Let’s get this out of the way—I am an unabashed fan of Hamilcar Publications, the Boston-based publishing house, and their mission.
The crew over there puts out boxing books. Yeah, just boxing books. That’s the niche and they are all over it, and are owning the space, with new releases being churned out regularly. Hamilcar is the book-centered part of the Hannibal Boxing media company, there’s a website, they have a podcast, they are now and will be covering every base. The latest release from Hamilcar, Sporting Blood: Tales From The Dark Side of Boxing by Carlos Acevedo, is on my night-stand now.
I wanted to get some behind the scenes insight. So I figured maybe the best way to do that is fire some questions at Acevedo, and have him use his immense talent, as a writer, and answer queries in written form.
So, check out this Q n A with Acevedo, and his new effort, which consists of twenty essays about our shared addiction, the savage and less often sweet science
Woods Question: How are you, and yours? You are a Brooklyn resident, yes? How is your neighborhood? How is your head?
Acevedo Answer: What a time, indeed. Right now, things are at least stable, but the future looks pretty bleak. Yes, I live in Brooklyn, and every day I hear a never-ending cacophony of sirens outside my window. It is truly sickening to know what all that wailing means–they are essentially death tolls. We are likely still a couple of weeks away from the peak of this disaster in New York, and after that, no one knows what will happen. I haven’t left the apartment for nearly two weeks, my powers of concentration are shredded, and I spend most of my waking hours reading COVID-19 updates, but I can only be thankful not to have been infected and not to have anyone I know infected. Everything else, certainly boxing and my book, Sporting Blood, is secondary.
Q) Let’s start at the beginning, of sorts. Why boxing? Why cover this red light district of the sports world?
A) I’ve been following boxing since the late 1970s, when trucker movies were all the rage and 8-track tapes were just going out of style. Boxing is the one sport whose subtext has often overshadowed its ostensible existence as entertainment. And, as a writer, that’s what interests me the most about boxing. When we talk about boxing, we are talking, to some extent, about sociology, economics, race, masculinity, aggression, voyeurism. Underneath it all, of course, is the threat of death or incapacitation.
Q) Do you remember WHEN you got hooked on the sport?
A) When I was a kid, boxing was probably third of all the major sports at the time, behind baseball and the NFL. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were just bringing the NBA to the forefront. Boxing was not behind paywalls (HBO showed three or four cards a year back then), you didn’t need a secret decoder ring to access it, and all major platforms covered it, including radio, where you could listen to most of the big fights. Boxing was an established part of the cultural atmosphere. Being from a Puerto Rican household, there were always uncles dropping by on a Saturday afternoon to watch the fights and I got worked up about the one-on-one aspect of boxing and the drama of a see-saw battle.
Q) As you wrote this book, did the mission change, or stay the same? And how long did the project take, start to finish?
A) Sporting Blood is a collection of stories I have written since 2007. There are also five new stories in the book, including long pieces on Mike Tyson, Jake LaMotta, Mike Quarry, and the Wilfredo Gomez-Lupe Pintor fight. Most of the other pieces have been revised and expanded, and, given the transitory nature of the internet, most of these pieces can’t be found anywhere else. The mission has always been the same: trying to tell these tragic stories with some flair and verve, with, I hope, an emphasis on telling details and interpretation. In a sense, I guess, it’s taken me thirteen years to write the book. The idea for a book had been floating around for years and I had been approached by a few people about its possibility, but boxing is a place where blowhards rule and nothing ever came of it. Thankfully, Kyle Sarofeen at Hamilcar Publications (co-founder, with Andy Komack) came around and made it a reality. I finally have something to show for the thirteen years of I’ve been banging away on a keyboard far from the mainstream.
Q) You dedicate the book to “The fallen.” Do you judge who is “fallen” now, differently, than you did when you started writing about boxers? (And could you quickly inform us on when and where you started?)
A) I started writing about boxing in 2007 for Boxing Digest magazine, and started a website, The Cruelest Sport, in 2009. So it sometimes amuses me to hear people referring to me as a young writer or a new writer. One of the distressing things about being a long-time boxing fan is actually seeing or hearing about the sad ends of so many of the boxers I had admired growing up. Some of them are in Sporting Blood, such as Davey Moore, Wilfredo Gomez, Aaron Pryor, Ali. Over time, “the fallen” have become more personal for me, as one favorite boxer after another has disintegrated because of the aftereffects of fighting. Some other examples, not in the book, are Bobby Czyz, Matthew Saad Muhammad, and Iran Barkley. To have had this, in a sense, personal connection with so many figures who crumbled over time, often spectacularly, began to catch up to me when I started working out at Gleason’s in the late 1990s, when I saw firsthand the shaky old-timers who haunted the gym. Fighters dream about, and sometimes get, the David Bowie “dream car twenty feet long,” but after a few years the dream cars are broken down jalopies.
A) Yes, definitely. I was especially intrigued by fighters who had once been a big deal–like Singer–but who have been largely forgotten today. There’s also the fact that non-superstar fighters (like Joe Louis, Ali, Dempsey, etc.) have fallen by the wayside, or, worse, been given the Boxrec history treatment or the uncritical fanboy write-up. The careers of guys from the 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s, when boxing was a much tougher profession than it is now, deserve to have their accomplishments appraised or chronicled, and their often messy lives contextualized.
Q) And what, ideally, do you want readers to take from this effort?
A) What I want, ideally, is for readers to get an appreciation of what fighters of previous eras went through for a chance at personal distinction and for riches as likely to pop up as a winning Lottery ticket. Given the grievous times we’re living in, I would be happy just to distract someone for a few minutes at a time with the spectacular lives and careers of a unique brand of personality, one that seems almost fitting during these trying days: fighters.
END NOTE 1: Coast to coast, around the world, we the people are more so in shared space, we perhaps understand better. And, God, I am hopeful that this all will spur people to change, to want to change, to be better. Like, hello, changing our health care system, away from the model which places insurers with primary power. Those companies have CEOs whose main mission is to make money, not save lives, and do the utmost to keep people healthy. That needs to change. And also, moving forward, do we better understand now how the power of, say, Amazon, is making our lives “simpler,” but also affecting us negatively? See all those shuttered stores on Main Street? Thank Amazon, and Walmart, and the behemoths that use their size to edge out little guys. Hey, I use Amazon to, I don’t present myself as a savior, just a person who tries as often as possible to do better. To that end, here is a link, so you can buy Carlos’ book from a local book-seller. Or from Amazon. You have extra time on your hands right now—this book is a judicious use of that time.
END NOTE 2: Hear more from Acevedo, here is his hit on the Hamilcar podcast.