By Michael Cotter
Steve Bunce knows boxing; he has been involved in the sport for over 25 years and is a key figure in the British scene, never shy of an opinion and appreciated by fight fans for his straight-talking style, he has turned his hand to literature and written a work of fiction entitled ‘The Fixer’ with boxing as its backdrop. Michael Cotter from Boxingscene caught up with Buncey ahead of the book’s publication and discussed how this project came about...
Steve, 2009 was a bit all over the place for you to say the least. With the collapse of Setanta in the summer heralding the demise of the much loved ‘Boxing Hour’ and then the Bunce Live Tour in watering holes across the land towards the end of the year, what has 2010 brought about so far?
2010 has been sluggish in comparison; I am on the road again this year with the ‘Bunce Liver Tour’ the first date being on April 30th at the Bridge House II, Canning Town, London with more dates on the way at some point in 2010. Still no good news however on the T.V front, but all is building up to the book release on April 1st.
Talking of the book, how long has this been in the pipe ?
The first part of the book to be honest was written in 2002 and then bits and pieces were added, over the years. To keep it simple some of the characters in the book are loosely based on people others are composites and finally others are complete inventions. I remember when I was first writing it I was talking about a very young Ricky Hatton fighting at Wembley, this was about the time of the Jon Thaxton fight and the mad thing is, fast forward a few years and Ricky Hatton is fighting Floyd Mayweather at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. That fight forms part of the first half of the book and alot of the action in Las Vegas has that fight in the background and although no-one who was actually in Las Vegas for Hatton vs Mayweather appears in the book, it forms part of the framework.
In fact, the Hatton vs Mayweather bout was a necessary update, the story originally focussed around the mooted Hatton vs Castillo rematch but times just kept moving forward, certain people who were involved in earlier drafts of the book are now dead, it was an evolutionary process and I finally finished it in early 2008.
Why a work of fiction....
I tell you why I did it, there are so many fantastic stories about boxing that you can’t even print, and you can’t even get them on a website let alone in a newspaper. So I decided that if you change the setting a little bit, change the fighters, edit the time period and ensure you frame it in a certain way you can actually tell these stories and not have to worry about fighting your way through a court room after you have done so!
What I am amazed at is that this hasn’t been done since Budd Schulberg did it over seventy-eighty years ago with ‘The Harder They Fall’....It’s a natural; there are so many good stories to tell...
Are you expecting much crossover appeal at all from the novel, with appreciation from boxing and non-boxing fans alike...
Absolutely, I am hoping so anyhow, I hope the hardcore element of boxing fans that watched the Boxing Hour on Setanta, whether they liked it or not they still watched it and also those that listen weekly to the BBC Radio London show which averages seven to nine guests per week will go out and buy it and I expect some of them to say, there wasn’t enough boxing in the book.
It’s important to make clear the book is not only for boxing fans, whilst boxing fans will enjoy it; they will in particular have a riot working out who is who, this book isn’t just for your hardcore boxing fan. If I wanted to I could have taken the easier route, I could have written a my-life in boxing tale as I have had 25years writing about the sport and another 12years beforehand involved in the sport but plenty of those are out on the market, either loosely attached to a period of the fight game or a particular fight, but for me, to have written that now, would have been absurd.
I think it’s crazy that certain sports-stars have autobiographies out when they are only eleven and haven’t done anything to fill a chapter let alone a book. I don’t consider myself old enough to write a my-life in boxing, I think I have another twenty or so years involved in this game, I might consider writing one when I am seventy, but not now.
That is when I decided, what was really missing was a good old boxing novel, one that understands the sport and importantly the people behind the scene that often go un-mentioned. The reason I decided it was time for such a book is because when boxing is generally portrayed on T.V or in print it is generally garbage, when it is films, barring one or two it doesn’t work and is pure fantasy, bearing no real resemblance to what we know.
So I thought, if you have someone in theory who knows the business well, write something about boxing and a work of fiction with boxing as the backdrop, it hopefully wouldn’t be junk like other books out there that just don’t understand what is really going on in the sport. When Budd Schulberg wrote ‘The Harder They Fall’, loosely based on the life of heavyweight Primo Carnera, he was writing it from the inside, he was able to caricature fighters from the east coast and the west coast because he moved in those circles, he knew his boxing and I think or at least I hope, I have managed to do the same with this book and portray the sport and the people involved accurately.
Explain the actual writing process of the book, did you have a schedule, did you have to force it all or out or did it flow...
To be honest, it was bits and pieces and whilst I had the idea since 1999, nothing was concrete for a while. I had the main character a guy called Ray Lester, who was a ‘fixer’ an agent, a matchmaker, a manager who has his fingers in loads of fights, but doesn’t actually have a licence. Ray as a ‘fixer’ makes alot of money for promoters, sends money the boxers way and also siphons some off on the side for himself as well.
To clarify the title of the book and the occupation of the main protagonist Ray Lester, the reference of being a ‘fixer’ isn’t a ‘Frankie Carbo’ type then, who ensures fighters throw bouts for cash...
No, no, no...You don’ t need to do that, there are no fixed fights in boxing. You don’t have to pay anybody any amount of money to fall on the floor in a boxing bout. What you do is match fighters in such a way that you are only ever going to have one winner. It is what they used to do with Frank Bruno when they built up his career; they matched him against people who barely had a pulse, who had no chance of winning and whilst morally it’s wrong, it’s completely legal and of-course Bruno would go on and win. This happens on 95% of the bills up and down the country and everyone knows it.
You really don’t need to pay anyone any money to fix a fight, a guy in Nevada in 2006 went to prison for the first time in the state’s history for throwing himself on the floor, but that’s it, it simply doesn’t happen and the thing is people think it does.
I agree the title is slightly mis-leading in that sense, but what Ray Lester does in the book is ‘fix’ them in the matchmaking sense, as matchmakers do in the sport, he doesn’t fix the results, he just makes the bout happen, buts the boxers, the promoters and the managers all in touch with one another.
Ray Lester does exactly what matchmakers do up and down the country, when he phones a fighter who has lost far more than he has won at 4pm on the night of the fight and asks him to travel down after work for a few hundred quid to face a 11-0 up and coming prospect, you don’t need to pay anyone to take a dive, it’s part of our business, it’s what happens.
To say it again, hand on heart there are no fixed fights in boxing, you don’t have to fix them.....simple as that.
Tell us about Ray Lester then, what type of guy is he...
He is a likeable man, a man who struggles with the normal things most people in this life struggle with, he struggles to pay the mortgage on a flat he can’t afford, he struggles to commit to various things because he gets pulled left, right and centre and because he is in boxing, he has to deal with boxing people.
Boxing people are a different breed, and whilst all are great people, some are hopeless and would struggle to blow their nose, even if you gave them tissues, coupled with that he has to deal with nut-cases telling him all sorts of rubbish but on the whole he sticks with it and does very well for himself.
He does hate mobile phones though...I hate mobile phones....an Ray is always getting attacked for not having a phone.....anyway..... Ray one Sunday morning finds himself in a tricky situation as a lady turns up at his door and asks him to help her find her Dad, someone Ray has known it materialises for 20years and with that the story takes a twist over to Las Vegas and Ray finds himself amongst others at a factious sanctioning body convention in Atlantic City, before heading back to London and the story ends in of all places Blackpool.
I was going to end it in Liverpool but I thought if I say anything nasty about Liverpool, I will be in trouble and the same can be said with Manchester, as my wife is from there, so as I only have one elderly Aunt in Blackpool, I thought that was as good a place as anywhere to put the boot-in so it all ends up in Blackpool.
As you have mentioned parts of the story occur in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, regions synonymous with boxing and fight fever, do some of the stories come from your own impressions of the first time you set foot in those states...
Yeah, I have been in Vegas over fifty times and Atlantic City over twenty-odd times and even Blackpool fifty times, which is more than many Londoners can say, so it’s true alot of what is in the story come from my own experience. I ensured my geography was right in the book.What I have tried to do however is use inside knowledge, especially with Vegas, tell a few stories, people just generally don’t know, things I have noticed every time I have landed.
There was a period fifteen years ago when they tried to turn Vegas into a family resort, there was a theme-park at the back of the MGM Grand which has now gone and what people forget, is that there used to be a fantastic beach resort next to the MGM Grand and that literally disappeared over night.
Vegas has evolved since my first visit in 1992, it’s a strange old place, it doesn’t exactly know what it is now, while it isn’t stuck in this time of recession, it hasn’t exactly grown as it would have liked in recent years.
And as for Atlantic City, anyone who doesn’t know about its birth from nothing into this fabulous resort, with Philadelphia only fifty minutes down the road, is in for a treat, I have plucked some fantastic tales and facts about Atlantic City and the history of the place could fill a book in itself, it’s a phenomenal place, it’s steeped in myth and legend and most of its true.
The Hatton vs Mayweather fight plays a part in the book and I think it is fair to say, for British fight fans at least, that bout was the last ‘true’ event where the nation stopped and truly took an interest in boxing, what do you remember about that bout and the build-up to it....
I was out there for 9 days and whereas Ray Lester in the book only arrives the day before, I have used all my knowledge about everything that went on to paint a picture of the scene when Ray arrives for the bout.
As for what I remember about the build-up, firstly it is important to stress it was completely crime free, over 30,000 Brit’s were out in Vegas and there was no trouble in the casino’s, you can’t get mugged in a casino, because there are millions of cameras everywhere and atmosphere was fantastic, it was safe and sound throughout.
Furthermore, Hatton’s people drank two of the MGM bars dry and they never stopped singing ‘Hatton Wonderland’. I was doing radio throughout the week, sometimes at two in the morning, sometimes at five in the morning and without fail you would be surrounded by Brit’s singing that song. As I went to bed people would be singing, as I got up for breakfast they would be singing, we would interview Ricky in the days leading up to it, they would still be singing, constantly all day, all night, all hours Brit’s were drinking and singing, the atmosphere was like nothing else, it was relentless.
And that is a mad and crazy backdrop in which the main protagonist in the book Ray Lester finds himself within and he soon finds himself dragged deeper than he could possibly have ever imagined as the story unfolds.
What do you hope people are going to take from the book, what impressions do you wish the reader to leave with...
I want them nothing more than to enjoy the story, it isn’t a book I have had coiled up inside me for forty years, I have written it to entertain and illuminate, as a novelist I don’t want to do anything else other than sell a few books and give people a good tale.
The book has been received well by those in boxing who have read it so far and furthermore those not associated with the sport have given it some fantastically glowing reviews, people I don’t even know. Tony Parsons, the ten million plus selling writer, embarrassingly, said I was a better crime writer than Stieg Larsson in his review of the book, so that can’t be bad and is some comparison.
I am just hoping people will read it; hear the voice and get-it because this is part of four books, with more on the way if this is well received.
You are in Manchester this coming Saturday (April 3) signing copies of the book, tell us where people can come and get the book signed by yourself...
I chose Manchester on Saturday, because as you know it’s a big weekend for sport, the Manchester United vs Chelsea game is kicking off at lunch time and obviously the David Haye fight in the evening.
So I thought to myself why not head that way, hence I am at the Waterstones in the Trafford Centre at 12:30pm and as you know, anyone who comes to the store to buy the book and have it signed by me, well get a warm welcome, similar to the Bunce Live Tour last year, everyone who came through that door was special; I invariably ended up buying most people a drink, my liver took a battering, I don’t think my body is ready for another tour yet!
In all seriousness anyone who attends the signing on Saturday who wants a chat or a photo is welcome.
No matter how many attend I will be appreciative and truly grateful, I mean who am I after all...
‘The Fixer’ by Steve Bunce is released on the 1st of April 2010 and is published by Mainstream Publishing. It is available from all worthy retailers and has a recommended price of £9.99.
The book can be purchased from a number of online retailers, with www.Amazon.co.uk pricing the book at £6.99.
Steve Bunce will be signing copies of the book on Saturday April 3, 2010 at Waterstones, Trafford Centre, Manchester from 12:30pm.