This Bloody Mary Is the Last Thing I Own
THIS BLOODY MARY IS THE LAST THING I OWN: A JOURNEY TO THE END OF BOXING will be a bumpy but, to aficionados, heady, trans- Atlantic ride through boxing’s sweatmills in London and the provinces; Las Vegas, its capital and most natural habitat; and New York and Paris, cities of light but not in their dark corners where boxing lurks.
As an ex-pugilist puts it baldly: “Boxing is like riding on a sewer in a glass-bottomed boat.” But boxing and its characters once came alive “in the Jimmy Cannon underworld minstrel light”—less a love than a faith only a few can maintain and entice others into sharing. In his valedictory to the sport, British and onetime Oxford student-boxer Jonathan Rendall sees the fighter standing on a ledge between instant success above and instant failure below often ending up a punch-drunk veteran or a broken-down old pro.
This 34-year-old guide probes regions denied even novelists like Ernest Hemingway and Norman Mailer. What unfolds is the true story of his boyhood romance with the sport, his coming-of-age as a boxing writer, and his bid to bring the unknown Colin “Sweet C” McMillan to the world featherweight championship. Everyone looks for the “next Sugar Ray [Robinson or Leonard]” or, as Rendall phrases it, “the upward blue curve.” Failures are things other people have, “and things that should have struck you as omens ... just seem to deflect off as you glide upwards ...” It is “Sweet C”- -both on his way to the crown and during his decline—who tells Rendall “at the end of the day, it’s a fight. That’s all it is.”
THIS BLOODY MARY provides cameo appearances by most of the greats and ingrates alike of boxing’s last golden era climaxed by the rise of Muhammad Ali. But Rendall’s vignettes of two survivors from a less checkered past are special: those of the 80-year-old ladies’ man, Jack Kid Berg, and the barely alive Cuban, Kid Chocolate, who asked only to see Harlem and the old Polo Grounds one last time. He did.