TSS BOOK REVIEW: Life In The Ring—by John Oden

BY TSS Press ON October 24, 2009
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by Pete Spanakos

Boxing has found a new voice, John E. Oden.

His new book, LIFE IN THE RING, limns the lessons and inspirations of boxing as seen through his critical eyes.  He is a world-class white collar boxing champion.  He has become the Holy Grail of this genre and serves as its poster boy.  This is his second book and should sell well, like his first book, WHITE COLLAR BOXING.

This book, unlike many books, doesn’t utilize the literary solipsistic twins, those poisonous pronouns, I and Me.  He stays on point in chronicling fifteen world champions including the best boxing trainers today and commentator Emanuel Steward, the uber-trainer of thirty-nine world champions. Oden examines the arcs of redemption of many of these world champions, who, despite the nature and nurture of the toxic ghetto, have achieved fulfillment and recognition.

(For public disclosure, Oden and Steward are friends of mine.)

I met the charismatic Oden in the late 1990s at a Ring #8 dinner.  This is a fraternity of ex-pugs who help boxing and boxers.  He stood out in the boxing crowd filled with a landscape of bent, broken noses, twisted cauliflower ears that look like oysters and permanently puffed eyebrows swollen by stitches, the signs of their punishing trade.  You can easily tell the fighters who fought with their face instead of their hands.

Oden is white, tall, unmarked with a handsome face with penetrating blue eyes, fair complexion, full head of white hair and he looked like a patrician Roman senator.  His cowboy Texan boots gave away part of his identity. He had a pinstriped blue bespoken suit with a Hermes cravat.  I was impressed with his poise, keen intelligence, articulation, kindness, graciousness and quiet dignity.  Both of us had the shared experience of membership at the tony New York Athletic Club at 180 Central Park South.  He is a long time veteran of global management and research for the well regarded global investment management firm AllianceBernstein.

The book exudes the human emotions of fear and anxiety.  It crisply describes the preparation, concentration, goal setting, challenges, loss, and profound perseverance that becomes part and parcel of every champion, which includes their inevitable comeback.

An epic example in the book is the present heavyweight champion, a real champion in and out of the ring, Wladimir Klitschko, an anomaly who won, lost, and re-won his title.  He has a Ph.D, is multilingual, philanthropic, and personable.  Oden and I told him and his trainer Emanuel Stewart at the NYAC gym when he was preparing for a title fight in the Garden that we helped start up a boxing program, the first of its kind, at a public school in the south Bronx with. Klitschko replied that he just gave $500,000 to an anti-poverty agency in the south Bronx.  The man has class.

Oden, whose boxing handle is “The Pecos Kid,” muses that boxing is more than just throwing, taking, and avoiding punches. It’s like taking boxing out of Plato’s cave so we can see more than the shadows of the wall.  Oden sums it all up with a laconic “boxing is a metaphor for life.”

I think he is one of very few authors whose Pygmalian instincts takes boxing to a higher level and out of the Hollywood clichés, truly a new voice for boxing.  Boxing, Oden understands, an art and a science.

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