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Boxing Column

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by JME, Jun 11, 2006.

  1. JME

    JME Member

    This is a story I wrote a year ago while covering the Mike Tyson-McBride fight. I'm trying to decide whether to include it in my clips. There seem to be varying opinions when it comes to non-columnists including columns in their packets ... i.e., if it's not very good, you look like an amateur.

    Anyways, have at it.


    Examiner Staff Writer

    So, I went to MCI Center Saturday night to record Mike Tyson's latest comeback bid, this one against a furniture mover in trunks named Kevin McBride. It wasn't an open-ended assignment.

    I was sent to record the spectacle that is a Tyson fight -- the celebrities, the garish suits and low-cut dresses, the hefty ticket prices people pay to gape at a fighter whose best days are a dusty memory.

    All of these things were readily available. The story would write itself.

    And then Mike Tyson quit. Twice.

    After six semi-entertaining rounds, Tyson fell and he couldn't get up when McBride shoved him to the canvas. Or Tyson didn't want to get up, at least. To hear him speak afterward, it made perfect sense that it required only a push -- not a jarring uppercut or a stiff jab -- to end Tyson's fight and his career.

    It was the push he was waiting for. He seemed relieved after it came.

    "I'm just not interested in fighting no more," Tyson said. "My heart's not in it. I don't have this in my guts anymore.

    "My career's been over since 1990 ... this is just my ending.'

    Tyson turned pro in 1985, a violent kid from Brooklyn with a rap sheet. Fueled by rage, he won his first 31 fights. If it wasn't apparent already, Saturday night revealed the rage has dissipated. The guy who spent three years in jail for rape, who used to snap pigeon's necks when they dared annoy him, said he now refuses to kill bugs.

    "That guy in 1986 with all the knockouts, I don't even know that guy anymore," Tyson said. "I don't know who he is."

    Always introspective, Tyson was a wellspring of self-awareness after the fight. He talked for hours, to reporters, to fans, groupies, anyone who sidled up next to him and asked a question. He didn't stop until 1 a.m., when an MCI Center worker reminded him it was a union workers building.

    It's amazing to watch the effect Tyson has on people. His press conference was an overflow crowd of mostly Tyson fans and friends, and many stuck around long afterward. One after another, they asked for hugs and handshakes and pictures, eyeing him like a savior and telling him how they love him. Most of it seemed heartfelt, too, not just typical sports fandom.

    "He will always be popular because people identify with his struggles," fight promoter Rock Newman said. "He has been so transparent, I think people connect to that."

    Failed marriages and unbelievable financial waste have left Tyson with debts estimated at more than $20 million. The $5.5 million purse he got for sparring with McBride will help, but barring a change of heart -- which isn't going to happen -- it was his last big payday.

    "When I get some money, I'll pay those guys," he said of his creditors. The crowd laughed, but he didn't.

    He said he wants to be a missionary somewhere like Rwanda or the Sudan. He claimed he needs to do something where he's helping people, but has become too stigmatized to do it in the United States.

    Regardless, he was quite convincing he won't be anywhere near a boxing ring. A few weeks shy of his 39th birthday and having lost back-to-back fights against nobodies, it's a good decision. He landed some decent shots against the much bigger McBride, but the most damaging was an illegal headbutt. He still appears dangerous when he swings, but his punching power has been sapped by time and trouble of all varieties.

    "You're smart too late, and old too soon," Tyson said. "I felt like I was 120 years old ... I'm not the fly guy anymore."

    Not even a guy who kills flies, apparently.
  2. jgmacg

    jgmacg Guest

    JME -

    I'm not sure if this clip is intended for a certain, specific destination, or whether your question is a general one; i.e., should this clip be a part of my clips package from here on out?

    For what it's worth, I'd say no.

    Reasons being these:

    First, the column itself (because it's fairly specific to an event and a very well known name, Tyson), seems dated. This wouldn't be the case if you'd written exactly the same piece about an unknown. As it stands, though, it has the feel of something I already know.

    Second: because it's Iron Mike, about whom we all know way too much, you'd better be bringing me a new angle and new information. Too many people have written too much about Tyson for too long for me to be interested in a generic post-fight wrap. The piece feels generic...

    Because, third, you promise something in your lede that you don't deliver. Read your lede again, and then note the turn you make. From your first sentence I'm expecting a sort of deep color piece about a prize fight. Then you turn me with "....Tyson quit."
    As a reader, I'm not sure how or why that would change your original premise. How does Tyson quitting alter the clothes or people or spectacle you promise in the first sentence?

    Fourth. Because the piece opens with a premise it then abandons, the end of the piece suffers. One of the keys to great writing is to lead the reader to a landing that is at once inevitable and surprising. One of the ways to do this is to plant a seed at the beginning of a piece that flowers at its end. "Find the end in the beginning" is an old chestnut of writers' workshops everywhere. I refer you to the WC Heinz piece in the original Writers' Workshop thread to see how this is done. By misdirecting us in the column's opening, you undercut your chances for a really satisfying conclusion.

    I think this is an absolutely sound piece of newspaper writing, but I'd be disinclined to include it in a clips package. I think it hides more of your talent than it reveals.

    Thanks for posting.
  3. JME

    JME Member

    So ... I'll take that as a no? ;D

    The point of the lede was that I went to write about the pageantry of the fight, but then Tyson quit, and that was a more striking story. I guess it may have been stronger without even mentioning the first part -- I never thought about that, to be honest.

    The story is a year old, but I have a couple clips in my portfolio that are that old or older. I have them in because they are what I consider my best in whatever category. I wouldn't put something in that was really dated, but I've never heard anyone say your clips have to all be recent.

    I can appreciate what you said about it being a tired subject, and that everyone knows about Mike, and that's why I haven't included it. It was the fact that I don't have a lot of clips from major events to send, and plus it was a column so it might show some things my other clips don't. Maybe I'd be better off including another preps/college story, though.

    Thanks for the feedback.
  4. jgmacg

    jgmacg Guest


    I'm a magazine guy, so I may not be your best test. Let me try to rustle up some other critics for you.
  5. JME

    JME Member

    Can you get me a job?!?!? :)

    No, I'd like to hear a few more opinions but I think you definitely made valid points.
  6. jgmacg

    jgmacg Guest

    I'm a little too far down the food chain, I'm afraid. But I have summoned the other members of the Justice League to see if we can get you some further advice.
  7. Frank_Ridgeway

    Frank_Ridgeway Well-Known Member

    I don't think readers need to know what your original assignment was. Probably the writers covering the motorcade in Dallas had another angle in mind before Oswald (acting alone?) ruined it for them. I wouldn't use the clip.
  8. JME

    JME Member

    I'm quite sure they didn't need to know. I wrote it for effect, but looking back it it, it seems the only effect was distracting. Thanks.
  9. DyePack

    DyePack New Member

    I would lean toward not using it. It's simply not a slam-dunk success.

    If possible, you want to have only slam-dunk successes in your clips, IMO. If someone reads this and doesn't agree with the approach you took, you have one less bullet.
  10. JME

    JME Member

    Well, looks like somewhat of a consensus. I'm leaning toward leaving it out.
  11. Jones

    Jones Active Member

    Jeff --

    It's not a bad piece. Don't think that it is.

    However, as was said before, it's not a slam dunk. It's decent, but not great.

    Here's the thing... Boxing writing is a tough nut, especially if you haven't covered many fights. I was a fight writer for a year, and I still hadn't quite found the right voice for it. It's too easy to be cynical about it, to write the doom-and-gloom story, especially about Tyson. He's such a familiar figure, reading about his problems is a little like being told that earthquakes knock buildings down.

    Also, because fights are such spectacles, it's too easy to try to write the whole thing, and what you end up with is a patchwork, little glimpses but not a full picture -- because you (or one) tries too hard to convey the feeling of things.

    I'll give you a non-writing example... The movie Ali, for me, was ultimately unsatisfying, because it tried to do too much, and thus did nothing at all. It was a skim job, packing ten years into two hours. For me, that would have been a better movie if it focused on one of Ali's lesser known but beautiful fights, and it told the story of the man over the course of those rounds, almost in real time.

    In your case, I think you could have written a great story if you cut everything except for the after-fight scene, the folks coming to pay tribute. Make that the entire column. Tell everything through that moment. And then you'd end up with a different view of Tyson for your readers. The fact is, he is revered by some. You'd never know that reading most columns. For me, write this fight story not as a fight story, but as the story of a man saying goodbye -- literally, to these people who have come to see him. I think that would have struck a poignant, original note.

    Boxing can definitely be the root of some terrific writing, even the best in the business. But if you read the best boxing writing, it filters the chaos of the night through a single moment; it brings clarity to what is necessarily muddled. Next time you write a fight -- or any big event, really, where you find yourself surrounded by hundreds of reporters -- find that single moment, and blow it up perfectly. That's the one you want for your clip file.
  12. JME

    JME Member

    OK, now I'm really pissed that I didn't think of this at the time. This would have been great. It would have written itself. The wide array of different people who approached him, with reverential attitudes, was an amazing phenomenon to see. That's why I included that Rock Newman quote, of course.

    But you had people from every demographic, doing everything from just coming up and hugging him, to having personal conversations with him, to basically interviewing him in an informal way while holding a camcorder a few feet from his face. All the while, Tyson was totally at ease and had a perfect handle on the situation. But he wasn't giving BS interview answers, he was just reflecting. It was like a therapy session.

    I'm kicking myself for not focusing more on that now, though I wouldn't have had a great deal of space.

    Great points, Jones.
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