The Professional by W.C. Heinz

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This is a classic novel about the lives of boxers in the 1950s — particularly about a middleweight contender named Eddie Brown.

While the plot is mostly straightforward, W.C. Heinz investigates what it means to be a champion prize fighter — both in and out of the ring.

Elmore Leonard and Ernest Hemingway praised this work for a reason. “The Professional” masterfully brings characters to life with realism and sincerity and dialogue.

Heinz’s naturalistic dialogue reveals the elements that make up a fighter’s life. Surviving in the streets of New York City, swinging from undisciplined anger and for reputation. Building a career into nearly a hundred bouts, matches scattered in smoky clubs and bars and arenas. Sparring partners who abuse themselves to help out in camp, concussed but not knowing another way to make a living. Cornermen wiping down sweat, icing red swells of flesh, and shouting instructions.

Trainers dedicating years to building up professionals out of nothing, only to watch them step under the uncertainty of the lights. Managers exploiting the talents of the promising for money. Casual fans screaming for slugfests in the stands. Families uncertain about a lifestyle they cannot understand.

Then there is the deep urge within every fighter, before skill or reflex or physical prowess, which moves them beyond all exhaustion, beyond any doubt or fear in time, to become a champion.

To be a fighter is to sacrifice all of one’s life to fight. To wake early, eat healthy, run, shadowbox, spar, cut weight, day after year, beaten and bruised, hated, neglected, alone, utterly alone, with a readiness to die in the ring, all for the chance of executing the right moves under extraordinary pressure, in only seconds, after blood and aching, after sweat and fear.

Then a few seconds passes and it’s all over.

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