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Original Issue

Cut Time

by Carlo Rotella
Houghton Mifflin, $24

The author's skillful writing is apparent early on when he
describes a bout between two journeymen boxers in the ballroom of
a Days Inn in Allentown, Pa. Rotella's lively and informed
narrative makes clear the tactical and psychological battles
between the men as they circle each other in the ring, and you
become as anxious about the outcome as you would watching a
heavyweight title fight on pay-per-view. That's the first of many
knockouts scored by the author in this vivid portrait of boxing
at all levels of the sport.

Cut Time should be read not just by fight aficionados but also by
fans of intelligent nonfiction writing. Rotella delivers a
clear-eyed report that sets aside the question of whether boxing
is good or evil and instead describes precisely what a life in
boxing entails. Rotella samples broadly from across the sport's
population: He meets a college student who takes up boxing and
gets battered regularly, follows showboating featherweight Prince
Naseem Hamed, and visits a friend who was seriously injured in a
car wreck and then becomes an obsessive fight fan during his
recuperation. If there's a hero in the book, it's former
heavyweight champ Larry Holmes, whom Rotella encounters at
sparring sessions. Holmes was a master tactician and unenamored
of flash, so it's not surprising that Rotella, who possesses
similar qualities, would admire him.

Near the conclusion of Cut Time, Rotella describes the struggles
of his late grandmother Maria, who tried to find productive ways
to spend her diminishing energy. This apparent non sequitur makes
clear Rotella's interest in boxing: Cut Time is about people
trying to find ways to combat pain before they are defeated by
it. This battle, Rotella says, is what animates every fight. It's
also what makes Cut Time an absorbing read.