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Jacob's Beach by Kevin Mitchell

Release date: 18th October, 2009
Publisher: Yellow Jersey Press

List Price: £18.99
Our Price: £13.29
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Jacob's Beach
By Kevin Mitchell
Yellow Jersey Press

Sportsbookofthemonth.com price: £13.29, saving 30% on rrp

There was a time, not too long ago, when high-profile boxing contests attracted television audiences to match those of football. Terrestrial television, in particular the BBC, was the conduit through which people now over the age of 35 were able to watch boxing's greats. Moreover, the build-up to a fight could rival anything currently on offer from the Champions League, Formula One or the Six Nations.

However, the advent of satellite TV, coupled with the corresponding growth of hybrid boxing 'authorities', several of which were formed solely for the self-interest of promoters, has ensured that the sport's audience is now so fractured, it is rare indeed for a fight to take centre stage and sideline its sporting competitors. Indeed, only the most dedicated fight fan could name, let alone recognise, Britain's current heavyweight champion.

Yet did boxing ever enjoy a golden age? It's a question thoughtfully considered by Kevin Mitchell in this wonderful book which, had it been published a few months earlier, would be a serious contender for sports book of the year.

In the US in particular, boxing has always been tainted by its (occasionally unfounded) association with organised crime.

Sonny Liston, the man who (the then) Cassius Clay defeated to become undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, is a case in point. Liston was a beast of a man, absolutely ruthless in the ring, whose rise to the top was facilitated by the Mafia.

Having built a long criminal record, Liston raped a hotel maid, but using their connections, the Mob ensured he escaped jail, thus keeping him permanently in their debt. Several commentators maintain that though Clay beat Liston fair and square in Miami in 1964, Liston threw the rematch on Mob instructions, who thereby pocketed a fortune from bookmakers.

This was not the first time the tentacles of organised crime reached into the boxing ring. In 1947, Jake La Motta, later the subject of Martin Scorsese's movie Raging Bull, threw a fight and later claimed his play-acting was so bad, he was surprised the actor's union didn't picket the boxing hall where he was fighting.

Mitchell shows how the Mafia gradually took control of a sport and established their own 'authority', the International Boxing Club, an ideal 'front' behind which they could fix fights with impunity. He conjures up images reminiscent of Raging Bull as he describes the crooked goings-on behind the scenes. But his descriptions are not conjecture: he has interviewed fighters and others from boxing's 'golden age', including Bud Schulberg, the man who wrote the screenplay for On the Waterfront. The movie starred Marlon Brando as an ex-fighter denied a tilt at the title by the Mob: his line "I could have been a contender" became Hollywood's most famous and Schulberg reveals his screenplay was based upon truth.

Mitchell has come up with an unlikely hero too: Estes Kefauver, a Tennessee Senator who began the crusade to rid boxing of the Mafia's influence. Many believe he succeeded, though more cynical folk suggest he undertook an impossible task and that the Mob's influence lingers to this dayÖ


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