- Dragons vs. Eagles: Wales vs. America in the Boxing Ring by Gareth Jones
The gaps in geographical knowledge in North American classrooms are inescapable in teaching about the American Revolution. Asking about the mother country of Canada and the United States frequently elicits England and Britain as interchangeable. Further lead balloons drop asking for the countries of Great Britain other than England. Hints about kilts, bagpipes, or a blue-faced Mel Gibson help summon up Scotland. Red hair, a potato famine, or a Family Guy scenario in which Peter Griffin’s airplane lands on a Dublin tarmac to the rustling of discarded beer bottles draw out Ireland, then ruled by England. Most likely to flummox learners is Wales, the smallest and least populated part of Britain. Its diminutive size sometimes has the country eliciting the same blank stares as when asking about a Central American nation beginning with the letter B or soccer afterthoughts Suriname and Guyana in South America.
Any literature raising awareness of Wales is overdue, as Gareth Jones has done with Dragons vs. Eagles: Wales vs. America in the Boxing Ring, a stirring depiction of sixty professional bouts between each nation’s pugilists over one hundred years. Readers will be impressed with how proudly Welsh boxers have carried their nation’s colors into the ring and admire the support Welsh fans give their gloved heroes. One is reminded of the ferocious honor of Puerto Rican boxers representing another scrappy, underdog island punching above its weight (pun intended) against steep competition. It is almost certain no Welsh author could have produced such a tribute to Wales’ ring history as Jones, given his long-standing focus on writing about his nation’s fight game. His narrative is a labor of passion that shines through intricate detail about both nations’ fighters and their backgrounds and private lives, as well as the importance of their bouts to their careers and the sport when they fought. The reader is surprised and grateful to Jones, given that there are no similar works of fights between Irish or Scottish boxers with Yankee opponents, both nations having as much sporting pride, Ireland with an even more established identity in the ring than Wales. This absence is now filled.
The author, though clearly motivated to celebrate his own side, does not let bias frame his depictions of these fights. Notwithstanding a few light-hearted jabs at the jingoism of the American boxing press, the reader encounters respect for all boxers.
Jones should inspire scholars to follow their own research interests, even ones that others might call narrow. He has provided further motivation to learn about Wales and [End Page 115] the smiles its boxers have brought their countrymen. One gains a healthy regard for how national pride in sporting endeavors does not have to bring out the ugliness of racism. In the case of Wales, the reader is touched by the meaning of boxing success for a small country, fighters appreciated long after their careers for their efforts, especially against rivals from a nation with a much deeper supply of elite boxers. American fighters who never wore a crown often disappear from the public consciousness. Jones’s narrative suggests that Welsh pugilists, even ones whose stars shone briefly, are honored fondly by their fans long after hanging up their gloves.