Publish date:

Prize Fighting


This Bloody Mary Is The Last Thing I Own
By Jonathan Rendall
The Ecco Press, $23.95

How gratifying to discover that the most entertaining boxing
book of the year has nothing whatever to do with Muhammad Ali.
As the Ali oeuvre multiplies apace, British journalist Jonathan
Rendall offers a refreshing alternative: an innocents-abroad
account of his own adventures as both a boxing writer and an
agent-adviser to a fighter.

By far the most compelling of the various eccentrics Rendall
re-creates for us, with a novelist's deft touch for character,
is Jack (Kid) Berg, a 1930s junior welterweight champion from
Britain who doggedly refuses to acknowledge the passing of time.
It was not a rejection of the aging process that kept Berg on
the go, writes Rendall, so much as it was a sincere belief that
"his boxing and New York days had only just ended and that he
could reactivate them whenever he wanted."

Berg conducts Rendall on a tour of contemporary Harlem that is
both hilarious and heartrending. "Haven't been there for ages,"
he informs the author. "It must be seven or eight years now." In
fact, it has been more like 60 years. Berg is shocked to
discover that the Cotton Club is no longer the hot spot of yore
and that the Polo Grounds, where he defeated the legendary Kid
Chocolate in 1930, has been demolished. At the site of the
defunct ballpark, Berg and Rendall are suddenly surrounded by
menacing members of a street gang, but Berg blithely defuses the
danger with a lively recapitulation of his ring career. The
thugs listen in disbelief. Following this harrowing (for
Rendall) encounter, the old fighter deplores the decline of his
former stamping grounds, then finds comfort in the fact that "at
least we met some nice fellas."

You'll meet some even nicer fellas (as well as some not-so-nice)
in this surprising new book, for which Rendall won the esteemed
Somerset Maugham Award. Written with humor and compassion, This
Bloody Mary is mercifully free of the grating tough-guy
sentimentality that devalues much of this genre.

--Ron Fimrite

COLOR PHOTO: THE ECCO PRESS [Cover of book This Bloody Mary Is The Last Thing I Own