Once There Were Giants: The Golden Age of Heavyweight Boxing – by Jerry Izenberg

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

“…the man who possessed one of the three best heavyweight jabs among the moderns, including Sonny Liston and Joe Louis; the man with an absolutely devastating uppercut that his corner named “Big Jack” after the late, great Jack Johnson; and finally, the man who never really got the credit due him (along with Joe Frazier) because of the long shadow cast by the legend of Muhammad Ali.”


Who is this heavyweight fighter that long-time sports journalist Jerry Izenberg considers to be the most underrated?

Izenberg was introduced to heavyweight boxing when his father made the family listen to the Joe Louis – Max Schmeling fight in 1938. Though Louis was black, he thought of him as fighting for Jews and all Americans.

The “golden era” were the years from 1962 to 1997, beginning when Sonny Liston beat Floyd Patterson and ending when Mike Tyson bit off part of Evander Holyfield’s ear. Since that time, Izenberg maintains that the heavyweight boxing division has “degenerated into a carnival sideshow.”

In his book, Once There Were Giants: The Golden Age of Heavyweight Boxing, Izenberg describes the stunning fights of the era while also including the historical and sociological significance.

Though this time was “the best of the best”, the commissions were incompetent, susceptible to bribes and the mob had tremendous influence until the fights of Muhammad Ali. Izenberg reveals the incidences along with the names, trainers and enablers. He also gives credit to those boxers who were unfortunately exploited by the system.

He also gives reasons why he believes that some champions who were part of the era like Lennox Lewis and Riddick Bowe were not “greats”. On the other hand, he explains why some of the era may have been champions if they were part of the next generation, like Ernie Shaver, Jerry Quarry, Cleveland Williams, and Oscar Bonavena.

As a fan of the Golden era’s heavyweight division, I couldn’t put this book down and finished it in a few hours. It gave me a complete picture of the boxing world at that time and answered a lot of questions I had throughout the years. Boxing fans will find this descriptive and engaging. It also gives a glimpse of American history in the sport’s context.

So, you say that I never answered the original question? If you want to find out who Izensberg considers to be the most underrated heavyweight, you’ll just have to read the book. It will be totally worth it.

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