Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

Books | Sports

April 5, 2011

A Boxing Novel's Real Look Beyond the Ring

Thomas Hauser, a veteran chronicler of the sport, brings its back rooms and back story to his new novel.

Graydon Gordian

Thomas Hauser's most recent novel, Waiting for Carver Boyd, is a simple book. In unadorned prose, the unnamed narrator tells a classic story of an unheralded boxer who stumbles on a chance to reach the heights of his profession.

Thomas Hauser. Photo by Holger Keifel.
"Some of the best and many of the worst people I've met in my life are in boxing. But it's never boring."

Thomas Hauser. Photo by Holger Keifel.

As the protagonist, an orphan from northern New Jersey, grows from an embattled high-school student into an up-and-coming fighter, Hauser reveals details about the fight game that only a man who has spent countless hours near a ring could know. Along the way, real-life ring characters such as Jerry Izenberg, Jim Lampley, and Larry Merchant dart in and out of the book. While the narrative culminates under the bright lights of a prime-time boxing ring, its most realistic moments come when we're shown glimpses of contract negotiations, sparring sessions, and tense prefight hotel rooms. We get a chance to see all the quiet corners of the boxing world where television cameras aren't invited.

Listen to Thomas Hauser's talk at Varsity Letters on May 5, 2011

In the following interview, conducted by email and edited for clarity, Hauser tells Gelf why so many great writers have taken on the subject of boxing, how he began covering the sport, and how it can broaden its appeal in the US.

Gelf Magazine: Boxing seems a bit unique in that it has attracted not only the attention of great sportswriters, but also writers who aren't necessarily known first and foremost for their sports writing (Joyce Carol Oates and Norman Mailer, for example). Why do you think the sport has attracted such great writers?

Thomas Hauser: Some of the best and many of the worst people I've met in my life are in boxing. But it's never boring. The sport has every emotion possible and neatly encapsulated drama with a clear ending at the end of each fight.

Gelf Magazine: Are there any writers, whether they are known primarily as sportswriters or not, whom you especially admire?

Thomas Hauser: Classically: William Shakespeare, Mark Twain, and John Steinbeck.
On a personal level, Jerry Izenberg.

Gelf Magazine: And are there writers you were influenced by?

Thomas Hauser: No.

Gelf Magazine: When did you first become interested in boxing?

Thomas Hauser: I was always a sports fan. Baseball, football, and basketball were my favorite sports when I was growing up. My interest in boxing blossomed in 1983. I wanted to write a sports book, and fighters are accessible. So I wrote a book about the sport and business of boxing titled Black Lights.

Gelf Magazine: Why did you write a work of fiction about boxing?

Thomas Hauser: I like writing fiction. I've written nine novels. And I wanted to explain what fighting for the heavyweight championship of the world (once the most coveted title in sports) could mean today.

Gelf Magazine: Do you think fiction has the ability to capture or explore aspects of boxing that works of nonfiction do not? Conversely, is there something nonfiction captures about boxing that fiction is incapable of?

Thomas Hauser: No and No. Good nonfiction reads like a novel. And a good novel reads like nonfiction.

Gelf Magazine: How much of your book is based on real events? Some of the characters—such as Jerry Izenberg—are actual people, while others, such as Carver Boyd, appear modeled after well known figures. (In Boyd's case, Mike Tyson.) How do you go about taking a real person and imagining a fictional life for him?

Thomas Hauser: There are cameo appearances by real people (e.g. Jerry Izenberg, Larry Merchant, and Jim Lampley). I describe them as I know them to be. With fictitious characters, I might start with personal characteristics from one or more people and fantasize from them.

Gelf Magazine: Do you have a favorite fight?

Thomas Hauser: Ali-Frazier I and III.

Gelf Magazine: Many people describe boxing as being a sport in decline. Do you agree?

Thomas Hauser: To a degree.

Gelf Magazine: What, if anything, can be done to return boxing to a place of prominence in the US?

Thomas Hauser: Change the economic model so the sport once again has only one champion (or No. 1 fighter) in each weight division and fans don't have to pay $54.95 to watch the sport's signature events on pay-per-view.

Graydon Gordian

Graydon Gordian is the founder and editor emeritus of 48 Minutes of Hell.

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Article by Graydon Gordian

Graydon Gordian is the founder and editor emeritus of 48 Minutes of Hell.

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