Award-winning photographer Howard Schatz has put together a sensational mega-volume of photographs and quotes from his six-year journey into the world of professional boxing, "At The Fights: Inside the World of Professional Boxing". With a foreword by Jim Lampley, the book includes hundreds of photographs from Schatz, ranging from stellar fight-action shots taken ringside, to artistic and visually stunning portraits taken at his studio.
The 224-page, coffee-table sized tableau is more than a simple collection of boxing photos, as vivid as those photos are. It's a distillation of boxing and what the sport means and represents from the point of view of those who are involved in all aspects of the fight game.
From current and former fighters, to promoters, trainers and mangers, ringside physicians and referees, judges and commissioners, commentators and writers, and more, readers of "At The Fights" come away with a greatly expanded view of the Sweet Science. Even avid, lifelong fans of the sport will gain an increased understanding of the sport and some of the individual characters involved in boxing, and the various and interrelated roles taken on by those individuals and others like them.
The book offers an amazing collection of ideas and themes which reveal the true nature of boxing. From the drug-like high of fighting or watching a fight, to the omnipresent dangers and potential consequences of each and every fight lurking in the background at all times. The mortality of the fighters, and the range of emotions they unanimously feel before a fight, on a spectrum of nervousness to fear. From the crucial and distinguishing characteristics of intelligence and mental strength, to the brutal honesty that the sport offers its participants and spectators.
Schatz, a physician before becoming a photographer, explains in his book-closing artist's note that he was far from a lifelong fight fan. "I was trained, even programmed, to abhor any human activity that damages the brain-- so my journey in the world of professional boxing has not been an easy one," he states.
He describes the sheer violence and brutality of the sport, and the irrefutable consequences it has on its participants. However, a fascination and intrigue set in. "Awed and thoroughly inspired by their phenomenal and boundless courage, or 'heart', I was moved to study this sport... It wasn't long before I was hooked."
His firsthand experience getting to know fighters and being around the sport changed him immensely. "I have heard it said, by many, that one falls in love with boxers, these violent yet vulnerable men. And so I have."
"At The Fights" is organized in several ways. Readers can find an index of all the fighters shown, and can choose to look them up by weight class, or by non-participant roles.
There are pages devoted to pictures and quotes from different moments or stages of a fight, such as in the corner between rounds, or on the canvas after being knocked down, or preparing in the dressing room before a bout. There's also a series of startling before and after photograph comparisons, showing the carnage a signal fight produces on a fighter's face.
Other pages feature a collection of quotes and portrait photographs of those with similar roles in boxing. What is boxing really all about, or what is the essence of the job that they perform in boxing, for the referees, the judges, the promoters?
The book features a fascinating 7-foot long gatefold showing dozens of active fighters and champions lined up from minimumweight all the way to heavyweight, a special and thought provoking combination of portraits showing the fighters and their physiques.
The sheer volume of the photographs taken and incorporated, and the number of fighters shown, is astounding. From Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis, to Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather, Andre Ward, Bernard Hopkins, Wladimir Klitschko and Sergio Martinez, it's a true who's who collection of the biggest names in the sport. "At The Fights" also captures photos and quotes from several recently deceased, dear members of the boxing community, such as Emanuel Steward, Angelo Dundee, Bert Sugar and Joe Frazier.
The studio shots are spectacularly artistic and detailed, and Schatz utilizes various ideas, photography forms and technology to create memorable imagery and unique, movement-oriented photograph collections. He drenches fighters in water or he uses special techniques to capture the range of motion of a fighter jumping rope or throwing punches.
However, the candid shots taken at ringside are even better. Like the quotes in the book which offer a behind the curtains look at boxing, it's in the candid, un-posed photographs where you really see who that person is and what they were feeling or going through at that time.
Ultimately, once you pick up "At The Fights", you'll want to look through the entire book in a single sitting, and not just flipping through, but carefully looking at each page and every detail.
Simply put, if you're a boxing fan, you'll love having "At The Fights" in your home, and you'll gain great enjoyment, and perhaps even an increased, intrinsic understanding of the sport, each time you pick it up. It's a must-own collection for boxing fans.
Jake Emen runs the boxing news website ProBoxing-Fans.com, where you can find breaking news stories, interviews, rankings and more. You can also follow Jake and ProBoxing-Fans.com on Twitter, @ProBoxingFans.