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The Long Round by Dominic Calder-Smith

Release date: 05th August, 2004
Publisher: Yellow Jersey Press

List Price: £10.99
Our Price: £7.69
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The Long Round
By Dominic Calder-Smith
Yellow Jersey Press price: £7.69 (rrp £10.99)

In the nights leading up to Danny Williams' fight with Mike Tyson last month, the big man from Brixton had a recurring dream in which he entered the ring with the former world heavyweight champion: on each occasion, the outcome was the same, he won. The experts sneered; they had heard it all before, although Williams' case was more compelling than most. Tyson had been out of the ring for 17 months and now, aged 38, his speed and aura were fading more rapidly than his diminishing bank balance÷

Throughout the late 1980s, a number of men in boxing's most glamorous division had uttered Williams' pre-fight mantra about winning, about being powerful, about not being afraid. We know what happened to them in the (usually) brief time they spent face to face with Iron Mike. Little wonder that this superb book is sub-titled 'The Triumphs and Tragedies of the Men Who Fought Mike Tyson'.

Whereas the Tyson story is a familiar one: arrested 38 times for purse snatching before being moved to an offender's institute in upstate New York where he had the opportunity to work out before an grizzled but nonetheless impressed Cus D'Amato, his opponent's tales is a road less well travelled, until now.

In tracing the men brave enough to have entered the ring to fight Tyson and describing what has happened to them since, Dominic Calder-Smith has written the best sports book I've read this year.

In parts, the narrative mirrors that of a Raymond Chandler detective novel, displaying a level of descriptive scene-setting rarely encountered in a book where sport is its central theme: "Newspaper vendors huddled inside the entrance of High Street Brooklyn Bridge station, tabloids held down by pebbles and spread out on the covered ground beside their feet as the spatter of rain persisted outside. Beyond the station, the Manhattan skyline struggled to make its presence visible through the thick shawl of mist which had settled upon the East River÷"

As for characters, the book is brimful with them. From Mitch 'Blood' Green who, even at the age of 45, continued to seek a re-match with Tyson who once hit him so hard in a street brawl that he broke his hand. Green was a fighter in every sense of the word, a man who literally tried to wring Don King's neck and who responded to the news that he had been ripped off (again) by throwing the entire contents of his manager's office out of a tenth-storey window.

Then there's Carl 'The Truth' Williams who once fought Larry Holmes for a purse of $1.3m and is now working as a security guard at Ground Zero in New York. 'The Truth' fought Tyson in 1989, but was knocked out in the first round. Carl believes 'politics' were to blame - the young Tyson could not be prevented from staging more lucrative bouts (even though Tyson lost his next fight), yet the reader has sympathy with Williams, Green and the others. You do not have to enjoy boxing to appreciate this book because ultimately, the reader becomes engrossed with the succession of human tales dealing with the one shot at big time glory.

Perhaps the only man to have hurt Tyson in his prime was Tony Tucker, a heavyweight who was so protected prior to his bout, easily defeating a series of no-hopers, that he was given little chance of beating "the baddest man on the planet." Unbelievably, Tucker, who rocked Tyson with his hand broken, collected just $28,500 for his part in what was undoubtedly Iron Mike's toughest contest for years.

Prior to his fight with Danny Williams, Tyson declared, "I'm 38, but some of you guys make me out to be Moses." The irony is that just like many of the men he defeated, we can expect Tyson to keep coming back - and for the same reason, money.

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