Big, Fat, but certainly not Short!
Paul Zanon speaks to BM columnist Steve Bunce at the official launch of his eagerly awaited and newly published tome 'Bunce's Big Fat Short History of British Boxing'...
It was raining cats and dogs and was, in all honesty, one of those evenings where you could easily start looking for excuses as to why not to trek across London to attend yet another book launch...
But this was different. Very different.
Not simply because it was in support of a fellow Boxing Monthly scribbler, but because of the venue and, most important of all, the content. Nestled into a corner of Fitzroy Lodge Amateur Boxing Club, Steve Bunce kindly took the time to answer a few questions about his latest mammoth creation 'Bunce's Big Fat Short History of British Boxing'.
Between Boxnation, The Independent, BM and a multitude of other roles which take up a great deal of Buncey’s time, what could have possibly inspired him to sacrifice a further chunk of his time to bring this creation life?
“The main thing is – how many fighters from the 1970’s, 80’s, 90’s and even the last 10 years are forgotten and lost?" Buncey explained to me. "So say when you look at some of the big fighters of the 70s and I mean ‘Big,’ fighters, guys like Bunny Johnson, who now would be a cruiserweight champion. But back then the cruiserweight division didn’t even exist. He did one of the maddest things ever; he won the British heavyweight title, then dropped down to win the light heavyweight title. It’s crazy.
"But [the book's] not just about guys who did manage win a couple of titles, like Bunny Johnson, there’s also hundreds of others. There’s 1,300 boxers and fight people mentioned within this book and, if you’re a big boxing fan, I’m sure you would know most of them. This book helps to refresh you. What they did, when they did it and how they did it. That’s why I did it year by year. It starts from January 1 1970 and it goes to 31 December 2016. And it covers just about every single thing.
“I did a test with people where I’d say, ‘Throw me a name from the last 46 years of British Boxing.’
"Bang, I’d answer them. Then they’d start getting really esoteric and try and catch me out ... ‘Des Gargano?’ ‘He’s in there!’ I’d reply.
"It would carry on for ages and the only way they’d win was when they mentioned a fighter who had about three amateur contests, because basically it’s all in there.
"Not just the champions, not just the challengers, but thousands and thousands and thousands of half decent fighters or fighters who did something which was memorable or maybe even infamous.”
The book without a doubt has depth. In fact, from a physical perspective it’s about an inch and half deep. So how long does a work of this proportion take to create?
Buncey explained how he sourced the material throughout this literary expedition. “What I did for material; I worked from my blood stained notes since 1985, in addition to my copy from the Telegraph and the Independent. Then for the 70s and the 80s I worked from YouTube.
"How many of us, hand on heart, have watched Henry Cooper against Joe Bugner from start to finish? I did. I watched certain rounds twice. It’s one of the greatest I’ve ever seen. It would have been a privilege to have been at that fight. I also spoke to a lot of the 70s and 80s fighters, because of some of the factual inaccuracies in some of their autobiographies meant I couldn’t work from them. I used a multiple platform of media to put the book together and, in the end, it worked.”
And why should you buy it? Bunce revealed one of his favourite anecdotes to bait the readers who might be debating whether or not to purchase.
“There’s thousands of stories in there. But there’s some John L Gardner stuff when he talks about how he never got Ali [Muhammad], despite getting close on two or three times. At the end of his life, John ends up being stabbed. John said, [at this point Buncey puts on a growling Hackney accent imitating Gardner], ‘My guts were hanging out like cauliflower. I was trying to put them back in, but I couldn’t.’
"‘What happened to the guy that stabbed you?’, I asked.
"'Thankfully he got arrested, but got released from prison and unfortunately, soon after his release, he was killed.'
"I thought, that sums up the book. He nearly fights Ali, has to push his guts back in after being stabbed and the guy who stabbed him then gets killed. That’s a proper story isn’t it?"
No disagreements from this end Buncey.
This article is by no means a review - BM regular John Exshaw will be in charge of dissecting the book from the flesh through to the very bones - but from a five-minute conversation alone with Buncey, one is soon convinced that this is essential reading for anyone with even a fleeting interest in boxing.
The publication is a Bantam Press imprint of the world renowned Transworld book publishing company. The irony is that this book is far from a bantamweight offering - weighing in at an even 160,000 words and a little over 450 pages, the book is true heavyweight amongst boxing’s literary offerings. The unearthed material goes beyond Google and is presented in a way which only Buncey can provide.
Say no more!