" . . .
He is claiming to be the real heavyweight champ
But when the fight starts he will look like a tramp
He has been talking too much about me and making me sore
After I am through with him he will not be able to challenge Mrs. Moore."
for the complete poem.)
George Plimpton’s classic of participatory journalism, Shadow box, has recently come back in print. In the wake of Muhammad Ali’s recent death, Plimpton’s boxing tome takes on an extra poignancy. Plimpton’s foray into boxing begins with a pathetic three-round bout against Archie Moore, the former light heavyweight champion of the world, in a New York boxing gym. Plimpton is pummeled mercilessly by the champ. After the fight, Plimpton decides to spend the rest of his pugilistic journalism career on the other side of the ropes.
Plimpton recounts meetings with two literary boxing aficionados, Ernest Hemingway and Norman Mailer. Recalling a visit to Hemingway in Key West with Tennessee Williams, Plimpton is taken by Hemingway’s notorious belligerence. Plimpton discusses Norman Mailer’s regular two-minute sparring sessions with light heavyweight champion Jose Torres. Both celebrity authors tried to create an aura of machismo with their boxing exploits.
The second half of Shadow box is primarily about the rise of Muhammad Ali on the boxing landscape. Plimpton covered the first fight with Sonny Liston in 1964, when the scrappy, histrionic Ali (then known as Cassius Clay) was given no chance by established sports writers against the stoic, bruiser Liston. Liston quit after six rounds, and Ali became the heavyweight champion of the world. In 1967, Plimpton arranged a meeting with the poet Marianne Moore and Ali at the New York saloon, Toots Shor’s , and the two masters of verbal communication composed a sonnet together. Moore was overwhelmed by the social adeptness of the champ, and they quickly became friends.
In the late 1960s, George Plimpton defended Muhammad Ali against charges of draft dodging, and covered his first comeback fight in 1970 after his boxing suspension was lifted. Ali was later vindicated by the US Supreme Court when his draft refusal conviction was overturned on religious grounds. Plimpton was in New York for the epic Ali-Frazier bout in 1971, a rare loss for “The Greatest of All Time.” Ali beat the odds again in 1974, reclaiming his heavyweight championship against the heavier George Foreman by using the “rope-a-dope” strategy. Plimpton, along with Mailer and Hunter S. Thompson, was in Kinshasa, Zaire for two months covering the fight. Ali was still the heavyweight champion of the world when the book went to press in 1977.