🥊’Muhammad Ali: Fifteen Rounds in the Wilderness’ by Dave Hannigan (2022)

What more can be written about Muhammad Ali? Ali’s life has been documented time and again by great writers and filmmakers. However, one area that has always remained somewhat obscure is the period between the end of his boxing career and the moment in Atlanta when, fragile and shaking, he lit the Olympic flame reminding the world of his incomparable courage.

Fifteen Rounds in the Wilderness documents Ali’s public life during these 15 years in compelling detail. Hannigan presents a vast number of incidents and anecdotes captured at the time or remembered by the participants. The volume of research is impressive with countless local, national and international reports quoted and long forgotten small events highlighted. It’s these local, low-key events which tell us so much about Ali because even the most routine appearance was made significant and memorable simply by Ali’s presence and charisma.

A few common threads emerge in the book – friends taking financial advantage of Ali’s name, Ali going above and beyond to make an event special, strangers being invited into his inner sanctum and remembering it for the rest of their lives, people breaking down when seeing his limitations and, above all, Ali making people laugh and smile.

The stories individually range from funny to sad and from the mundane to the remarkable. Taken together they provide fascinating insight into Ali’s unique fame, his charisma, and his declining health. What emerges is a portrait of a man who, already an icon, was deeply aware of the impact of his presence on others. Ali knew that any interaction with him was a memorable experience. He was motivated to continue to live a very public life – to use his unique fame for some greater purpose, even if at times that purpose was unclear, undefinable, or unachievable. For these reason, despite his declining health, he refused to hide away and continued to live a very public life even while all of the very things he was famous for – his speed, his speech, his sharpness – deserted him.

I really loved this book. Each individual story works as an interesting insight but the combination of so many together is powerful, fascinating, funny and heartbreaking. It’s a brilliant addition to the ever growing library of books on Ali.

Hannigan has written two previous books on Ali. The Big Fight examines his fight in Dublin against Al ‘Blue’ Lewis and wonderfully captures his impact and aura during his prime. Drama in the Bahamas recounts Ali’s heartbreaking final fight against Trevor Burbank in the Bahamas and captures the tragedy of the last years of his boxing career. Fifteen Rounds in the Wilderness is another wonderful book which captures a very different, yet just as compelling, phase of Ali’s life.

Fifteen Rounds in the Wilderness is published by Pitch Publishing on 20 June 2022.

🥊’Fighting for Survival: My Journey Through Boxing Fame, Abuse, Murder, and Resurrection’ by Christy Martin with Ron Borges (2022)

Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano recently made history as the first women to headline a fight card at Madison Square Garden. They put on an exhibition of courage, skill, and passion that made it one of the best fights I’ve ever seen. It’s no exaggeration to say that such an occasion would not have happened without trailblazers like Christy Martin who, among many other achievements, fought in the first ever women’s boxing match at the Garden.

Martin, nicknamed “The Coal Miner’s Daughter,” grew up in West Virginia, and began boxing after winning a ‘ToughMan’ amateur competition. She was eventually signed by Don King and became a regular on the undercard of Mike Tyson’s sell-out fights. After a particularly bloody fight with Ireland’s Deirdre Gogarty, she became a household name in the USA and began earning purses of over $100,000 per fight – vastly more than her contemporaries and more than many male fighters.

The bloody nose that launched her, and women’s boxing, into the mainstream

Behind the scenes however, Martin was struggling desperately. Facing rejection by her family for being gay, she had married her trainer, Jim Martin, who was abusive and manipulative. The book recounts countless examples of Martin’s constant emotional, and occasionally physical, abuse. As her career ended, she became addicted to cocaine as her husband found another way to control her. Christy would remain unable to bring herself to leave Jim Martin until he tried to kill her – a crime for which he is currently in prison and which provided her with the necessary catalyst to seek help.

As well as recounting her remarkable career, Fighting for Survival is Christy Martin’s chance to seize control of her own life narrative. She uses the book to explain the choices she made, many of which seem inexplicable when not placed firmly in the context of her abusive relationship. While the detail can be at times overwhelming, it is clearly important to Martin to be unequivocal in highlighting how Martin treated her. The book is also Christy’s attempt to provide a beacon of hope for other sufferers of abuse and those who may be struggling with their sexuality. Throughout the book she offers advice and compassion for those who might be struggling.

Fighting for Survival is a brutally honest book which can be difficult to read at times. I found the boxing story at it’s core completely fascinating and a YouTube binge of Martin’s fights is highly recommended. Martin also constantly found herself on the edge of a big headline, Forrest Gump style, as she was on the fight card on some boxing’s strangest nights – when Tyson bit Hollyfield’s ear, when Tommy Morrison tested positive for Aids and the night Tupac Shakur was shot after a Tyson fight amongst others. She also encountered many of the great and the good of boxing along the way.

Much like Martin’s fighting style, Fighting for Survival is powerful and holds nothing back. She writes as she fought – by laying all her cards on the table and scoring a knockout success.

Fighting for Survival will be published on June 22nd by Rowman and Littlefield.