My father had a soft spot for undersized fighters. It would be easy to think it’s because of Rocky Marciano. I know all the old guys Dad’s age had that shine for the Rock, the way he’d get beaten up for 12 or 13 rounds before bulling his way to a knockout right before the final bell. But I’m pretty sure my old man picked up his love of smaller heavyweights from watching Max Baer tear up Primo Carnera. Not that Baer was a small man, Carnera was just a giant. And Baer cut him down with a big smile on his face doing it.

Floyd Patterson, Joe Frazier, even Mike Tyson for a bit—Dad loved watching all of them work the crouch, close distance, and cut off the ring on bigger opponents. He was always fascinated by the angles these fighters had to use to get inside another man’s reach.

The other night, my kids and I watched an old video of Joe Frazier defending his belt against Terry Daniels, a fighter almost exactly his own size. Having never seen the fight before, I would’ve bet you Frazier’d dispatch such a small cat in one round, especially knowing how his hook crumpled big guys like Ali or Buster Mathis. And, man, Frazier hit Daniels with some serious shots, but it took him four rounds to take the guy out punching level like he had to in this one, with his back straight, knees locked, no bobbing to launch himself at a taller man.

Frazier dominated the fight, looking as average I’d ever seen him look. Made me think of something Dad always told us: David’s no hero for beating some guy named John; square him off against Goliath, though, and heart makes history.



My son hit me with something I didn’t see coming the other night. He wanted the name of a fighter he didn’t know but should, someone we should all know but don’t, someone almost.

He didn’t want somebody like Quarry or Cooney who just weren’t good enough to beat the best. He wanted to watch a fighter who deserved to be remembered no matter what his record added up to.

Without even thinking about it, I gave him Jimmy Young. I told him how Young had embarrassed Ali, shirked all of Ali’s punches and countered three to one with faster hands until all Ali could do was hide on the ropes looking tired and waiting for the judges to steal a decision for him.

Young did the same to Kenny Norton, Lyle, and Shavers, but got jobbed again by the cards. Foreman had him hurt but could never hit him in the same spot twice and had to watch him slip off the hook to win a close one. That loss frustrated Big George so much he said his heart stopped in the locker room afterwards, and it sent him into the darkness to meet God.

My old man always thought Jimmy Young was like a glass snake—slick and slippery, quick and shiny, smart as any snake, but in the end just a lizard. No teeth, no bite, no way to make all the points he scored add up to anything. Definitely almost, but not quite.



Had a day off work the other day, so I decided to fire up a Lennox Lewis marathon while no one else was around to argue over the remote. I started with the payback fights—Biggs, McCall, Rahman—then moved on to some demolitions of Botha, Grant, Golota, and Briggs. Man, Lewis was always phenomenal when he had a reason to take guys out instead of just winning on points.

By the time the kids came in from school, I was smack in the middle of some of the champ’s tactical wins. The bell had just wrung to start the Tua fight when they came into the living room to see what I was watching. My daughter only made it through one round of Tua eating jabs before heading to the kitchen for a bowl of cereal. My son watched into the seventh round before asking why anyone would even make this fight. He thought Tua was trash and didn’t even look like he wanted to be there. I told him not to blame Tua. He might’ve had a puncher’s chance, but if my old man were here to tell it, Tua was just a victim of simple physics.

Nothing a short man can do against a skilled big man blessed with a sharp jab and right-hand power, no matter how aggressive he fought, or how low he could get bobbing, or how much heart he had. Liston/Patterson, Foreman/Frazier—Pops could recount lists all day.

Giving up so much reach, Tua had to eat stiff jabs to close any space. If he crouched to get away from the jabs, he caught Lewis’s right crosses on his temple. A few of those shots, and there’s no faulting him for wanting to be somewhere else. And besides, Tua was only catching those punches from Lewis because Tyson wouldn’t do it, though the same math would doom Mike in a couple of years.

I asked my son to imagine Tua was taking an exam. Every round against Lennox was like a problem he already knew he couldn’t solve, but he still had to show his work each round until someone told him the test was over. As the old man would say, there’s nothing you can do to duck physics like that.


About the Author

Jack B. Bedell is Professor of English and Coordinator of Creative Writing at Southeastern Louisiana University where he also edits Louisiana Literature and directs the Louisiana Literature Press. Jack’s work has appeared in HAD, Heavy Feather, Pidgeonholes, The Shore, Moist, Autofocus, EcoTheo, The Hopper, Terrain, and other journals. He’s also had pieces included in Best Microfiction and Best Spiritual Literature. His latest collection is Against the Woods’ Dark Trunks (Mercer University Press, 2022). He served as Louisiana Poet Laureate 2017-2019.


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