The Fight is a first-hand account of the legendary ‘rumble in the jungle’ between George Foreman and Mohammed Ali, something that you’ll be well aware of if you’re an even slight fan of boxing. And it is an absolute cracker.

I’ve never much been one for reading sports books, but as this was a recommendation I thought I’d both read and write about it. And I’m an Ali fan.

I remember being maybe eight years old and being a on road trip with my grandfather (Merv) somewhere in the Waikato. We had stopped at a trucking company and were yarning to some old bloke Merv knew. I was kicking stones around in the yard, as you do, and Merv told me to go check out the photo of him in the office. So off I went. And there in this photo is Merv, and next to him was Mohammed Ali! The old boy had boxed when he was young, so that must have been quite a moment for him.

Let’s ignore for a moment that boxing is actually quite a brutal sport. Big blokes getting as close as they can to killing each other, and not, for a given amount of money. Once you’re past that you’re into the art of boxing, and it is an art form. Because while one opponent is trying to knock the stuffing out of another, he’s also working hard to avoid getting damaged. What this book reinforced for me then was two things. One, Ali really was a genius. And two, modern fighters like Tyson are basically animals. In fact, especially Tyson.

Mailer walks us through that genius with a gentle, observational humility that I found incredibly compelling. He’s talking about one of the single biggest sporting events of the Twentieth Century, but he turns the story into an understated discourse on race relations, geopolitics, and the soul of the fighter. In some ways the fight is almost secondary to the psychological battle between the fighters, and Mailer gives a tremendous insight into both them and their situations. It’s a great read, with Mailer at times leading the reader into apparently small things or situations that end up speaking a huge amount for the characters of both Ali and Foreman.

The Fight also reinforces the incredible physical prowess of guys like Ali or Foreman. Now I know this sounds melodramatic, but these blokes are basically killing machines. A punch from Foreman on a skinny bloke like me would kill me. No joke. But what Mailer does is clearly and carefully demonstrate how these fighters channel that incredible power into their training, and work like hell to deflect that danger away from themselves during the fight. I think I’ve never really appreciated boxing as much as I do after reading this book.

Highly recommended.