Peek Into the Soul of a Prizefighter—Part One

By Peter Weston Wood on December 11, 2013
Peek Into the Soul of a Prizefighter—Part One
"The most interesting book for me? It has to be War and Peace! I am never done with it!”

“MY FAVORITE BOOK IS…” I asked champions, contenders, and prominent boxing figures around the globe to finish that sentence…

“MY FAVORITE BOOK IS…” I asked champion boxers, ex-champions, contenders, ex-contenders, and prominent boxing figures around the globe to finish that sentence. Their responses were fascinating and illuminating. Sometimes their choice of reading material was surprising, and sometimes it was just plain funny. 

If the adage, “We are what we eat” is true, then “We are what we read” might also be true.

Read their responses below and peek into the soul of a prizefighter.

1. “Big” George Foreman—World Heavyweight Champion 1973-74

o   WBA/IBF Heavyweight Champion 1994-95 (stripped of both titles)
o   Claimed the Lineal Heavyweight Title until losing in 1997 to Shannon Briggs
o   Named The Ring magazine Progress of the Year fighter for 1970
o   Named The Ring Fighter of the Year for 1973 and 1976
o   Named The Ring Comeback of the Year fighter for 1994
o   Named the ninth greatest puncher of all time in The Ring’s list of the 100 Greatest Punchers of All-Time
o   Won The 1968 Olympic Heavyweight Championship
o   Autobiography: By George: The Autobiography of George Foreman Outside the Ring
o   Guest starred on a fifth season (1976) episode of Sanford and Son, entitled “The Directors,” as himself
o   Became highly successful with his “Lean Mean Grilling Machine,” and starred in ads for Meineke mufflers
o   Has five sons, all named George
o   Daughter Freeda embarked on a brief professional boxing career
o   Is a born-again Christian and an ordained minister in Texas
o   Commentated on several fights for HBO
o   Defeated Joe Frazier twice (TKO 5 & TKO 2)
o   Defeated Michael Moorer (KO 10)
o   Defeated Gerry Cooney (TKO 2)
o   Defeated Ron Lyle (KO 5)
o   Defeated Gregorio Peralta twice (TKO 10 & D10)
o   Defeated Boone Kirkman (TKO 2)
o   Defeated George Chuvalo (TKO 3)
o   Defeated Ken Norton (TKO 2)
o   Defeated Axel Schulz (MD 12)
o   Defeated Bert Cooper (RTD 2)
o   Defeated Dwight Qawi (TKO 7)
o   Defeated Scott LeDoux (TKO 3)
o   Won 76 (KO 68) + lost 5 (KO 1) + drawn 0 = 81 rounds boxed 350 KO% 83.95

George Foreman’s Favorite Book: “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy

“The most interesting book ever for me? It has to be “War and Peace”! I love English, and the bit of wisdom found all through the pages of the book. It’s so long, I am never done with it! Thanks, George Foreman.”

2. Hilmer Kenty—WBA Lightweight Champion 1980-1981

o   Kenty was Emanuel Steward’s first world champion; the first world champion from Kronk Gym, and the first world champion in Detroit since Joe Louis decades earlier  
o   Kenty lost a close decision to future champion Sugar Ray Leonard in the 1973 National Golden Gloves Final. Brother of Forrest Winchester
o   Defeated Ernesto Espana (TKO 4) and (TKO 9)
o   Defeated Vilomar Fernandez (W 15)
o   Defeated Freddie Pendleton (W10)
o   Defeated Ralph Racine (W10)
o   Defeated Arturo Leon (W10) Defeated Young Ho Oh (TKO9)
o   Amateur Achievements:
o   1974 National AAU lightweight champion
o   1975 National AAU lightweight champion
o   Represented the United States as a lightweight at the inaugural World Amateur Championship in 1974
o   Won 29 (KO 17) + lost 2 (KO 1) + drawn 0 = 31 rounds boxed 198 KO% 54.84

Hilmer Kenty’s Favorite Book: “The Godfather” by Mario Puzo

“I loved the book and the movie. I liked ‘Batman and Robin’ series, too. They had great teamwork!”

3. Bobby Czyz—IBF Light Heavyweight Champion Sept. 6, 1986 – Oct. 29, 1987

o   WBA Cruiserweight Champion – March 8, 1991 – May 8, 1992
o   Was a member of the U.S. Amateur Boxing Team that perished in a plane crash in Poland in 1980; an injury from an auto accident one week before the flight prevented Czyz from making the trip
o   Amateur record of 24-2
o   Amateur record of 24-2
o   Was a commentator for Showtime Championship Boxing
o   Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame inductee
o   New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame inductee
o   A member of Mensa, an organization for people whose I.Q. is in the top 2% of the population
o   Defeated Oscar Albarado (TKO 3)
o   Defeated Elisha Obed (DQ 6)
o   Defeated Slobodan Kacar (TKO 5)
o   Defeated Robbie Sims (W10)
o   Defeated Murray Sutherland (W 10)
o   Defeated Andrew Maynard (KO 7)
o   Defeated Leslie Stewart (SD 10)
o   Defeated Donnie Lalonde (W12)
o   Won 44 (KO 28) + lost 8 (KO 5) + drawn 0 = 52 rounds boxed 322 KO% 53.85

Bobby Czyz’s Favorite Book: “Silent Strength” by Lloyd J. Ogilvie

“This book is about growing up hard and beating the odds. The author puts the reader into the story. It’s true to life, very moving, and hard to put down.”

4. Mickey “The Toy Bulldog” Walker—Welterweight Champion & Middleweight Champion

o   Fought for the Light-Heavyweight Championship
o   Defeated Maxie Rosenbloom (W 10)
o   Defeated King Levinsky (W 10)
o   Defeated Paolino Uzcudun (W 10)
o   Drew with Jack Sharkey (D 15)
o   Defeated Johnny Risko (W 10)
o   Defeated Ed “Bearcat” Wright (W 10)
o   Defeated Ace Hudkins (W 10)
o   Defeated Mike McTigue (TK0 1)
o   Defeated Paul Berlenbach (W 10)
o   Defeated Theodore “Tiger” Flowers (W 10)
o   Defeated Jack Britton (W 15)
o   Nat Fleischer ranked Walker as the #4 All-Time Middleweight
o   Herb Goldman ranked Walker as the #4 All-Time Middleweight
o   Elected to the Ring Boxing Hall of Fame in 1955
o   Elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990
o   Won 110 (KO 60) + lost 22 (KO 6) + drawn 5 = 165 rounds boxed 1253 : KO% 36.36

Mickey Walker’s Favorite Book: “The Moon and Sixpence” by W. Somerset Maugham

“This was a book and movie based upon the life of the French painter, Gauguin, in Tahiti. I didn’t know who Gauguin was but I read some of Maugham’s earlier books. I met the writer at Billy DeBeck’s apartment years earlier during The Roaring Twenties. The picture had a strange effect upon me…I envied this guy who could paint so beautifully. I envied his way of living. I pictured myself in his place. If only I could paint like that. Suddenly, I wanted to be an artist…That’s the way it was in those days…I jumped from my seat…and headed straight for Kramer’s art store on Bond Street…I wound up with an easel, palette, canvas sketch board, oil tubes, and a fistful of brushes…It set me back about $200. As I was about to leave, I turned to the clerk. ‘Don’t tell anyone about this…or I’ll break your jaw.’” (“Mickey Walker—The Toy Bulldog & His Times”, p. 275)

5. Nikolay Valuev “The Russian Giant”—WBA Heavyweight Champion Dec, 17, 2005 – April 14, 2007 / Aug. 30, 2008 – Nov. 7, 2009

o   Defeated John Ruiz (W 12) & (W 12)
o   Defeated Serguei Lyakhovich (W 12)
o   Defeated Monte Barrett (TKO 11)
o   Defeated Owen Beck (TKO 3)
o   Defeated Larry Donald (W 12)
o   Defeated Clifford Etienne (KO 3)
o   Defeated Attila Levin (TKO 3)
o   Defeated Pablo Vidoz (TKO 9)
o   Defeated Dicky Ryan (TKO 1)
o   Valuev is the tallest and heaviest man ever to hold a version of the World Heavyweight Championship
o   Valuev has written a book in Russian called “My 12 Rounds” with the help of a prominent Russian journalist, Konstantin Osipov
o   Valuev eats three kilos of meat daily
o   Won 49 (KO 34) + lost 1 (KO 0) + drawn 0 = 51 rounds boxed 253 : KO% 66.67

Nikolay Valuev’s Favorite Book: “War and Peace” Leo Tolstoy

“There are other ways of preparing for the fight. Sometimes I go walking, read books and watch a few Russian movies. I like reading Leo Tolstoy.”

6. Brian “The Beast” Minto—Hard-Punching WBA Fedecentro Heavyweight Titleholder

o   Defeated Axel Schulz (TKO 6)
o   Defeated Vinny Maddalone (TKO 7) & (KO 10)
o   Defeated John Poore (KO 1)
o   Defeated Jeremy Bates (TKO 8)
o   Defeated Galen Brown (TKO 4)
o   Defeated Chad Van Sickle (RTD 1)
o   Defeated Billy Zumbrun (W 8)
o   Defeated Danny Batchelder (W 10)
o   Won 32 (KO 21) + lost 2 (KO 0) + drawn 0 = 34 rounds boxed 152 : KO% 61.76

Brian Minto’s Favorite Book: “The Holy Bible”

“My favorite book is the Holy Bible. 1 John teaches us not to get caught up with things of this world, like money, cars, and material possessions. It reminds us not to be overly proud or to be boastful! The Bible instructs us to keep our eyes on Christ, to love one another, and don’t belong to evil. Anyone who does not love remains in death!”

7. Joe DeGuardia—President and CEO of Joe DeGuardia’s Star Boxing

o   Exclusively promotes, and co-promotes, numerous boxing shows
o   Responsible for the recent “Golden Age” of boxing in New York
o   Won the 147-pound Open-Class Championship in the 1988 New York City Golden Gloves (defeated Larry Barnes by decision)
o   A past Bronx Assistant District Attorney
o   Received his law degree from Hofstra Law
o   Founded the law firm that bears his name – The Law Offices of Joseph M. DeGuardia
o   Son of a professional prizefighter

Joe DeGuardia’s Favorite Book: “The Aeneid” by Virgil

“I have enjoyed so many books over my lifetime. Reading a good book is like eating a great meal…it is so hard to choose one as being the best. I love the classics such as ‘The Aeneid” by Virgil – they are very inspiring stories.”

8.  Davey Lee Armstrong—Represented America at the 1972 Summer Olympics

o   Defeated Arturo Leon (W 12)
o   Defeated Richard Rozelle (KO 2)
o   Defeated Nick Furlano (W 12)
o   Amateur Highlights:
o   1972 National AAU Champion (106 lbs.)
o   1972 U.S. Olympians (106 lbs.)
o   1973 National AAU Runner-up (119 lbs.)
o   1975 National AAU Champion (125 lbs.)
o   Won the gold medal at the 1975 Pan American Games
o   1976 National AAU Champion (125 lbs.)
o   1976 U.S. Olympian. (Placed Fifth)
o   1979 National AAU Champion (132 lbs.)
o   2005 Inductee into the Tacoma (Pierce County) Sports Hall of Fame.
o   Won 24 (KO 14) + lost 3 (KO 1) + drawn 0 = 27 rounds boxed 163 : KO% 51.85

Davey Lee Armstrong’s Favorite Book: “A Woman of Substance” by Barbara Taylor Bradford

“This book was about 300 pages and I read all of it. With a book, what I do first is read the back cover and if it seems good, I’ll read it. That’s what I do, read the back cover first. I like stories about a kid from a bad area and then he winds up doing good in life. Those kinds of books encouraged me as a young fighter.”

9. “Irish” Pat McMurtry—Number Five Heavyweight Contender in 1957

o   Defeated Ezzard Charles (W 10)
o   Defeated Bobo Olson (KO 2)
o   Defeated George Chuvalo (W 10)
o   Defeated Charley Norkus (W 10)
o   Defeated Henry Hall (W 10)
o   Defeated Howard King (W 10)
o   Winner of three Pacific Northwest Golden Gloves Middleweight championships.
o   Won the All-Marine Heavyweight Crown
o   Became a referee after retiring from the ring
o   Inducted into the Tacoma-Pierce County Sports Hall of Fame
o   Won 33 (KO 25) + lost 4 (KO 2) + drawn 1 = 38 rounds boxed 184 : KO% 65.79

“Irish” Pat McMurtry’s Favorite Book: “Davy Crockett” by Irwin Shapiro

“The first book I read, and completed, was “Davy Crockett” in the 7th grade. I like reading biographies. I read “Truman” and I read General Patton’s biography. Thank God Patton was on our side! I also read anything about the Marine Corps. I subscribe to “Leatherneck” magazine every month and I enjoy going through it. I don’t like fiction. I like to read about real people’s lives.”

10. Peter “The Pride Of Providence” Manfredo, Jr.—NABO Light Middleweight & IBU Light Middleweight Champion

o   EBA Light Middleweight Champion
o   Defeated Grady Brewer (W 8)
o   Defeated Mike McFail (TKO 8)
o   Defeated Anthony Bonsante (W 12)
o   Defeated Joey Gilbert (W 5)
o   Defeated Alfonso Gomez (W 7)
o   Defeated Scott Pemberton (TKO 3)
o   Defeated Joe Spina (YKO 3)
o   Defeated Donny McCrary (TKO 2)
o   Contestant on the NBC boxing reality television show “The Contender”
o   Competed in 165 amateur bouts, including a bronze medal-winning performance at the 2000 Eastern Olympic Trials
o   The only boxer in New England history to receive the Outstanding Boxer Award at the Junior Olympics, as well as win the title for the Silver Mittens, the New England Golden Gloves and the New England Tournament of Championships
o   Won 31 (KO 16) + lost 6 (KO 2) + drawn 0 = 37 rounds boxed 203 : KO% 43.24

Peter Manfredo’s Favorite Book: “Lone Survivor” by Marcus Luttrell

“My favorite book is “Lone Survivor”. It’s a true story about a navy seal who was the lone survivor in a military operation in Afghanistan. I enjoyed the book because it showed what a true hero is and what happens when you prepare yourself through grueling training.”

11. Willie DeWitt—Canadian Heavyweight Champion 1984-1988

o   1984 Heavyweight Olympic Silver Medalist
o   1982 Commonwealth Heavyweight Champion
o   Defeated Henry Tillman (W 10)
o   Defeated Ken Lakusta (W 12) & ((KO 5)
o   Defeated Conroy Nelson (TKO 4)
o   Defeated Tony Morrison (W 10)
o   Currently practices criminal law in Canada
o   DeWitt has a road which bears his name in Grande Prairie, Alberta
o   Won 20 (KO 13) + lost 1 (KO 1) + drawn 1 = 22 rounds boxed 118 : KO% 59.09

Willie DeWitt’s Favorite Book: “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand

“It’s a long book, but “Atlas Shrugged” is one of my favorites. Not that I agree with everything in it, because I don’t. I’m older now and wiser. I guess Rand’s themes support what I learned as a fighter: If I worked hard, trained hard and had a strong work-ethic then I’d win. It usually worked out that way. I was reading this book when I was in my 20s during training. That book was the best of the bunch by Rand, but “The Fountainhead” was good too.”

12. Alfonso Gomez—Popular contestant on the NBC boxing reality television show “The Contender”

o   Defeated Peter Manfredo, Jr. (W 5)
o   Defeated James Brinkley (W 5)
o   Defeated Arturo Gatti (TKO 7)
o   Defeated Ben Tackie (W 10)
o   Had an amateur record of 80-10
o   Managed by his father, an ex-boxer, Alfonso Gomez, Snr.
o   Won 18 (KO 8) + lost 4 (KO 1) + drawn 2 = 24 rounds boxed 124 : KO% 33.33

Alfonso Gomez’s Favorite Book: “A Desperate Cry” by Carlos Cuauhtémoc Sanchez

“My favorite books are “A Desperate Cry” by Carlos Cuauhtémoc Sanchez and “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho. Both knockout books.”

(This article is the first of a 10-part series.)

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

1973 | George Foreman vs Joe Frazier I

Roberto Elizondo Vs Hilmer Kenty Rds 1 2 & Postfight

Bobby Czyz vs. Willie Edwards part 1/1

Mickey Walker -vs- Jack Sharkey 7/22/31 (16mm Transfer & Restoration)

Nikolay Valuev - Monte Barrett

Artur Szpilka vs Brian Minto Walka


Willlie DeWitt vs Pedro Cardenas (amateur bout)

Alfonso Gomez vs Jesus Soto-Karass

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  1. Gwynne 12:02pm, 12/27/2013

    Peter Wood’s usual insights and trenchant observations of human conduct while uinder pressure are once again an enlightening read even if and especially because it reveals that unique aspect of the ‘fighter’ as metaphor for us all. What is it about those special people in the ‘Sweet Science”? We are what we embrace in this life. More from Peter Wood please.

  2. kid vegas 10:13pm, 12/16/2013

    Interesting and very original

  3. BIKERMIKE 05:22am, 12/15/2013

    Peter Wood…..what a great article….please send us some more

  4. Eric 09:49am, 12/13/2013

    Haven’t thought of Willie Dewitt since watching Bert Cooper destroy him back in the day. Never really knew what happened to him, and I had no idea that the Cooper fight was his only professional loss. I believe the highly touted Dewitt was the favorite going in and it was pretty suprising how Cooper dominated the fight.

  5. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 07:57am, 12/13/2013

    I’ll tell you one thing….in the video above DeWitt performed a public service in KOing Cardenas, who was more than wild, he was obviously bat shit crazy….he KOd the first ref….just missed KOing the replacement ref and was way too busy listening to the voices in his head to hear the refs call for a break because he hit DeWitt on every damn break.

  6. Eric 06:41am, 12/13/2013

    A great deal of people think boxers are like they are portrayed on the big screen and/or television. Like everything else that comes out of Hollyweird, reel life is often the polar opposite of real life. Not every boxer goes around talking like he has a mouth full of marbles. But then again boxing does have plenty of James Toneys to go around.

  7. Lee 03:54am, 12/13/2013

    nicolas you are not the only one. Even before reading the article i saw the picture of George and instantly thought ‘Holy Bible. Got to be.’ It’s no surprise that the erudite and cultured Valuev would plump for Tolstoy, but Big George? Maybe the man has hidden depths?

  8. Mike Silver 08:31pm, 12/12/2013

    Pete, this is one of the best ideas for a boxing article. I have always felt professional boxers are the most interesting of athletes. Their boxing experience has given them access to insights unavailable to the rest of us. The comments on their favorite books are thought provoking and interesting.

  9. nicolas 05:20pm, 12/12/2013

    I found Foreman’s answer kind of strange. First, he says “I love English, and I am sure that the book was written in Russian. (You might find my saying that strange, but I have heard some of the royalty at that time spoke French instead of Russian.) Also, I guess I thought that his answer would be “the Holy Bible”, as he has said, that the book really changed his life. I have never read War and Peace. I’d be curious to know what other books that Foreman likes.

  10. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 01:50pm, 12/12/2013

    Peter Wood-Finally!...  I get to kibitz from the back row with another Professor on with a first class mind….first off….as good as you were as an amateur, your style was really suited for the pro ranks….secondly, I really enjoyed this article, stylistically it was right up my alley, my adult ADHD didn’t kick in even once, from beginning to end and I’m looking forward to the next installment…..thirdly, I probably heard it wrong, but in addition to his other talents, Bobby Czyz is purported to have a photographic memory.

  11. Eric 01:36pm, 12/12/2013

    Did Nikolay and Big George actually read all of, “War and Peace?” And Doug Dewitt’s choice isn’t exactly a quick read either. So much for the dumb jock stereotypes especially when it comes to boxers. Gene Tunney has to be smiling somewhere.

  12. peter 11:28am, 12/12/2013

    @Pete The Sneak—Thanks! I like the connections you made with “The Sound of Music” and Mickey Walker, “The Toy Bulldog” and The South Bronx and The VonTrapp Family.

  13. Pete The Sneak 06:57am, 12/12/2013

    Peter (nice name) Wood..Thoroughly enjoyable and (at times) funny read…As Bob mentioned below, most boxers are perceived only one way, but you’d be surprised at the bevy of interests many fighters have aside from Boxing. The ‘Toy Bulldogs’ comment to that store clerk was priceless. Another words, don’t forget I’m still a fighter…LOL…Just for the record, as a young kid, some teacher forced me to read the Sound of Music. It was either that, or get left back…It was the first book I ever read from cover to cover at the time and I devoured it. To this day, one of my all-time favorites. True, I never did reveal my fascination with the VonTrapp family with my South Bronx, NY homies back then, but I was busted and ratted out once by a snitch who saw me entering a Times Square theater to catch the Movie premier…Peace.

  14. Bob 04:21am, 12/12/2013

    What a unique and terrific read. You can tell a lot about a person by what they read. Like a lot of things in life, I was surprised by a lot of these fighters’ choices. I’d love to read more, so if you have more interviews please bring them on.  I particularly enjoyed how Mickey Walker became an artist. Boxers are an interesting lot, not nearly as one-dimensional as some people think.

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