Book Review - Dog Rounds: Death and Life in the Boxing Ring

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(in case anyone is wondering, I've gone for four stars rather than five purely because I don't think it'll be for everyone. For boxing fans 5 out of 5 would be a fair score).

To sum up then – a rewarding, if at times difficult read, that seems to ask us to address our relationship with a sport so many of us love. It started working on me very quickly – after some consideration I've decided not to include pictures or videos here of fights in the book. When most sports books seem 'by the numbers' and anodyne, this is something different, and I urge you to have a look.

There's also an interesting, if brief, diversion into wrestling (and if you thought that'd be light relief, think again), and even thoughts of a referee (Kenny Bayless). My one criticism would be that I'd like to have heard more from referees, but then that may have been putting a lot of pressure on the men who have the thankless task of stopping a fight at just the right time...

The last part of the book focuses on the recovery of Blackwell, and asks questions about what drives the boxers, when they know the risks. What drives us to watch, what attracts us. The author himself seems to have a crisis of confidence, particularly when Blackwell ends up in a second coma after sparring – the word 'addiction' is used, and never seemed so apposite.

The longest chapter juxtaposes the Eubank Jr/Blackwell fight with the Eubank Sr/Watson fight round by round (including what happened afterwards), and the device, which I thought may not quite work given the differences in the fights, actually does a fine job in getting the visceral nature of the events across.

You may find yourself warming to Eubank Sr, by the way – not much, perhaps, but his experience in the Watson fight, and the way he reacts immediately post the Blackwell fight (he was urging Jr to aim for the body rather than head) does seem to do him credit. Eubank Jr, however, remains somewhat enigmatic, but his attitude, whilst different, is interestingly explored here.

The effect on the fighters that were left standing is one of the most fascinating parts of the book. Obviously they were affected emotionally, but they also all, with a couple of exceptions, weren't the same boxer afterwards either. Barry McGuigan makes a brief, yet moving appearance, and is one exception – Eubank Jr may be another.

In most cases, the fights discussed were between fighters of generally similar ability, at least on paper – although the account I found most emotive was the meeting of Gabriel Ruelas and Jimmy Garcia in 1995. It seems the latter was completely overmatched, and that seems to make the story all the sadder, for everyone involved.

The author does a great job of putting the featured fights into context – there's enough detail to understand what went on, without the need for any over the top or graphic descriptions (except when required to explain the damage done). The boxers he speaks to also, generally, come across well – as humans who've had to deal with consequences they couldn't ever, realistically, have envisaged.

Hamilton 'Rocky' Kelly, for example, who, in the press conference before his fatal fight with Steve Watt in 1986, said 'I'm willing to die for this'. If you heard that now, you'd put it down to hype and the need to sell tickets. Boxing is different to other sports, by a factor impossible to compute, because of what's on the line. But still they box.