Monday, March 13, 2023

Review: In the Inner Sanctum (2022)

By Thomas Hauser

There probably isn't a better boxing writer out there than Thomas Hauser. 

He's been out there forever, it seems, writing about the Sweet Science. Much of Hauser's work has been summations of a year's worth of watching the sport, but he's also gone into other formats as well. Hauser obviously knows the game, and loves it. Maybe that's why he has maintained his enthusiasm for boxing for so long, even if the sport has done a bit of a fadeout in the last couple of decades in terms of public interest.

Boxing's decline has meant that it can be a little difficult to even find Hauser's books out there without a bit of looking. When the chance to read "In the Inner Sanctum" came along, I jumped at it - sort of like catching up with an old friend. 

The concept is an interesting one. Hauser has had the chance to hang out with boxers in the dressing room leading up to several big fights - more than 30 in fact - in the years between 1997 and 2019. There are familiar names here - George Foreman, Lennox Lewis, Roy Jones, Evander Holyfield, Antonio Tarver, Bernard Hopkins, Jermain Taylor, Ricky Hatton, Kelly Pavlik, Manny Pacquiao, Miguel Cotto, and Canelo Alvarez. 

Hauser has written essays about the experiences about what it's like to hang out with boxers in the hours leading up to the biggest moments of their lives. Now he's compiled an anthology of those relatively bite-sized stories that fit into one book. The information is good, the summations of the circumstances of each fight are well done, and the reader never gets bogged down in one particular chapter. 

But there are a few problems here, and they aren't completely the fault of the author. After reading three dozen of these essays, it seems that most boxers follow more or less the same routine. They arrive early, keep an eye on the undercard while waiting for showtime, warm up a bit, get taped up, talk to the referee, receive some last-minute instructions, and head for the ring.  Different personalities are involved, so some fighters are mostly quiet while others gab to relax. But there aren't many big secrets to be found. In addition, some fighters pop up as combatants more than once, which means their careers to that point are reviewed - so there's a little redundancy along the way.

But the bigger problem is with boxing itself. The names are familiar to those who still read the sports page, but I would guess there are fewer casual fans than there were 25 to 50 years ago. There are more titles for the taking than ever before, but the price has been fewer big matches. The heavyweight division hasn't featured much pizzazz over the past several years, and those are the guys who usually serve as lightning rods for attention for the entire sport. 

What's more, boxing has more or less disappeared from television. You can find bouts on pay-per-view at times, as the many powers that be in the sport seem to have traded exposure for dollars. That's not surprising, but you'd have to think it has done some damage to the sport's overall popularity. The relative lack of top-notch American fighters probably hasn't done boxing many favors either. 

Therefore, "In the Inner Sanctum" comes off as less than compelling at times. For those who know the personalities involved, this probably won't add much to the conversation. Meanwhile, it will be tough for the rest of us to care too much about the included fighters and their fights. Hauser gave it a good shot here, but he's done more interesting work in his other books. 

Three stars

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