The good, bad, ugly and hard knocks of pro sports

Richard Carter | 9/2/2011, 11:46 a.m.
"I'll hit you harder than Joe Louis ever did..."-Buddy Baer, "Africa Screams" (1948) They say...
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Discussing repeated blows to the head, Mailer writes: "Walls must begin to crack inside the brain."

Quoting John Lardner, Smith writes: "Stanley Ketchel was 24 years old when he was fatally shot in the back by the common-law husband of the lady who was cooking his breakfast."

Additionally, Baldwin writes about Floyd Patterson vs. Sonny Liston; London discusses Jack Johnson vs. James J. Jeffries; Mailer writes about Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman, the "Rumble in the Jungle"; Oates discusses "Rape and the Boxing Ring"; and Talese has an interview with the outwardly shy Patterson.

Of course, this year marks the 40th anniversary of the legendary "Fight of the Century"-Joe Frazier's stunning victory over Ali on March 8, 1971, in Madison Square Garden. How well I remember this battle of two undefeated heavyweight champions.

Those who saw it on TV will never forget the close-up of Frazier's scary left hook in the 14th round, sending Ali down with a grotesquely swollen jaw. In plain view, at ringside, were Mailer and photographer Frank Sinatra working for Life magazine.

In the year before the start of World War II, there was the epoch-making KO of Germany's Max Schmeling by Joe Louis in their 1938 rematch. Never before, or since, has a devastating first-round knockout been so graphic on film in slow motion.

Prior to the fight, which Louis craved in order to avenge his earlier KO loss to the German, the "Brown Bomber" confided to a friend that he was afraid he might kill his opponent. And the sight of Schmeling's wobbling head defines, to this day, the legacy of Louis, who is still the greatest heavyweight champion of all time.

Sadly, in 1951, a slow, 37-year-old, come-backing Louis was viciously knocked out by up-and-coming Rocky Marciano in Madison Square Garden. The severe beating he endured brought tears to the eyes of millions-including Marciano.