José Torres meanwhile had announced that he wanted to be a writer. It wasn't the kind of news likely to quicken the pulse of publishers, but Torres, unlike so many other former boxers, found a second vocation. A New York Puerto Rican, he wrote boxing pieces in Spanish and English for several newspapers and magazines, became associated with Norman Mailer, and worked for a while on an autobiographical novel. Muhammad Ali went on giving every indication that the weight of his own biography might still lie ahead of him. After three and a half years, Ali returned to the ring, no longer the athlete he had been, but greater than ever in the minds of blacks, whose new consciousness he had helped to forge.
With one more appeal between him and a prison term, he fought to regain his championship and lost. Then the Supreme Court overruled his conviction. The present finds him honing his skills for a return match with Joe Frazier, and it finds José Torres issuing his first book. The book is ". . .Sting Like a Bee," a story of the life and battles of Muhammad Ali, with the emphasis on his three comeback fights—his victories over Jerry Quarry and Oscar Bonavena, his grueling loss to Frazier. It is also a very perceptive and unfanciful analysis of what goes on in a prize ring.
Since Daniel Mendoza of bare knuckle fame published his memoirs in 1816, ". . .Sting Like a Bee" may be the first book about boxing actually written by a champion fighter. It is a rare inside look at the sport, and Torres has succeeded in getting beyond the external or the anecdotal. He has got down, in solid, disciplined prose, the mental processes of men engaged in split- second action. He examines the emotions, the extremes of tension, the interaction of styles and strategies. The book is not only an informed and intuitive profile of the most controversial and historically interesting fighter since the Jack Johnson controversy in the early days of this century; it is a study of the psychic contest that in boxing is the hidden part of the iceberg.
Torres adheres consistently to a view of the sport as a contest of wills, and shows how Ali's graceful yet eccentric style, his disdain of the classic rules, his marvelous speed and timing, his hands-down tantalizing stance, his uncanny elusiveness, even his ridiculous boasts, are all essential to his victories. Because, says Torres, it is frustration that defeats, and Ali is one of the great frustrators of our time.
Gardner is the author of Fat City.