The Norman Mailer/Jose Torres Saturday Morning Boxing Club and My War with Ryan O'Neal

By Michelson, Jeffrey | The Mailer Review, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview

The Norman Mailer/Jose Torres Saturday Morning Boxing Club and My War with Ryan O'Neal


Michelson, Jeffrey, The Mailer Review


The excerpt below is chapter 28 in Laura Meets Jeffrey (New Blue Books: 2012), an S&M romance the author slipped into after he fell in love in a brothel.--JM

Other than fucking, my other great physical passion was boxing. From 1976 to 1984 when I moved to London England for a few years, I was part of a group that boxed about twenty-five fall, winter and spring Saturday mornings a year at the Gramercy Gym on 14th Street. The regulars were me, former Light Heavyweight Champion of the World Jose Torres, Norman Mailer, Norman's son Michael, and Norman's nephew Peter Alson.

We were joined by a revolving group of artists, writers, actors, lawyers, TV directors, college students, stockbrokers and even a Kennedy for a while. Most had boxed before. Some came fresh to learn. We all wanted something more exciting than tennis.

I was never blessed with much physical grace or more than normal coordination. What I brought into the ring was great stamina, fair size (just under six feet and 175 pounds), a low fear of punishment, and an aggressive willingness to mix it up. At my best I could be daring in attack and stubborn in defense.

I was an awkward boxer without much poetry, which in boxing can be its own reward. Being awkward makes you harder to read sometimes, often harder to hit and less likely to telegraph your punches. Ken Norton and Joe Frazier are two famous boxers who are considered awkward in style. Mike Tyson is another obvious example. What he lacks in grace he makes up for in power and courage. And teeth.

Saturday morning boxing protocol was simple. You'd fight a round or two, or rarely three. Sometimes Jose, our coach, would suggest a match between two of us.

A pact between fighters would be made as to the level of contact. One might say, "Let's just practice for a round or two, I want to work on my jab," or "I want to work on my defense so come at me and I'll just defend." Or maybe we'd agree on light contact and sometimes full contact. We all wore mouthpieces and cups. Headgear was available. But I hated headgear. It interfered with my vision, was annoying to wear and the extra size made for a bigger target.

Everyone wrapped his hands with long strips of cotton fabric to protect against injuries induced by punching. Wraps make it less likely you'll hurt your thumb and reduce the risk of a fracture to one of your wrist bones. They maintain the alignment of the joints and add strength to your punch. Mostly I just loved the ceremony of wrapping before a fight. It's always a tense scene in every boxing movie. In real life you are the warrior preparing for battle. For real. Not a video game. Low tech. You against him. May the best man win.

The object of our fights wasn't to destroy our opponent, but to gain advantage. The main difference between us and most amateur or school boxers was that we hardly ever went for that fourth killer punch or combination after we had already stunned our opponent with a great two-or-three-punch attack. And we never went in for the cold-hearted fifth. Knowing you could have finished him off sufficed. He knew it. You knew it. The other boxers and friends watching knew it. That was enough. Nobody kept official score because we all knew the score. It was boxing's version of catch and release.

Maybe you'd come in with a medium tap to exploit that second opening, or rarely, a third or fourth opening, but it was bad form to come back with a haymaker. Sometimes it happened when tempers flared, but losing your temper is more likely to harm you than help you in boxing, so tempers are tempered. It's part of the Zen of Boxing.

Some trainers preach that a professional boxer needs to be having fun because boxing is a job, and nobody can do a great job if they don't like what they're doing. Losing your temper means you are not having any fun. More important, losing your temper takes you out of the fight, steals your energy, and wastes focus on emotions.

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