To Americans living in the first half of the twentieth century, boxing mattered. Now venerated or deplored by the few and tolerated or ignored by the many, in the pre-Second World War era boxing ranked alongside baseball as one of Americans’ two truly national, popular forms of sporting entertainment. Both were crucial to their sense of identity and to the shaping of their national culture. But boxing was unique on two counts.
First, American boxers competed in global contests, which exposed the provincialism of baseball’s risibly misnamed World Series. Indeed, the spectacle of two men attempting to punch each other’s lights out could on occasion assume grave geopolitical resonances. Secondly, the boxing ring was racially integrated. This marked it out