Monday, August 5, 2013

Review of "Sorcery at Caesar's"

The middleweight championship bout between Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvelous Marvin Hagler ended with one of the most controversial decisions in modern boxing history.   This book is one man's opinion of why it ended the way it did and how the winner stole this championship.

“Sorcery at Caesar’s” by Steve Marantz

Boxing, championship, middleweight, Leonard, Hagler, history

September 17, 2010

256 pages

4 of 5 stars (very good)

Sugar Ray Leonard defied the odds when he came out of retirement to fight Marvelous Marvin Hagler for the middleweight championship.  It was a fight Hagler had been wanting for many years and it always seemed that something kept it from being a reality.  When it finally took place on April 6, 1987 it was the climax of the story of two fighters who had taken different paths to reach this point.  The result, a split decision in favor of Leonard, remains one of the most hotly disputed results in a championship bout today.

The author made it known from the very beginning that he felt Leonard sold himself to the judges of the fight, not that he actually won it on skill or by outfighting Hagler.   Indeed, at 3% into the ebook, the writer noted that “Leonard had sold himself to two judges, not literally, but as a salesman sells a product, a con man sells a lie or a magician sells an illusion.  More importantly, he had sold himself to Hagler...”

This last point is important, as Hagler had wanted to fight Leonard for the title for several years.   He felt that Leonard was more marketing machine than actual boxer and that was why Leonard was the champion much quicker than Hagler was.  Leonard was the more popular boxer as many more fans knew of him or had seen him in the Olympics and many televised bouts, whereas Hagler had to work his way up from the gyms of Massachusetts to the championship.

The troubles in both men’s lives are chronicled here, although the telling of Leonard’s drug use and his marital problems were told in a more critical manner than Hagler’s.   This is not to say that Hagler got a free pass or that nothing positive was said about Leonard.   Both men’s boxing talents and personal problems are covered well.   This topic, however, does show the author’s message of how he felt that Leonard, being the more popular and marketable fighter, was able to avoid the backlash that such publicity would bring.

There are two other details made that I felt showed this book was a good read and keeps the reader entertained.   One was an incident during the promotion of the fight.  The two fighters posed for a photo and “Leonard matter of factly took Hagler’s fist and pulled it to his chin.”  It was then noted by one of Leonard’s trainers that if “a guy would take your fists and put it up to his chin, you’d snatch it back.   Hagler never did.  And that gave Ray time to check out what his reach was. “ A way that Leonard stole the fight, if you will.

The second detail I really liked that the author used to illustrate his point of Leonard “stealing” the fight is this passage during the chapter about the sixth round, in which Hagler came out dominant but Leonard fought back.  The author then reported that “in the final three seconds, Leonard unleashed the cleanest and most theatrical combination of the round….The phrase ‘Leonard stole the fight’ could well refer to this round.”   That was an excellent manner to not only report on the action in the ring, but use it to make the case about Leonard’s manner of stealing the fight.

A book that any boxing fan would enjoy, “Sorcery at Casear’s” is one that I am glad I added to my boxing shelf. 

Did I skim?
No.  Whether it was the background of the fighters, the build-up to the fight, or the fight itself, I was mesmerized by the story. 

Did I learn something new?
Yes.   Because I have read other books with more details of Leonard’s rise to champion and subsequent retirements, I was more interested in learning about Hagler’s story and this book delivered on that count.   It also brought out new information about Leonard that I did not know, although most of that was his dark side.

Pace of the book: 
Excellent.  It never dragged and it stayed in chronological order.

The research and background information of the two boxers was a good balance of enough to make the reader learn something new, but not too detailed that it would slow the pace of the book down.   I also felt the chapters on the fight itself were very good.   It felt a little anticlimactic after reading about the backgrounds of the fighters, but still enough to make the reader feel like he or she is ringside.

While the author made it clear what the book would be about and his view of the fight, it did tend to make reading the book a little more challenging to find a lot of positive information for Leonard.   This is not a criticism of the author because he did let the reader know his feelings, but I personally prefer books like this to be unbiased. 

One other disappointment for me was that there was not much detail about Hagler’s other legendary fight, his third round knockout of Thomas Hearns.   To many, including myself, that was one of the most exciting and vicious fights in boxing history.   I was hoping to read more about it in this book from the Hagler camp, but there were few details shared.

Do I recommend? 
Yes.  It is good for boxing fans, those who like to read about sports history and even those who are into conspiracy theories will enjoy this book.

Book Format Read:
EBook (Kindle)

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