The following is an excerpt from, and comments on, an interview with Donald McRae, the author of Dark Trade: Lost in Boxing, and ten other books. The interview was conducted by Patrick Connor, the host of the Hannibal Boxing Podcast. Listen to the full podcast with Donald McRae on iTunes, SoundCloud, or Spotify.
There’s a bit of a myth that boxing fans don’t like books, and people who love books don’t like boxing, [but] . . . the two go together so well. —Donald McRae
Dark Trade: Lost in Boxing became essential reading for informed boxing fans shortly after it was first released in 1996. The book is a tour de force that exposed the underbelly of boxing to many fans, and to some pundits as well. Now, with three acclaimed books looking at the sport already published, and a fourth on the way, Donald McRae is particularly well suited to discuss the state of boxing literature, past and present.
When Dark Trade was first published, boxing had clearly fallen out of public favor in the U.S. Mike Tyson, yesterday’s wonder, entered the apparent twilight of his career following his release from prison and the sport had largely disappeared from free television. Two decades later, a surge of new concepts, technologies, and apps—newfangled as they may be—could potentially spark new interest in boxing in the general public.
“Now,” McRae says on the latest episode of the Hannibal Boxing Podcast, “there are so many platforms, whether it’s in the form of podcast or websites, that I think young boxing fanatics . . . now have space to actually give their views on boxing.”
Many of the greatest writers of the twentieth century wrote about boxing. If not exclusively, but significantly. In only a fifteen-year span Mailer, Oates, and Plimpton all published some of their best work, and it was about boxing.
Similarly, Dark Trade became a must-read book for any serious fight fan shortly after its publication, and McRae too was recognized as a formidable storyteller as a result. But where the masterworks of other writers tended to stay encapsulated, developing a sort of nostalgic patina, the U.S. publication of Dark Trade by Hamilcar Publications not only invites a new group of readers to examine it two decades later, it’s updated with coverage of some familiar names, such as Floyd Mayweather, Jr.
“I had an afternoon with [Mayweather],” McRae says, “which was fascinating. Meeting someone like Floyd, who wasn’t fighting professionally when the book came out but became a significant figure in later years, it was important to talk to him and spend time in his gym in Las Vegas.”
Despite the importance of the major fighters Dark Trade focuses on—Toney, Tyson, De La Hoya, Holyfield, and Hamed—the updated version provides insight into fighters at the lower level of the sport, who can be just as relevant.
The 2016 fight that ended in the death of Scotland’s Mike Towell (in a fight against Welsh welterweight Dale Evans) was not a particularly notable event before the first bell rang. But any bout where one fighter survives and the other doesn’t adds to a grim list of ring tragedies that goes back to the birth of the sport.
“This lady came out of the funeral car,” Evans says to McRae. “As soon as she walked toward me I realized it was Mike’s mum. It broke my heart and she said: ‘Come here. Don’t be silly.’ She kissed and hugged me and I thought this woman is unbelievably strong. I felt guilt all day surrounded by Mike’s friends and family but not one bad word was said to me.”
The interview with Evans in the final pages of the updated version helps affirm the book’s theme that boxing, despite its brutality, is ultimately good.
McRae says, “I came to the conclusion when I worked on the update for the U.S. edition that, for all the darkness in boxing, the good still outweighs the bad by a substantial amount.”
While Dark Trade reflects a love of boxing as much as any boxing book published in the last few decades, what sets it apart is its ability to allow the reader to understand that love. And to understand that fighters are indeed human, and not a pantheon of unassailable heroes.
During his appearance on the Hannibal Boxing Podcast, McRae offered a glimpse into his love for boxing and writing about it, how Dark Trade came to be published in the U.K. and again in the U.S., and much more.
Click here to visit the Hannibal Boxing Podcast page.