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  • Historical Dictionary of Boxing by Grasso, John
  • Scott A.G.M. Crawford
Grasso, John. Historical Dictionary of Boxing. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2014. Pp. xvii+551. Appendices and bibliography. $120 hb.

The author of the Historical Dictionary of Boxing John Grasso, an accountant by training, came to embrace sports history in mid-life and, over the last thirty years, has been a significant contributor to the sports of boxing, basketball, football, and tennis. For the Scarecrow Press (a subsidiary of Rowman and Littlefield) he has written historical dictionaries of basketball, tennis, and football. He has attended eight Olympic games and was a founder of the International Boxing Research organization (1982) and has been a treasurer of the International Society of Olympic Historians since 2004. He has penned essays for the American National Biography, Ring magazine, and Boxing Illustrated. In the preface to the Historical Dictionary of Boxing Grasso confesses that he fell in love with boxing when he was allowed to stay up past his bedtime and found himself enthralled by the 1950 fight between heavyweights Joe Louis and Ezzard Charles.

For many years I have used the International Boxing Hall of Fame Record Book as my major boxing reference source. On receiving the Historical Dictionary of Boxing I was cheered by the depth and detail of Grasso’s work and, while I will continue to tap into the International Boxing Hall of Fame Record Book, the Historical Dictionary of Boxing is an extraordinary achievement. For example, the standard short version biography on Jake LaMotta, the celebrated middle weight, concludes with his 1961 defeat by the legendary Sugar Ray Robinson. Grasso, a most able story teller, takes us on that always fascinating, sometimes fatal, road map of a post-fight career. Readers can follow LaMotta as he appears as nightclub owner, comedian, hero, and, arguably, the villain in Martin Sorsese’s Raging Bull (1980), and finally, at the age of ninety-one, as a performer in an off-Broadway show about his career.

The major portion of Grasso’s narrative, his A to Z biography, is sportswriting of a high order. His profile of Muhammad Ali, considering the need to trim down and edit characters and scenarios to keep the dictionary to a sensible length, is a wonderful treatment of an iconic figure.

In 1996, one of the highlights of the Olympic games in Atlanta was when Ali was chosen to be the last torch bearer for the opening ceremonies and ran up the stairs to light the cauldron. The unannounced surprise of seeing him run with the torch, although physically shaking from the effects of Parkinson’s disease, brought chills to many of the spectators (p. 38).

The introduction of the book is a collection of boxing vignettes—Ancient Greek Boxing; Roman Gladiatorial Contests; Bareknuckle Boxing; Boxing Booths; Boxing [End Page 512] throughout the World; The Early Gloved Era, 1890–1908; The White Hope Era, 1908–1915; The No-Decision Era, 1911–1920; The Golden Age of Sport, 1920–1928; Boxing between the Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis Eras, 1928–1937; Joe Louis, 1937–1951; The International Boxing Club and the Television Era, 1949–1960; Marciano, Patterson, And Robinson, 1950–1966; Liston, Clay/Ali, and Vietnam, 1961–1970; Frazier, Ali, Foreman, Rocky, and Don King, 1971–1980; Tyson Leonard, Hearns, Hagler, and Duran, 1981–1990’ Foreman, Tyson, and the Real Deal, 1990–2000; Women Enter the Ring; 21st Century Boxing, 2000–2012; A Multiplicity of Sanctioning Organizations; and Should Boxing Be Outlawed? In his introduction Grasso, faced with the massive landscape of boxing, tries to cover all the bases and is, simply, overwhelmed. His outline reads more as an overview constructed around a jigsaw template. The vast majority of the content, covered in the introduction, has been written about elsewhere,and has been subjected to a superior level of analysis.

This major criticism aside the Historical Dictionary of Boxing, will serve as an excellent resource for boxing aficionados. While the structure of the introduction contains an excess of information and too many sub-plots, the tight, eighteen-page chronology will allow historians, especially, to place and locate and explore boxing within the sphere of cultural...


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pp. 512-513
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