Book Review: The Professional
The Professional by W.C. Heinz
By Sijin Kurian
Most people have heard of or seen the popular TV show and movie M*A*S*H. Fewer people probably know that it was based off a book written by Richard Hooker. However, Richard Hooker doesn’t exist. Rather, it was the pen name of a doctor, H. Richard Hornberger, and a sportswriter, W.C. Heinz. Starting his career in the late 30s, Heinz is considered to be one of the best sportswriters of the past era, back when boxing and horseracing were covered religiously in newspapers. His first novel, The Professional, was published in 1958. Chronicling a boxer’s fight camp before his shot at a world title, the novel reveals many facets of the fight game that anyone involved in the business today can empathize with.
The narrator, a sportswriter named Frank Hughes, visits middleweight title contender Eddie Brown and follows him through his training camp, culminating with his fight for the title. The characters in the novel stay with you, partly because they are so fully realized by Heinz and partly because you have probably met or seen people similar to them in any fight business. In fact, if you’ve played EA Sports last boxing game, Fight Night Champion, you’ll see that he’s almost exactly like the coach, Doc Carroll. Doc and his boxer, Eddie Brown, carry the bulk of the novel with their relationship and dedication to each other. Doc has brought Eddie along slowly, building him up to be his perfect fighter, while Eddie dutifully has obeyed Doc’s instructions: “…I watched Doc’s kid walk out slowly and then start to circle, his hands low, looking out at the tops of his eyes, and there was no question about it. He was Doc’s fighter. It is what a painter does in his paintings so that you would know them, even without his signature…”
Despite having been written over 50 years ago, the truths about the fight game that Heinz reveals to the reader still ring true today, from the trials that fighters have to go through and what really makes a fighter, to the business of combat sports and how fighters are chewed up and spit out: (“It’s just too intricate for the average person, fight fan or not, to comprehend. All they see is the result. If it’s a war in there, great. If a guy gets knocked out, greater. That’s all they’re equipped to understand.”).
To me, any good novel or film reveals something about life to you. You should be impacted by the experience. That is also how any sport should be. Any coach worth his salt will tell you that you learn life lessons through sports. They should teach you about adversity, character, will, and camaraderie. This novel is that and more.