyte of boxing fans or the savviest expert on the subject, knowing that both of them – and everyone in between – would learn something new from it.

As a Ring reader, we assume you are somewhere within that range. Therefore, consider yourself fully advised: missing out on “Championship Rounds” will keep you in journeyman territory as a boxing reader. And even if becoming a champion was never in your plans, this is one Championship Round that is well within your – or anyone’s – grasp. You should definitely take it.

 

Diego M. Morilla writes for The Ring since 2013. He has also written for HBO.com, ESPN.com and many other magazines, websites, newspapers and outlets since 1993. He is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He has won two first-place awards in the BWAA’s annual writing contest, and he is the moderator of The Ring’s Women’s Ratings Panel. He served as copy editor for the second era of The Ring en Español (2018-2020) and is currently a writer and editor for RingTV.com.

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