feature Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Book review: The Years of the Locust by Jon Hotten

George Zeleny on a real-life story of boxing corruption that he failed to put down

PICTURED ABOVE (l-r): Author Jon Hotten, Tim Anderson, Paddy Considine (who is making the film of the book), and producer Donald Scrimshaw

(First published August 14, 2009)
THE elaborate title describes exactly what this book is all about: the murder of a would-be ‘famous’ boxing promoter by one of the boxers he shamelessly and dangerously exploited.

And it’s all set in the recent 1980s/90s, involving well-known boxing characters such as George Foreman, Don King, “Smokin” Bert Cooper and Randall “Tex” Cobb.

It’s a true story that really does show the amazingly corrupt underbelly of small-time boxing in those obscure American states where a promoter can do virtually anything he likes.

The story revolves around two men. Outrageous Rick “Elvis” Parker is a fat, bearded conman who sports a comic red toupee, floral shirts, cowboy boots and a smooth line in patter, Tim “Doc” Anderson is a former baseball pro turned heavyweight boxer. Parker dreams of being another King and when a chance meeting on a plane with the electric-haired promoter introduces him to the possibilities of fame and fortune in the fight game, he is hooked.

“If you can find a white guy who can fight for the world heavyweight championship, then you got millions and millions of dollars right there in one night,” is how King explains it. When Parker meets Anderson in Los Angeles, he decides he is the very man who can fulfil that dream.

“Fat Rick” begins to promote Anderson along with the tough but worn-out “Tex” Cobb, who is on the comeback trail. He takes them around the small club shows in states like Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky and Nebraska, fighting a series of “tomato cans” to boost their records.

At this same time Foreman is beginning his memorable comeback, which will eventually lead to his becoming the oldest ever heavyweight champion. Fat Rick moves in on the action.

After a few losses, Anderson proves a journeyman and is fed to Foreman on his comeback. He gets stopped but as Big George’s march gains momentum, Bob Arum cuts Parker out.

Furious, Parker takes control of the career of “Smokin” Bert Cooper, who the author constantly refers to as “$50 Bert”. Cooper makes a million dollars fighting Evander Holyfield, Cecil Coffee and Michael Moorer – and blows the lot.

So Fat Rick recalls King’s words and turns his attention to Mark Gastineau, a huge white former American footballer who weighs 250 pounds, stands 6ft 5in and wants to be a fighter. Rick dreams of a $5m fight with Foreman and when Foreman’s advisors suggest that, if he gets Gastineau to 12-0, they will think about it, Parker takes that as a given.

He builds Gastineau’s record to 9-0 against a series of men who have hardly had a fight between them. And that’s when “Doc” Anderson comes back into the scenario.

By this time Anderson has distanced himself from the promoter and feels deeply resentful because Parker owes him a lot of money. Fat Rick rings to offer him a fight with Gastineau. Parker needs a decent opponent as the bout is due to be televised and he reckons Tim will play ball. He thinks he can control him.

But Anderson has other ideas and soon figures out Gastineau can’t fight a lick. He trounces the big man, thus sealing his own fate and that of Parker.

The final ramifications of this story are fascinating and I will not reveal them here. It’s a tangled web and author Hotten weaves it with alacrity. It’s written in a pacy, lyrical style that keeps everything bubbling along at speed, like a car crash waiting to happen.

The character of Parker dominates the narrative. He is truly a monstrously salacious beast, the sort of man who would shaft his own grandmother and calmly order another drink.

I loved this book and, as the saying goes, couldn’t put it down.

Get it and read it.

Read Tim Anderson's 2011 prison interview HERE

Read Jim Brady's 1995 article on Anderson and Parker HERE

To read about Paddy Considine's plans to turn the book into a film, get this week's Boxing News

Author : George Zeleny


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