Picks and Pans Review: Buttercups and Strong Boys

updated 06/05/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/05/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by William Plummer

Dirty gyms and greased faces. Worn gloves, fraying jump ropes, hard-voiced timekeepers and white-haired trainers. The posters on the wall are old, the boxers in the ring young, the atmosphere of water buckets, spray sponges and cutmen is timeless. This steady grime and daily grind is the reality of boxing. The million-dollar lawsuits, the HBO bouts, the expensive cars and high-fashion ladies are nothing more than items in books or on TV, a fantasy game played by the contestants. They have nothing to do with boxing.

The New York Golden Gloves are about boxing. Since the tournament began in 1929, the Gloves (sponsored by the New York Daily News) have been spawning grounds for world champs (22 at last count) and a refuge for street kids only a step away from a gun, a crime and heavyweight jail time. The boxers train on makeshift equipment and deli-counter diets. The gyms are ghetto walkups. The trainers work with little money and large doses of patience.

Mickey Rosario is one of those trainers. Mickey and his wife, Negra, work and live in East Harlem, opening their limited world to a potential Dirty Dozen mix of fighters, some with real potential, most destined to turn up with empty hands and punched-in faces. It is a thankless, low-income job, often with years of effort and work lost over a quick overhand right to the jaw. But that's boxing too.

Plummer, a PEOPLE senior writer, traces this boxing scene through the eyes of the Rosarios, weaving their story into a season with the Gloves. The pacing is as hectic as a bantamweight bout, while the dialogue and settings are delivered in telling combinations. The five-mile-a-day workouts, the stress of the gym, the empty sensation of prefight jitters are all deeply felt and elegantly understood: "There were times when I believed that boxing was solely about fear. Show me a boxer, I thought, and I will show you fear in a handful of dust." (Viking, $17.95)

From Our Partners