There is something about boxing trilogies that no other sporting match-up can quite compare to. Ali v Frazier, Gatti v Ward, Leonard v Duran – so many great match-ups required a third rubber match to settle once and for all who the dominant fighter was. The third fight of a trilogy has that great sense of the unknown – both fighters have beaten the other, both fighters have shown they can be beaten by the other, both fighters have to adapt and adjust to each other. While less remembered than others, Zale vs. Graziano represented the original boxing trilogy and Bridge City Grudge Match shines a welcome overdue light on the fighters that arguably laid the path for those later classics.
Zale and Graziano fought three times over a 21-month period for the world middleweight title. The first two fights, of which only limited video clips remain, have gone down in legend for their ferocity and brutality. Both men suffered immensely and showed remarkable courage and talent. Those first two fights both had dramatic comebacks when the fights seemed over and led to huge interest in the third fight. While it would go down as less of a classic than the other two, much more footage of the third fight remains available and is totally absorbing to watch.
Graziano is probably the better known of the two fighters today stemming from his post fighting career as an actor and appearing as a character in Raging Bull. His autobiography was a huge success and became a successful movie as well. Zale, by contrast, is less well-known today and is arguably one of the most under-appreciated great boxing champions. Brick City Grudge Match serves as an entertaining biography of both men as well as capturing a wider cast of characters including Jake La Motta and Marcel Cerdan (as an aside, if there is one fighter overdue a great English language biography its Cerdan).
Bridge City Grudge Match is also the story of a city and of boxing at a particular time. Honecker was drawn to writing about this fight partly to answer why this classic fight took place in a minor league stadium in Newark of all places. He captures the time and place in vivid fascinating detail. Overall, Brick City Grudge Match is a really enjoyable slice of boxing history. The book is published by McFarland (McFarlandBooks.com).
There is also a great 40 minute ESPN Classic documentary on the third fight which is available on YouTube and which I really enjoyed watching after reading the book.