Review: Off the Ropes: The Ron Lyle Story by Candace Toft

off-the-ropes-coverOFF THE ROPES: THE RON LYLE STORY, Candace Toft. Hamilcar Publications, $27.95 (214p) ISBN-13: 978-1949590012
Publication date: Oct. 31, 2018

What you learn from a book is what really dictates its value. What the book reveals. What the book confronts. What the book asserts. Off the Ropes: The Ron Lyle Story, is the definitive biography about one of boxing’s “the most known and unknown” (homage to Three Six Mafia) heavyweight, Ron Lyle. At a time when the heavyweight division was inarguably at its height—the 1970s—Ron Lyle was unquestionably the most feared and avoided heavyweight. He has had more fights cancelled due to excuses by his opponents than any top-tier fighter in history.

Muhammad Ali only agreed to fight Ron Lyle after he (Lyle) lost to an unheralded heavyweight named Jimmy Young. Joe Frazier and Ken Norton wanted no part of Lyle. George Foreman agreed to fight him only AFTER losing his title to Muhammad Ali in the “Rumble in the Jungle,” which was fought in Kinshasa, Zaire. Jerry Quarry was only willing to fight Lyle a second time when offered a king’s ransom. Of course, as he got older, there were more suitors, (i.e., Jerry Cooney et al), however, Lyle was still a threat to any heavyweight because of his extreme punching power. Earnie Shavers, who is considered by most boxing experts to be the hardest punching fighter in history, declared that no one hit him harder than Lyle.

But, Lyle’s story is so much more than his boxing exploits. He was one of 19 children. His father was a cleric and his mother was devoutly religious. Even though Lyle’s upbringing was strict, his GPS was set to mischief, and then morphed into petty crime. Lyle was convicted of murder, learned to box in prison, served 7 ½ years, became a professional boxer, met a woman—married her—had a child, and pursued becoming heavyweight champion with a level of zeal that would be considered extreme—even for Steve Jobs or Elon Musk.

Like many boxers, Lyle had more “downs” than “ups” and managed to find trouble. However, his devotion to children was second only to his devotion to boxing. We learn that Lyle was charitable, deeply private, overwhelmingly mistrustful, and overburdened with demons. The writer, the late Candace Toft, uses plain language to tell a very complex story. Her writing style allows the reader to gain traction rather than be distracted by language that overreaches. Hall-of-Fame boxing journalist, Al Bernstein, wrote a compelling foreword. Off the Ropes is as good as any boxer-bio/memoir ever written and would be an even better feature film.

Rating: Booking Cool

Rating Scale:
Cool: Decent
So Cool: Good
Booking Cool: Excellent
So Booking Cool: Masterpiece