by Roger Zotti
Lucidly written and immensely satisfying, John E. Oden’s Life in the Ring (Hatherleigh) differs from most books about boxing because, its author says, “In a lot of ways, it is a self-help book that draws from an unlikely place. These boxers are men who could take a punch, literally and figuratively. Their life stories are inspiring … these tales are about the human experience and achievement.”
Muhammad Ali, Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney, Jake LaMotta, Rocky Marciano, Joe Calzaghe, Bernard Hopkins, and Joe Louis are just seven of the fifteen fighters covered in this insightful book. What these warriors have in common – in addition to courage, perseverance, and dedication – is that they continually challenged the best fighters in their respective weight divisions.
From 1992 to 2004 John was a white collar boxer, and he recalled an evening when he fought in London. “It was a black tie fundraiser called Hedge Fund Night.” The year was 2004 and in his corner was the great trainer and World Boxing Hall of Fame inductee Emanuel Steward. “It was a great experience and ranks as one of my proudest moments. ‘Business World’ did a two page article on the fight and white collar boxing.” (Take note: that night John dropped his opponent twice.) John still boxes – but now it’s “for exercise and fun. I just no longer compete.”
What John found most challenging about writing Life in the Ring was organizing his writing time. Because he works full time, for several months he was up between 4:00 and 4:30 in the morning. He wasn’t sparring or doing road work – he was writing. Also demanding was the matter of “deciding which principles I wanted to describe and which boxers to use to illustrate the points I was going to make.”
Yes, John believes boxing can regain its popularity of former times. “All the sport needs is an appealing personality, like a Mohammad Ali,” he says. “It is possible that the success of Manny Pacquiao will go a long way to do this and a fight between him and Floyd Mayweather, Jr. could restore some luster. The demand is there from the boxing public – the sport just needs the personality and talent. Boxing has been controversial since time began, but the draw and appeal is there when the right combination of factors comes into play.”
His 13-year ring experience, John says, “carried over into life itself.” It’s no surprise, then, that Life in the Ring illustrates the similarities between boxing and life: “To say that boxing is exactly like life itself is, perhaps, extreme. But life in the ring offers so many comparisons which mirror life that I cannot deny the connection. Boxing is a metaphor for life.”
If John’s book has a cumulative effect – and it does – it’s this: “The lessons taught in the ring are the obstacles that breed heart, character and determination that, in turn, apply to the real world. We can draw strength from the accomplishments [of the professional boxers about whom I write] and their victories over adversity.”