10 Questions for Glen Sharp, author of "Punching from the Shadows: Memoir of a Minor League Professional Boxer" (PART 2 of 2)
Welcome to Part 2 of my interview with Glen Sharp, author of Punching from the Shadows: Memoir of a Minor League Professional Boxer." So without further ado…
“…the fear of forthcoming violence is a condensed version of the heightened discomfort we feel when confronting an unknown aspect of ourselves.”
6: Curcio: We’ve touched on your education - both as a self-taught student through books and the school of hard-knocks through fighting. I’m also interested in your ability - as an economics major - to draw a relationship between almost every aspect of fighting and corresponding economic theory. It brings a fresh lens through with to watch fighters, especially for someone who knows nothing about the subject. I was particularly struck by your explanation of “the production possibility curve” (e.g. if a fighter expends 80% of his energy and focus on offense, he has just 20% left for defense). What other metaphors between boxing and economics remain especially pertinent to you when considering fighters today?
Sharp: You could perform marginal analyses on fights and fighting styles. A good example is Jamie Munguia, who fought recently (4/13/19). Munguia punches with youthful, gazelle-like exuberance, seemingly throwing all caution to the wind. But his recent level of competition means he has to weigh the cost of these escapades against his defense. He’s primarily an offensive-minded boxer, but needs to find a way to reduce the cost of throwing punches by throwing them more safely – straight punches instead of the parabolic fireworks he is comfortable with; ordering his punches for greater effect; jabbing so as to provide cover while he sets up these punches. This is more sophisticated than the production possibility curve discussion because Munguia needs to be offensive-minded in order to be successful. He doesn’t want to trade much offense for a better defense, but he needs to discover what portion, or margin, of his power punching he can restrain, which will provide him a greater margin of safety. This would in effect place him on a higher production possibility curve, but is something he needs to do, because he’s plateaued.
7: Curcio: You write that you were at once confident and afraid before your first fight (Lamont Santana in 1982). A lot has been written about boxing and fear - often in regards to the use of the latter as an ally to the former. Having examined this most primal emotion at length in your book, do you hold an overarching philosophy regarding fear?
Sharp: Fear can be your friend, if you let it. It can tell you about yourself. The fear you feel before a fight is the same kind of fear you feel anytime, in any other situation. Just as a play is a temporally and spatially condensed version of a segment of life in which the drama is packed into a two hour story to create an emotional gestalt, the fear of forthcoming violence is a condensed version of the heightened discomfort we feel when confronting an unknown aspect of ourselves. As I wrote in the book, the combat between two humans is what the fans pay to see, but the real fight is the internal struggle within each boxer. The fighter is asking questions of himself and is not sure what the answers will be. That unknown is what is frightening. That is the source of the fear.
Fear can be funny, too, and sometimes difficult to understand. Several years ago, a man I worked with died, and his wife asked me to speak at the funeral. I wrote a very heartfelt eulogy – I thought the world of this person – but was scared to death waiting my turn to speak. Sitting in the church, surrounded by people who would be supportive and who loved this man as I did, I was as scared as I had been for any fight. Was I frightened of emotionally breaking down while speaking or of confronting my own mortality? I still don’t know. But I was struck to be feeling a way I had not known for many years.
Sharp- Santana, 1982
8: Curcio: While you were preparing for your second fight (Mike Hutchinson, 1982) after some tension with Joe. But it sounds like the real stress was the physical depletion you endured to make the scales. How would you describe the affect all of this had on your loss to Hutchinson?
Sharp: The weight loss affected me greatly. I shouldn’t have been fighting that night. I could usually take a pretty good punch, so for Hutchinson to hurt me so easily is evidence of how weak I was. I was also a confused mess of a boxer at that point, and I can’t say Hutchinson wouldn’t have beaten me even if I was at full strength. I had no confidence in my offense or defense. The only thing I was secure about was my durability, which didn’t work out too well.
9: Curcio: The tension between Bobo and Joe at that time couldn’t have helped. Bobo dropped out of the picture while you were still in training.
Sharp: It was clear as the Hutchinson fight neared that Bobo and Joe were done working together. I didn’t know exactly what that meant for me, but I knew it wasn’t good. Bobo wasn’t coming to the gym in Sacramento and, without a trainer, I had no one to tell I was starving to death. I wasn’t going to complain to Yaqui or Hank, and Joe didn’t know enough about boxing to have known there was a problem. Because I was having such a difficult time sparring with Yaqui I had lost a lot of confidence in my offensive capacity, and I never really thought I had a defense. I was a physical, psychological, and emotional wreck.
Yaqui and Glen in March 2019
People can gain resilience through difficulty. Like Nietzsche observed, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and my life up to that point had been soft and easy. I’d never known real turmoil, and I wasn’t strong enough to grasp what was happening or to reassure myself that I would get through this. All of this eventually helped to make me a much stronger man. But I wasn’t strong at the time.
Fight poster for the main event, 3/2/’78 at MSG: Mike Rossman vs. Yaqui Lopez. Rossman did not answer the bell for the 7th.
10: Curcio: You talk about a lot of people within your boxing-circle as having factored into your career, and reading Punching, it’s clear that their wisdom continues to mold you. There’s no way to touch on them all here, but are there any that I passed over that you want to mention?
Sharp: Boxing is a surreal world, more humorous than a David Lynch movie, but too dangerously serious to be comedy. I have known so many over-the-top characters in the forty years I’ve been hanging around gyms, and I hope to tell some stories about them. Punching from the Shadows was too confessional in tone to include that aspect without diluting my own narrative. Boxers and boxing people are characters straight from a Lanford Wilson play and, although I’m not a dramatist, I’d like to present that perspective in a similar way.
11: Curcio: Well, there’s no harm in one more question despite this post’s title especially as it's one I was tempted to open with. As I moved into the books “third act,” I noticed an increasing vulnerability in your prose. The “freedom,” you write in the book’s last sentence, “that comes with having nothing left to confess,” exposes the zen-like wisdom that’s slowly unfolded over 250 pages, and you seem to leave things open-ended. There’s also an honesty in your full disclosure that you’re still teasing out the past, boxing and otherwise. The artist Larry Rivers wrote a biography called What Did I Do? (or if you prefer the line from Talking Heads: “How did I get here?”). Either of these could serve as a subtitle to Punching, as you seem to accept life, memory, the future, and even the present as a constant work in progress.
Sharp: Punching from the Shadows was tremendously freeing in two ways. The story is about how I came to terms with my failure as a boxer and the ways in which I chose to atone for that failure. But the act of telling the story was also tremendously liberating. At the end, I felt as though I had made a full confession of my experience.
The attempt to tell an honest story about ourselves is a good way to learn about ourselves. Telling this story has affected how I am going to write in the future. For years I wrote hoping to make enough money to quit my job. (What I mainly earned from that effort brought in enough rejection slips to wallpaper a house.) With Punching from the Shadows, however, I knew I was on to something - I wasn’t as concerned with entertainment value, but rather to earn the respect of those whose opinions I valued. In that regard I’m very content with how it has been received.
A respite during the Mike Hutchinson bout, 1982
Now that I am in my sixties, I’ll be leaving my job soon and will have the time to write more. Making money from the endeavor is not a high priority, however. I’d rather use that time to write something that is meaningful rather than just entertaining. Norman Maclean said he wrote in order to make sense of his life. This approach especially resonates with me, and Punching was one attempt to make sense of that chapter of my life.