Monday, December 3, 2012

the last book I ever read (The Good Son: The Life of Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini, excerpt one)

from The Good Son: The Life of Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini by Mark Kriegel:

Sharnik was the last man to talk to Davey Moore. That was March 21, 1963. Moore was sitting on a rubbing table in the bowels of Dodger Stadium, just minutes after losing his featherweight title in a savage fight with Cuban expatriate Sugar Ramos. Moments later, Moore called out for his trainer, Willie Ketchum: "My head, Willie! My head! It hurts something awful!" Moore then collapsed, never to regain consciousness. It was a horror, though one Sharnik wrote about well, turning in a class piece titled "Death of a Champion."

The Moore-Ramos fight inspired condemnation across the globe, from the pope, who proclaimed that boxing was "contrary in natural principles," to Bob Dylan, who penned a famous protest song, "Who Killed Davey Moore?" Still, none of it dissuaded Sharnik from covering more boxing. "I had a good eye for it," he says. "I liked the fighters, and the fighters liked me."

Even Sonny Liston, who, during the early 1960s, was demonized as the surly Negro thug of the heavyweight division, opened up to Sharnik. "A boxing match is like a cowboy movie," Sonny told him. "There's got to be good guys, and there's got to be bad guys."

Sharnik never forgot that, as Liston's precept would inform his tenure at CBS. If ringside commentator Gil Clancy, former trainer of champions (Emile Griffith among them), saw the fighters as cut or aggressive, as boxers or punchers, Sharnik saw them as protagonists: cowboys and Indians, good guys or bad, babyface or heel.

"I looked for good stories," says Sharnik, who now remembers that kid from the coffee shop in Phoenix as a marvelous confluence of circumstance, both plot and protagonist. "Ray fought like he came out of the Forties. He was a movie fighter. 'Boom Boom' was a Hollywood production. It was John Garfield in Body and Soul. It was Wallace Beery in The Champ."

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