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Visions of Grace
By Jason Petock (April 29, 2004) 
Rocky Marciano
Recently I unpacked some boxes which held a few boxing books in my minor collection. I deem it minor because I could never own enough literature on boxing, even if the book and magazines spanned the upper crest of the earth 1,000,000 times over. Call it ridiculous or obsessive, but my passion for the sport resonates that deep. I’m not alone either.

One of the books in particular that always catches my eye no matter how many times I see it is from another fan of the sport. It’s full of photographs complied by Charles Hoff, and has an excellent foreword and essay collection of various writers pieced together by Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Richard Ford. It’s called The Fights. With that aside, I purchased this one for its aesthetic beauty alone, not its literary prowess. Good writing accompanying great pictures makes it less painless though. Also I don’t know either man, or receive any kind of stipend for my support, I just think that the transfer of knowledge to others is the greatest gift anyone can give – in any form.

The images in this book are frozen in time and are presented in black and white, largely because they are period pieces. They display not only both competitors souls, but their fears, hopes, aspirations, victories and defeats. The photos epitomize strength and courage in motion, and un-motion, tragedy and triumph all at once. There is nothing more compelling or visually stunning than a fight photo, especially an old one. No other sport offers this visage of a war of wills, conflicting souls on a collision of attrition.

As I look through it there’s Lou Ambers reeling after getting belted towards the canvas by Henry Armstrong on August 22, 1939, I can almost smell the cheap cigars and spilt beer on the floor. Then there’s Marciano’s elbow planted against Charles’ face on June 17, 1954, my voice goes hoarse and I start to lose it, after yelling nonstop throughout the fight. Sugar Ray Robinson popping Bo Bo Olson with a sharp right. Seeing Walker Smith Jr. in action must have been awe inspiring alone. My imagination furthers as I look on.

Jersey Joe Wolcott versus Rex Layne on July 12, 1951. I notice nothing flashy or gaudy about either man’s ring attire. In fact none of the fighters in this book have sequins, or multicolors, or trunks that are split up the sides and almost resemble a dress. Almost.

There never was that pretentiousness back then. It was all business, nothing more. Usually either man would have black or white trunks, both would wear black shoes nine times out of ten. Simple. Plain. And most importantly – real.

I turn the pages and view even more stunning images. Joe Louis, Lee Savold, Carlos Ortiz, Len Matthews, Tony Zale. Some of these names you probably recognize, others you may not. The images would be disturbing to some. Brutality and art in contrast. Beauty and controlled
aggression in still life. Two gladiators in a squared ring
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doing what we all wish we could, but often fail to come even close to. Fighters are our voice, our expression of rage, hate, love, fear, joy, agony, will, and angst. People love boxers because they do what others can only dream of doing through their wills. They break the boundaries of conventional life and everyday living to elevate themselves on a much higher plane.

I see Kid Gavilan who recently passed on, a young fighter in this picture, doling out punishment against an apparently weary Johnny Bratton. A couple of pages down there’s Pat Marcune, who looks like he’s not only in shock, but also sitting on the world’s smallest invisible chair, after being starched by Willie Pep on June 5, 1953. Jake LaMotta with a bloody face almost serene and at ease with his surroundings. Determined. Fearless. All this with the onslaught of Robert Villemain.

If any of you get the chance to view old boxing photos, do it. Not only do they provide you with a view of what things once were, but really what this art called boxing means and is all about. In all its wonderful displays and combative splendor, too. The old images that were captured really were the men’s souls on film. And they still are.
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