Peek Into the Soul of a Prizefighter—Part Seven

By Peter Weston Wood on March 12, 2014
Peek Into the Soul of a Prizefighter—Part Seven
“The Koran is my favorite book...My favorite singer: Elvis...My favorite fighter: Jack Johnson.”

“This is a book of poetry. I got it from a hooker in 1963. She was a beautiful woman—gorgeous. We’d just sit and discuss the book over tea…”

I asked professional fighters to finish this sentence: “MY FAVORITE BOOK IS…” Their responses were fascinating and illuminating; sometimes surprising and sometimes just plain funny. 

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

Read the responses of these tough guys, (and tough girls), and peek into the soul of a prizefighter.

1. Muhammad Ali—“The Greatest”...“The Louisville Lip”...“Gasous Cassius”

o Considered one of the greatest heavyweights of all time
o Won the Light Heavyweight Gold Medal for the United States at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, Italy
o National AAU Light Heavyweight champion in 1959 and 1960
o Named Ring Magazine Fighter of the Year for 1963, 1974, 1975 and 1978
o Named Boxing Writers Association of America Fighter of the Year for 1965, 1974 and 1975
o Won the Boxing Writers’ Association of America James J. Walker Memorial Award for 1984
o Proclaimed the “Fighter of the Decade” (1970s) by The Ring magazine
o Named “Athlete of the Century” by GQ magazine
o Named Sports Illustrated’s “Sportsman of the 20th Century”
o Named BBC’s “Sports Personality of the Century”
o Ali was so popular that when he lost his first fight with Joe Frazier, his loss indirectly led to four deaths. During the bout itself in New York, two spectators died of heart attacks. In Malaysia, Abdul Ghani Bachik was reported to have leaped up from his chair while watching the fight on paid television and shouted, “My God, Cassius Clay has fallen!” He then suffered a fatal heart attack. In Milan, Italy, Erio Borghisiani was found dead in front of his television, hours after viewing the fight on paid television.
o Won 56 (KO 37) + lost 5 (KO 1) + drawn 0 = 61

Muhammad Ali’s Favorite Book: “The Koran”

“The Koran is my double favorite book…My favorite movie: “Shane”...My favorite song: ‘I Can’t Stand It’ by James Brown…My favorite singer: Elvis…My favorite fighter: Jack Johnson…My favorite food: Lamb chops (and bean pie)...My favorite candy: Baby Ruth—& that’s the truth!”

2. “Smokin” Joe Frazier—World Heavyweight Champion (1970-73)

o Named The Ring magazine “Progress of the Year Fighter” for 1966
o Named Ring Magazine “Fighter of the Year” for 1967, 1970 and 1971
o New York State World Heavyweight Champion (1968-70)
o Defeated Muhammad Ali (W 15)
o Defeated George Chuvalo (TKO 4)
o Defeated Oscar Bonavena (2x) (SD 10) & (W 15)
o Defeated Eddie Machen (TKO 10)
o Defeated Doug Jones (TKO 4)
o Defeated Buster Mathis (TKO 11)
o Defeated Jerry Quarry (2x) (TKO 7) & (TKO 5)
o Defeated Jimmy Ellis (TKO 5)
o Defeated Joe Bugner (W 12)
o Won the Heavyweight Gold Medal for the United States at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo
o Won 32 (KO 27) + Lost 4 (KO 3) + Draw 1 = 37 Bouts

“Smokin” Joe Frazier’s Favorite Book: “Tarzan” by Edgar Rice Burroughs

“My favorite book was ‘Tarzan’ by Edgar Rice Burroughs! I liked the fact Tarzan was always on the side of the right thing to be done, and even when fighting the animals he did not kill them.”

3. George Chuvalo—Canadian Heavyweight Champion from 1958 to 1977

o Canadian Amateur Champion 1956
o Fought “1965 Fight of the Year” Ring Magazine
o Fought Muhammad Ali (twice) & Ernie Terrell for titles
o Defeated Yvonne Durelle (KO 12)
o Defeated Bob Cleroux (W 12)
o Defeated Willi Besmanoff (3x)(TKO 3)(TKO 3)(TKO 4)
o Defeated Jerry Quarry (KO 7)
o Defeated Manuel Ramos (TKO 5)
o Defeated “Big Cat” Cleveland Williams (W 10)
o Acted in numerous movies
o Inducted into World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1997

George Chuvalo’s Favorite Book: “The Prophet” by Khalil Gibran

“This is a book of poetry. The words are about love, friendship, beauty, honesty, morality and courage. The words are like they’re coming out of God’s mouth. Sometimes you need to read it twice to fully digest it. I got it from a hooker in 1963—Henry Hanks’ lady friend. She was a beautiful woman—gorgeous. I didn’t do anything with her. We’d just sit and discuss the book over tea at Glenn’s Pharmacy, at the corner of Woodward and Alexandrian Streets, the main drag in Detroit.”

4. Boone “Boom Boom” Kirkman—Rugged Heavyweight Contender in 1970s

o 1964 Northwest Heavyweight Champion
o 1965 National AAU Heavyweight Champion
o Defeated Doug Jones (TKO 6)
o Defeated Eddie Machen (TKO 3)
o Defeated Jimmy Ellis (SD 10)
o Defeated Jose “King” Roman (W 10)
o Defeated Ron Stander (KO 7)
o Defeated Amos “Big Train” Lincoln (KO 2)
o Defeated Jack O’Halloran (W 10)
o After retiring from the ring, Kirkman enjoyed a successful career working for The Boeing Company.
o Won 36 (KO 25) + Lost 6 (KO 5) = 42 Bouts

Boone “Boom Boom” Kirkman’s Favorite Book: “Somebody Up There Likes Me” by Rocky Graziano & Rowland Barber

“I started boxing because of all those medals & the pig-skin leather-sleeved jackets I saw the fighters wearing when my dad brought me to The Golden Gloves. And I was mesmerized by reading the book ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’ about Rocky Graziano. There was just something special about boxing.”

5. George Logan—Tough Heavyweight Contender in 1960s

o Birth Date 1936-08-19
o Defeated Ezzard Charles (KO 8)
o Defeated Willi Besmanoff (W 10)
o Defeated Pete Rademacher (KO 2)
o Defeated Alejandro Lavorante (SD 10)
o Logan became a Boise, Idaho policeman after his career ended, and was a popular officer with kids on the streets.
o Won 25 (KO 16) + lost 9 (KO 4) + drawn 2 = 36

George Logan’s Favorite Book: “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain

“I have dyslexia so reading was difficult. Back then, no one knew anything about dyslexia or things like that, so I struggled. But I graduated ‘cause I worked hard. My favorite book? Me? Ha!...‘Huck Finn.’ I liked that book. Probably read it back in 5th grade.”

6. Scott “The Fighting Frenchman” Ledoux—Durable Heavyweight Contender in the 1970s

o Upper Midwest Golden Glove Champion in 1968 and 1973
o Defeated Marty Monroe (W 10)
o Defeated Terry Daniels (KO 6)
o Defeated Ron Stander (W 10)
o Defeated Larry Middleton (W 10)
o Defeated James J. Beattie (TKO 3)
o Ledoux claims to have fought or sparred with eleven former world champions.
o In retirement, Ledoux has worked as a boxing analyst for ESPN2’s ESPN Tuesday Night Fights.
o In November 2004 he was elected county commissioner of Anoka, Minnesota.
o In July 2006 he became the head of the newly recreated Minnesota State Boxing Commission.

Scott “The Fighting Frenchman” Ledoux’s Favorite Book: “The Call of the Wild” by Jack London

“I loved how the author got me—when I read it in the 5th or 6th grade—into the mind of a wolf! How many times do you get the chance to crawl into the mind of a wild animal? That’s a pretty neat trick! Well, London was definitely one of our great American writers. This book has always stayed with me. It’s classic.”

7. Vito Antuofermo—WBA & WBC Middleweight Champion June 30, 1979 – March 16, 1980—Defeated Hugo Corro

o European BU Light Middleweight Champion, 1976
o Defeated Emile Griffith (UD 10)
o Defeated Eugene Hart (KO 5)
o Defeated Eckhard Dagge (W 15)
o Won the 1970 147lb New York Golden Gloves Sub-Novice Championship
o In 1971 Antuofermo was defeated by future light heavyweight champion Eddie (Mustapha Muhammad) Gregory in the 147lb NYC Open division finals.
o Professional Actor – Appeared in “The Godfather 3” and “The Sopranos” (as Bobby Zanone)
o Owns a successful landscaping company in Long Island
o Won 50 (KO 21) + lost 7 (KO 5) + drawn 2 = 59

Vito Antuofermo’s Favorite Book: “Confessions of a Fighter” by Peter Wood
“I’m not a reader, but this book was brilliant! It’s about The New York Golden Gloves—the best damn tournament going! Wood writes like I used to fight—with blood, guts and courage.”

8. Stephen B. Acunto—Boxing Historian & College Professor

o Boxed exhibitions with champions: Henry Armstrong, Tony Canzoneri, Jimmy McLarnin, Lou Ambers
o Member of the NYS Athletic Commission since 1945
o Head boxing coach at Westchester Community College
o Founder of AAIB—American Association for the Improvement of Boxing, (with Rocky Marciano)
o Inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1988
o Author of “Champions—Boxing Guide” (also written in Spanish)

Stephen B. Acunto’s Favorite Book: “A Man Must Fight” by Gene Tunney

“Man has fought from the beginning of time—he will fight till the end of time. Tunney’s autobiography is as rare as it is wonderful. Only 550 copies were printed in the first edition, but I’ll always remember the impact—like a punch—this book has had upon me.”

9. Yvonne Tara Caples—IFBA Jr. Flyweight World Champion (July 2003 – November 2004)

o Lost her bid for WBC Female light flyweight title 2005
o 1999 National Golden Gloves Champion
o Holds two masters degrees
o Former teacher at Silverado High School, CA
o Won 7 (KO 1) + lost 11 (KO 1) + drawn 2 = 21

Yvonne Tara Caples’s Favorite Book: “Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston

“This book is a wonderful story of a mulatto woman’s amazing journey through life and her personal journey to discover who she is. Any reader can identify with this incredible woman. It’s touching, well written, and relates to us all.”

10. Reggie Jones—Slick New Jersey Middleweight in the 1970s

o Represented America at the 1972 Summer Olympics in the light middleweight division (Eliminated by Valeri Tregubov of the Soviet Union)
o Won the bronze medal at the 1971 Pan American Games
o Two-time Virginia Golden Gloves Middleweight Champion
o Pro record: 16 wins, 9 losses and 1 draw

Reggie Jones’s Favorite Book: “Ray Charles” by Carin T. Ford

“I was 15 years old when I read this remarkable book about Ray Charles. His personal story really touched me. Ray, before becoming blind, was a kid who loved to run. He ran everywhere, just like any healthy kid. But then he was diagnosed with some physical ailment. His mother said she’d take him to the doctor, but she never did. So he went blind. Poor kid. He was a victim of motherly neglect, poverty and lack of education. Shame. Although he became a success, his life journey was bumpy with heroin addiction and a lot of other rough things.”

11. Chuck Walker—1975 National AAU Light Middleweight Champion

o The 156-pound representative for the United States at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games.
o Defeated Cecil Pettigrew (UD 10)
o Fought Everett Martin (Draw 10)
o After quitting boxing, Walker worked as a professional tap dancer.
o As of 2006, he is a film director and producer.
o Wrote the screenplay for “The Man Who Came Back” (2008 Cannes Film Festival)
o Pro Record: won 7 (KO 3) + lost 1 (KO 1) + drawn 1 = 9

Chuck Walker’s Favorite Book: “Treasure Island” by Robert Louis Stevenson

“This book just caught my fancy. I musta been 7 or 8 years old when I picked it up. Somehow, reading ‘Treasure Island’ might just have stimulated my movie career. Maybe it’s all about adventure—being a prizefighter, then a tap dancer, then a movie producer, and then a writer. However, the usual type of books I normally read are autobiographies. People in the arts, successful movie stars. I enjoy learning about other people’s adventures. Reading is learning.”

12. Thomas Hauser—Author

o Thomas Hauser has written more than 30 books. His boxing books include:
o “The Lost Legacy of Muhammad Ali”
o “A Year at the Fights”
o “Chaos, Corruption, Courage and Glory”
o “A Year In Boxing”
o “The Greatest Sport of All”
o “The View From Ringside”
o “The Black Lights”
o “A Beautiful Sickness”
o “Muhammad Ali: In Perspective”
o “Straight Writes and Jabs—An Insider’s Look at Another Year in Boxing”

Thomas Hauser’s Favorite Book: “The Grapes of Wrath”

“I’m partial to Mark Twain. But my favorite book is John Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath.’ It’s beautifully written, captures a range of human emotions, and speaks directly to the social issues of its time in a way that makes it as relevant today as it was in 1939 when it was first published.”

13. Buck “Tombstone” Smith—Prolific Oklahoma City Battler

o Fought Julio Cesar Chavez, Mark Breland & Buddy McGirt
o Smith has more wins than any fighter since Archie Moore and Willie Pep retired in the 1960’s.
o Won 179 (KO 120) + Lost 19 (KO 8) + Drawn 2 = 224

Buck “Tombstone” Smith’s Favorite Book: “Little Platinum Book of CHA-CHING!” by Jeffrey Gitmer

“Jeffrey Gitomer’s ‘Little Platinum Book of CHA-CHING!’ is full of powerful and clever principles for personal and business success.”

14. Bob Duffy—Boxing Promoter

o Ring Promotions

Bob Duffy’s Favorite Book: “Rich Man, Poor Man” by Irwin Shaw

“What a fantastic period piece situated after WW2. I read it 30 years ago but still remember it well. It brought me to Greenwich Village, to Hollywood, and to the Mediterranean. This is a timeless classic.”

15. Emanuel Steward—Boxer, Trainer & Commentator for HBO Boxing

o Inductee of International Boxing Hall of Fame & World Boxing Hall of Fame
o Compiled a record of 95 wins and 3 losses as an amateur boxer
o Won the 1963 national Golden Gloves tournament in the bantamweight division
o Head Coach at Kronk Gym
o HBO boxing commentator
o Has trained 41 world champions, including Tommy Hearns, Michael Moorer, Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, Tony Tucker & Wladimir Klitschko
o Other world champions who have trained or sought Steward’s guidance at some point of their career are:
o Hilmer Kenty & Milton McCrory
o Mike McCallum & Dennis Andries
o Jimmy Paul & Duane Thomas
o John David Jackson & Steve McCrory
o Gerald McClellan & Wilfredo Benitez
o Julio César Chávez & Oscar de la Hoya
o James Toney & Jermain Taylor
o Kermit Cintron & Andy Lee
o Naseem Hamed

Emanuel Steward’s Favorite Book: “The Other Side of Midnight” by Sidney Sheldon

“I couldn’t put it down. I remember I had to go to the gym, but I just had to finish it—it was that good! It was about two guys—one white, the other black—and how their lives grew closer together despite problems. I enjoyed ‘Animal Farm’ too. There are so many books I’ve enjoyed, but these days, I’m reading more business contracts than books. I might be reading as many books as I used to, but I do read 3-4 newspapers a day—two Detroit papers, the ‘USA Today,’ a New York paper, and a Las Vegas paper. It’s my job as a human being to know what’s going on in the world.”

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Muhammad Ali Tribute (Gorilla Productions)

Smokin' Joe Frazier Story - Never Shown Before

Muhammad Ali-George Chuvalo Documentary ("The Last Round")

George Foreman vs Boone Kirkman (Nov. 18, 1970)

Marvin Hagler vs Vito Antuofermo I

Yvonne Caples Boxing Highlights

Buck Smith - Kirkland Laing

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  1. bikermike 05:14pm, 03/14/2014

    many a promise was made ...when couples went to those Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies came out….at least forty percent of those promises were kept…..My Mom had five kids….f’rinstance….My Dad looked a lot like Tarzan..but with much more chest hair…bull of a man….

    The soul of a prize fighter….
    ...I saw the great Arguello .give his best and had to retire…

    ...I saw Meldrick Taylor…give his best ..and tried to wave off the punishment..and had to fold….
    ..any of you guys ever see the Pep Saddler fights..
    ...what made Ali keep himself in as close condition as he could ..when he was barred from plying his trade for three years…get up in the morning and run…do it again at the end of the day…and work out as often as you could…FOR THREE YEARS…with no return

    Soul of a prize fighter is a great series…...but still….what makes a fighter get to the heights and stay there…..

    I look forward to the next article from Peter Wood

  2. bikermike 05:05pm, 03/14/2014

    Hey Ted…..

    My Mother…a once champion amateur swimmer and basketball player….and was quite a dish in her day…

    Anyway…Mother taught us all that there was only ONE TARZAN…The one and only Johnny Weissmuller…!!!

    The guy won Olympic and World TITLES in Swimming…and had the body of a bronze god…......and the one and only guy to master the startling PRIMAL SCREAM of the Great Apes….I can hear it today…..

    as for peeking into the soul of a Prize Fighter….;..Great read…..wonder what James Toney or Roberto Duran would have answered….

  3. Ted 03:41pm, 03/13/2014

    Chicagoan, legendary swimmer, and Lane Tech HS grad Johnny Weissmuller is the ONLIIEST Tarzan!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Eric 02:33pm, 03/13/2014

    @nicolas…Wasn’t aware of Mr. Scott or have I watched any of his movies. Will check some out. Perhaps, I relate or favor Henry and Ely because they were playing the Lord of the Jungle, back in my day when I was growing up. Just as I would always choose Eastwood over John Wayne. Probably a generational thing. Mike Henry was built how you would imagine Tarzan should be built. Read that Henry turned down the televison series that Ely would star in because he received a vicious bite on his cheek from a chimpanzee while filming. As we all know, those chimps can be mean and nasty sometimes.

  5. nicolas 11:53am, 03/13/2014

    Eric: What about Gordon Scott.

  6. Eric 12:24pm, 03/12/2014

    I think former NFL linebacker Mike Henry was the best Tarzan. I’d pick Ron Ely second.

  7. nicolas 11:49am, 03/12/2014

    First mistake is about Sidney Sheldon’s “The Other Side Of Midnight”. It is not about two men, one black and one white. Either Stewart had it wrong, or maybe Stewart liked that book to, but it was another book that he enjoyed. As for Joe Frazier, nothing wrong with Frazier liking Tarzan, I know of many black people who enjoyed that, but he would be incorrect to suggest that Burroughs Tarzan was doing right things. He basically as Lord Greystoke gets rich by taking out some Gold from some lost city, and having other blacks take it out for him as I remember. He is basically I guess a thief. It has been a long time since I read those stories, so I might be a little off. But even in the books he killed other apes, and he even kills African Natives because he hates them for killing his ape mother. I think Frazier if this is what he said was confusing it with the movies.

  8. Eric 11:24am, 03/12/2014

    Wonder if Sly Stallone was aware of Frazier’s fondness for reading about Tarzan?  Frazier had made claims that Stallone “borrowed” bits of his training like running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art , and pounding sides of beef in making some of the “Rocky” movies. I remember Rocky was reading paperback copies of Tarzan in Rocky II to Adrian to sharpen his reading skills. Coincidence? Never read any of the Tarzan books but I remember Tarzan would “kill” lions and crocodiles with his knife in the movies and television programs.

  9. Bob 09:18am, 03/12/2014

    Another great compilation. My favorite was George Chuvalo, not because of who he got the book from, despite that being a colorful aside, but his telling us where, when and with whom he was reading and discussing the book in the early 1960s, which was the cusp of major social upheavals.  The eternally youthful Chuvalo is an immensely interesting and intelligent man who would have been ahead of his time in any era. I also loved the fact that Joe Frazier, one of the most aggressive fighters in history, admired Tarzan for never killing the animals when he fought them. Most importantly, it’s great to hear from all these talented and unique individuals what book has stayed with them throughout their lives. It says as much about who and what they are as human beings, as their actions in the ring or whatever other endeavors they engaged in. Terrific read by a soulful writer.

  10. Eric 05:22am, 03/12/2014

    Baby Ruth? No way. Three Musketeers & Almond Joy destroy Baby Ruth. And that’s the truth!

  11. Matt McGrain 05:13am, 03/12/2014

    When you first started with these Peter, I was just skimming them.  But it’s fleshed out into the most beautiful and appealing series.  I’ll go back now and read through them all.

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