A few months ago -- too many, to be honest -- I agreed to write about a book which was not up my alley: At the Fights: American Writers on Boxing, a Library of America anthology. I enjoyed the book and took copious notes, but it took me forever to figure out exactly what to say. I didn't want to write the standard kind of review -- this piece by Gay Talese is excellent, this one by Norman Mailer is brilliant, and boy get a load of that A.J. Liebling -- so I went more for a kind of mosaic approach of all the great contrasts at the heart of the book: that it's a venal, ugly, corrupt sport and also a powerful one. I think that is partly what attracts so may people to it, that while it's an uncivilized, exploitative racket, there are moments of greatness to it, and that, for many writers, makes it all worthwhile.
Moments like this one, which I referenced in the essay: the second match-up between the young Cassius Clay and Sonny Liston. It only lasts a couple minutes, but that's all it takes for the future Ali. He makes Liston do all the work; Clay is more content to bob and weave and duck, dancing around the ring like Fred Astaire until he suddenly sees an opening and swoops in for the kill.