Putting music to boxing is nothing new. A good example I came across recently was Steve Coleman, a respected jazz saxophonist who did a record in part by watching fights on mute, mapping fighters’ movements with his horn. Before Coleman, there was Miles Davis, jazz’s Prince of Darkness, who trained at Gleason’s, and at Jim Jacobs’s request recorded a soundtrack for a documentary, Jack Johnson, that produced his 1971 fusion masterpiece by the same name. Highlight videos posted to YouTube are more middlebrow, of course, less esoteric, but also entertaining. The two channels I watch most, haNZAgod and Reznick, match fighters, many from the golden age, with a lot of good hip-hop plus some jazz, rock, and classical. My other go-to channel, Boxing Legends TV, avoids music and relies instead on a narrator who takes viewers through a well-chosen selection of bios, themes, and lists.
Dean Peters, creator of the channel haNZAgod, deserves praise for his contribution to the culture of the sweet science. In short, his channel stands out. The music he chooses is excellent and his editing superb. Part of the appeal of Peters’s channel has to do with my own weakness for 1990s boom-bap beats, which he uses often, as well as the subjects he chooses, which aren’t always common. It’s hard to pick favorites among his videos, but this tribute to Ezzard Charles, set to a compelling boom-bap beat, is mine:
Just as I was finalizing this piece, Peters posted another Ezzard Charles video with a darker beat. Another moving effort. You can find it here.
The “Philly Shell” defensive style or, more traditionally, the “Shoulder Roll,” is now considered old school and was practiced most recently and purely by James Toney. Before him, though, there was George Benton. Benton, later a legendary trainer and the man behind Pernell Whitaker, is wonderful to watch in action, and in this video Peters’s editing only adds to his artistry:
There are several competing accounts of the Philly Shell’s genesis, and whether it’s the correct term at all. Some people point out that the term was popularized by a video game. The accurate one, they say, is the Shoulder Roll, or the “Midwest” Shoulder Roll, which goes back to Detroit’s Eddie Futch, who was inspired in part by Archie Moore’s cross-armed guard, and that guard informed the Shoulder Roll and also versions of the “Crab” practiced by Joe Frazier and Ken Norton, and so on until you realize you’ve landed in a geeky morass. In the end, Benton’s style was his own, and because he’s a quintessential Philadelphia fighter, calling it the Philly Shell, in my view, is the mot juste in this case. Why not.
I set out to limit myself to two videos per channel, and to avoid fighters whose highlights you see all the time. That said, there’s no way this one was going to be left out. Ray Robinson was a kinesthetic marvel and hip-hop was made for Ray:
I like the YouTube channel Reznick in part because of the cinematic quality of its videos. In that vein, this tribute to Sonny Liston, boxing’s most-loved villain, is magnificent:
Regarding Sonny, my cousin Tommy lives in Dedham, Mass., in a house down the street from the house he grew up in in the 1950s and 1960s. Behind that house, next to a pond, a middleweight club fighter named Paul Stivaletta lived with his wife and kids. They had two garages they’d turned into barns. In one, they kept horses; in another, a heavy bag hung from a beam. In early 1965, Tommy was eleven years old, and word spread among the neighborhood kids that there was a famous boxer over at Paul’s. Liston was training in Dedham for his rematch with Ali. The kids gathered near the heavy bag with Sonny and Paul. “What I remember was his size,” Tommy said. “He was a mountain. And he had these massive hands. Big, big hands. It was a social visit. I don’t think they were working out. Stivaletta was a low-level flunky for the Boston Mob.”
Next, Reznick gives us Benny Leonard, all-time lightweight king, and owner of one of the greatest ring names ever, “The Ghetto Wizard.” The ghetto in question was the Lower East Side of Manhattan of the early 1900s, a fantastically hard and violent place that matched the fantastically hard and violent—and corrupt—boxing milieu of the time, all of which is brought to life in this fine 2005 Pat Putnam piece. Eighty-one of Leonard’s fights, for example, were ruled “no-decisions” because “in most states it was illegal to render a decision, the thinking being that most judges were crooked and the best way to prevent that was by removing the crooks from the equation.” In other words, no knockout, no win—an exigency that may explain why seventy of Benny’s eighty-nine recorded wins came via stoppage.
Boxing Legends TV
Boxing Legends TV is a popular channel with first-rate production and almost three-quarters of a million subscribers. Some of the channel’s videos are a little flashy, but several are good. A favorite is “10 Most Deadly George Foreman Knockouts,” which gets things right, in my view, with respect to what Foreman knockout is number-one—his drilling Gerry Cooney in round two of their fight on January 15, 1991. It’s a clip I return to often. The right-cross coup de grace set up by the old-school move that preceded it, a “walking left hook,” which Jack Slack of Fightland analyzes nicely via video here and in writing here. Seeing Cooney leveled like that invariably conjures his fast and brutal knockout wins versus Ken Norton and Ron Lyle. Vives in gladio in gladio mori.
Boxing and true crime intersect often. Arturo Gatti’s tragic death comes to mind as does Sonny Liston’s. Demonic Venezuelan Edwin Valero, “El Inca,” is mythic in death largely because of his reckless life, his murderous end, and his perfect knockout record across twenty-seven fights. In addition to this video, I recommend Kieran Mulvaney’s 2015 Boxing News profile of Valero, which is excellent. Both haunt.