One two, punch; Muhammad Ali, Sonny Liston. Put those words together and you get the baseline for one of boxing’s most contested fights in the history of the sport. At least, that is what Rob Sneddon argues in his book, The Phantom Punch: The Story behind Boxing’s most Controversial Bout. Through non-fiction prose filled with facts and anecdotes, the author sets our very own Lewiston, Maine as the important battleground for this fight.
The book distinctly reads as a non-fiction account of the events leading and following the fated fight. From his journalism and sports historian background, this type of writing fits right into Sneddon’s repertoire.
Right from the very beginning, two facts are evident. Number one: the author assumes the knowledge of his reader by using boxing jargon. Number two: an extensive amount of time went in to investigating his subject. The author’s research comes from books, newspapers, televisions shows, interviews and more. This conglomerate of facts mesh together to form Sneddon’s argument.
This book was organized in the way one might structure an analytical essay. It has clear ideas and intentions. At the beginning of the book, the author clearly outlines his thesis statement. “I wanted to convey what it felt like to be in Lewiston during that surreal month of May 1965, when the heavy weight championship of the world came to town,” Sneddon tells his reader. This type of writing is immediately familiar to anyone who writes or reads analytical essays.
In terms of writing style, the book can come off a bit rigid but it is punctuated with bouts of vivid description. Sneddon’s description of Liston tells that the boxer “. . . had ox-like shoulders. His fists were fifteen inches around – so large that he needed custom made gloves. His punches were like blows from a jackhammer, striking with maximum force every time.” Passages such as this give the reader a fuller understanding of how an opponent may have perceived this fighter, which allows for a deeper read.
While the book rightly emphasizes both Ali and Liston’s life developments, there is one point that the author stresses to excess: the importance of Lewiston. Let me clarify, there is no doubt that Lewiston is important in this fight’s history. The bout was not supposed to take place in a small mill town in Maine, and the relocation was an unforeseen change. And yes, going back to the thesis statement, the book is meant to be a focused view of Lewiston at the time of the fight. However, Sneddon makes his book more of an ode to the importance of Lewiston rather than the fight.
Moreover, the title of the book is a bit misleading to the rest of the story. When I cracked open the cover, I expected to find myself immersed in a story about these two big names of boxing. However, in reality I was only half way submerged in the boxing aspect, and the rest of me was splashing about in the world and politics of Lewiston. It is understandable that this book has a bias towards Lewiston; the publishing house was based in Camden, Maine before it was sold to a Maryland publisher. While the bias is understandable, it is unclear if it has leg on which to stand.
All in all, it was an interesting read. It gave insightful details into the lives of two heavyweight legends and some interesting connections to good ol’ Lewiston. While the book is not a knock out, it does not hurt to read.