W. C. HEINZ – The Professional. Harper & Brothers, hardcover, 1958. Berkley BG-197, paperback, 1959. Reprinted many times.

   A linear, lucid story of a professional boxer as he prepares for a middleweight title match. The prose, spare and clean. The result, wistful.

   Eddie Brown has been preparing for this fight his whole career. He’s 29. He treats his body as the well- honed instrument it is. He eats right. Only drinks hot tea. Only eats dry toast and poached eggs. Runs five miles a day.

   The narrator is a magazine writer commissioned to profile a boxer training for a title match. He embeds himself in camp for a month, all the way up through the fight.

   Eddie’s trainer, Doc Carroll, has been crafting boxers for 43 years. In all this time, he’s only had ten boxers. He takes one at a time, teaches him everything he knows, and brings him up slow. This is his first title fight.

   Doc never wanted a title fight before because as soon as you get the title, the trainer loses the boxer. The boxer loses control of their destiny. Special interests control you. You’re a commodity. You can no longer pick your own fights, make your own schedule, be your own man.

   But with the advent of televised fights, you can’t make it anymore as a professional boxer going town to town. Nobody goes to the fights anymore. Fans can see them for free from the comfort of their home.

   Doc trains his guys to go at the other guy’s strength. To neutralize their punch and go with it. To win on the counter-punch. It takes the will to fight from your opponent when you can take their best and hurt them for trying. You can see it in their eyes, like a stuck bull. But nobody wants to see it. Folks only want to see the windup, the big punch and the knockout.

   The fans only get the hype and flair. The media caters to the fans. And the so-called boxers, the so-called champions of the world — they play to the T.V. And the trainers? They don’t give a crap. They don’t know a damn thing about boxing. They just buy boxers in bulk and play it as it lays.

   Doc’s the last of his breed. And Eddie’s the best boxer he’s ever had. Eddie’s done everything right. Doted on Doc’s every word. And here’s their big chance. Their last, best and only chance to show the world how boxing is supposed to be. The purity of the sport.

   You can guess how it ends.


   Ernest Hemingway called it ‘the only good novel I’ve ever read about a fighter.’

   The prose is very Hemingway. Which, to me, is a good thing. The story is well told, holds you, and doesn’t let you go. Until the end. And then you’re on your own. Like Eddie Brown, like Doc Carroll. Like the writer of the story that’s no longer of interest to any publisher. Here it is.