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Seanie Monaghan and Literary Notes – Seanie Monaghan sat on a chair in a dressing room on the second floor of The Theater at Madison Square Garden. It was Saturday, February 27. In a matter of hours, Terence Crawford would defend his WBO 140-pound crown against Hank Lundy. In a matter of minutes, Monaghan would walk down a flight of stairs and enter the ring to do battle against Janne Forsman of Finland in the second bout of the evening.

Seanie has been boxing professionally for six years. During that time, he has compiled a 26-and-0 record with 17 knockouts. He was a “project” with no boxing experience beyond brawling in bars when he walked into a gym in Freeport, Long Island, where Joe Higgins was training amateurs eight years ago. In some ways, he’s still a project.

Monaghan’s advocates characterize him as a technically sound fighter who mounts an inexorable assault. His critics say that he’s plodding and predictable. Everyone agrees that Seanie does the most with what he has.

In each of his fights so far, he has gotten the job done.

Making weight for the Forsman bout had been easier than usual because the contract weight was 180 pounds instead of the standard 175-pound light-heavyweight limit. Seanie had weighed-in a day earlier at 179.8; Forsman at 177. The Finnish fighter had a respectable 21-and-3 record with 13 knockouts, but it had been built against limited opposition.

Monaghan was sharing the dressing room on the second floor with three other undercard fighters. Each team had its own space. Seanie was surrounded by four men who have been with him from the start of his ring career: Higgins, Joe’s son, manager P.J. Kavanagh, and cutman George Mitchell.

Monaghan is the only fighter that Kavanagh has managed. “Seanie is a guy you’d want next to you when you’re in a foxhole and the bullets are flying,” P.J. says.

Higgins was focused on the combat at hand. “Forsman looked soft in the body at the weigh-in,” the trainer noted. “He has a respectable record. And you can’t take any fighter lightly. But I think, when Seanie goes to the body, he’ll take him out.”

One of the other undercard fighters – Miguel Gloria (a lightweight with one win in two bouts who was slated for the fourth contest of the evening) – approached and asked if he could take a selfie with Monaghan. Seanie obliged.

As a matter of course, Monaghan is remarkably self-sufficient in the dressing room before a fight. Other than taping his hands, putting his gloves on, and warming him up, his team lets him be. Seanie likes it that way. He prefers to sit alone with his thoughts.

“Mostly, I’m focusing on my game plan and what I want to do in the fight,” Monaghan explains. “If I had better mind control, that’s all I’d think about. But sometimes I think about my kids and the lifestyle that my being successful in boxing can give them. I have to keep winning for that to happen.”

Losing would be worse than getting banged up. Seanie is used to getting banged up. He’s not used to losing.

“I’m old school,” he says. “Getting hit doesn’t bother me. Losing would.”

Emanuel Taylor stopped Wilfredo Acuna in round six of the opening bout of the evening. It was Seanie’s turn now.

Monaghan-Forsman was a typical Seanie Monaghan fight. Seanie moved steadily forward from the opening bell, digging a well-schooled hook to the body whenever the opportunity presented itself. He got hit too much. But over time, he broke Forsman down. Shortly before the end of round four, an accumulation of body blows put the Finnish fighter on the canvas. Midway through round five, referee Allan Huggins halted the beatdown.

In the dressing room afterward, there was a little redness and swelling around Seanie’s left eye. But there were no cuts, which was a happy departure from the norm.

“Seanie keeps getting better,” Higgins said, “Guys who gave him good sparring two years ago can’t hang with him now. His reaction time is improving because he doesn’t have to think as much before doing what he has to do. It’s more second nature than it was before.”

“Seanie has paid his dues,” Kavanagh added. “It would be easy for him to get lazy in training, slough off a bit. But he doesn’t do that. He’s extremely disciplined and strong mentally. He works hard and never cuts corners.”

“We’re in line to fight [WBA 175-pound champion] Jurgen Brahmer for the title,” Kavanagh continued. “That’s our first choice. There’s also talk of a fight against Sergey Kovalev. Kovalev is the best in the division; no doubt about it. Seanie would be honored to fight him. Our bottom line is, Seanie will fight anyone anywhere for a title. Whatever title fight comes first, we’ll take it. Seanie wants it now.”

If Monaghan keeps winning, it’s likely that he’ll have the opportunity to fight for a world title. When that happens, he’ll go as far as his skills and his heart can carry him.

*     *     *

Max Baer and the Star of David by Jay Neugeboren (Mandel Vilar Press) uses the former heavyweight champion as a vehicle to tell the story of two fictitious characters.

The book takes the form of a memoir by Horace Littlejohn, a black man born into poverty in rural Louisiana in the early years of the twentieth century. Littlejohn survives a tortured childhood made worse by a horribly abusive father and moves west to become Baer’s sparring partner, road buddy, and friend.

Neugeboren dresses the historical Max Baer in fiction, interpreting and imagining his persona. His Baer is a non-stop womanizer who falls in love again and again. Good-hearted  . . . Goofy . . . Generous . . . Sweet . . . Innocent in some ways . . . Part wise man, part fool . . . Irresponsible . . . Childlike . . . Immature . . . A decent man who cares and feels . . . A fighter in the ring but not in his heart.

This is not a book about boxing, although the significant fights in Baer’s career are nicely (albeit briefly) told. Also, the title is misleading. Baer is a major character in the book. But his religion – he was one-quarter Jewish – isn’t much of a factor in the story.

Max Baer and the Song of Solomon would have been a more appropriate title.

In the world that Neugeboren has created, Baer is one point of a truly incestuous triangle with Littlejohn and his sister Jolene, who contrary to how they live and appear to the world, are brother and sister, not husband and wife.

Neugeboren writes well and puts his words together with care. Max Baer and the Star of David is a provocative and entertaining read.

*     *     *

Havana Boxing Club is a collection of photographs by Thierry Le Goues gathered together in a large-format book published by powerHouse. Except for the dust jacket, the photos are all in black-and-white.

Le Gous’ photographs strip boxing down to its essence in often grainy imagery that captures the mood of the fighters and their combat. Poverty is omnipresent in makeshift rings and the dilapidated gym with cracked mirrors, corroded metal pipes, and equipment that’s falling apart. The fighters are spurred on, not by dreams of wealth but by pride. There’s very little joy in their faces. Each photo tells its own story.

Too many of the images are similar. And it’s sometimes hard to put them in context because, other than the credits, a garbled one-page introduction is the only text. That said; Havana Boxing Club is an honest portrait of a hard unforgiving world where boxing is not so much a way out as a way of life and each day is a struggle to survive.

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book (A Hurting Sport: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing) was published by the University of Arkansas Press.

 

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