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Story pick: The sweet science of boxing

By Brigid Schulte

I don't get boxing. Or more to the point, why some writers become obsessed with it. Think Hemingway. George Plimpton. Joyce Carol Oates, even. The "sweet science," they call it. Where they see skill, strategy, choreography, elegance in two fighters going in for the kill, I see a couple of sweaty, muscled dudes wailing on each other.

Then I had to write a story where boxing served as both a backdrop and a metaphor, if you will, for a morality tale - a fall from grace, a search for redemption. At a loss, I went looking for someone who had done it well. And I didn't have far to look. One of my favorite Washington Post writers, Michael Leahy, nailed it in The Distance, a well-oiled, muscled and nuanced trip into a gritty boxing gym in Southwest Washington that not only trains boxers, but saves souls.

His dialogue is spot on.

"Now I have something else I want to say." He pulls on Shaborn's hair, which has puffed out into an Afro too big for Hunter's tastes. "I want this cut. You're a Headbanger. And Headbangers are good-looking guys, clean."

"Clean," echoes a laughing Anthony.

"I want this thing cut this week," Hunter says.

"Cut," Anthony booms, strolling off with Lamont to resume their workouts.

Shaborn watches the two stars cross over to the other side of the gym.

"Lamont and Anthony have sacrificed; they work hard, and they do everything right, Sha-Sha," Hunter says. "That's what it takes."

"I know," Shaborn says.

"If you want to be the baddest, you gotta train like the baddest," Hunter adds.

"I know."

"Are you ready to do that?"

"Yes."

"You gotta stay away from the crap out there. And you know what I'm talking about."

"Yes."

"Biggest problem is not in here but out there. The streets snatch a lot of people. And we're not gonna let that happen to you, are we? You ready for all that?"

"Yes."

"Because not everybody's ready, Sha-Sha. I've had this talk with jokers before. A lot of the best ones don't make it."

"I know."

"So what are you gonna be?"

"I'm gonna make it."

"Good. Get your hair cut."

It didn't turn me into a fan of boxing. But it held my attention the whole way through.

By Brigid Schulte  | September 20, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Story Picks  
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