(inspired by: http://www.intermatwrestle.com/articles/7197)
John Irving said he’s glad he read Dickens before Hemingway, that if it had been the other way around he’d be a copy editor instead of a novelist.
Those sound like fightin’ words.
Clear the octagon.
Hemingway’s music on entering the octagon is The Lonely Bull by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. He bobs and weaves and lifts his knees, stomping his feet while he slow-breathes.
Irving comes in quiet, shaking his arms and legs loose, jumping low and shuffling a quick Ali.
Papa charges to the center of the octagon. Irving crabs out sideways, ready for anything. In a surprise, Hemingway fakes a double leg and slams Irving with an upper-cut when he leaned too far over. The old news writer is really delivering tonight.
Irving crabs one way, then the other, jab-fakes a reverse step, and shoots in. Hemingway delivers a chopping right hand to the side of Irving’s head and drops him. Before he can cover, Irving sits out and rolls away and springs to his feet.
A classic cobra vs mongoose match develops. Hemingway strikes frequently on short, forceful punches with knock-out power. Irving moves in long loops, using drags and trips to move his opponent.
The action is short and intense. An exchange of punches, knees, shoulders, and forearms rake the air around them into a bubble of violence and spit and blood.
The two men fight for their honor, the honor of their loved ones, and the honor of their reputation. Win or lose, it isn’t over. The winner of this match faces Ken Kesey, the odds on favorite as toughest writer ever.
Don’t even bring up Norman Mailer. Or Jack London. If we’re talking the octagon, and we are, then Kesey rules the MMA Literary Championship.
Who from the literary ranks is going to take out a Division 1 wrestler? Who of equal or greater literary standing could do it?
Muhammad Ali wrote some poetry, but we saw how he did against the Japanese wrestler. Kesey drops them both.
If Charles Bukowski brings his street hard edge to the octagon with Kesey he gets carried out.
Round one ends with some damage, but no leader.
Hemingway starts talking smack in the second round. He peppers Irving with jabs and insults.
“Glad you read Dickens first, huh Irving? I’d like to find you and Chuckie in here at the same time and level you both. Best of times for me, worst for you both. Have you ever heard me say how glad I was to read Sherwood Anderson? How thrilled I was typing for Gertrude Stein? You want to throw someone under the bus, punk, try someone else.”
His words end when Irving fakes to his right and delivers a left hook to the body, the dreaded liver punch.
“You don’t scare me Ernie. I can take it, and I can give it out. How about you?” He fakes another liver punch and drives a flying Superman punch into Hemingway’s face. “That one’s for John Dos Passos. Who’s the pilot fish now?”
Hemingway takes the hit and bounces off the ropes, right into an Irving double. But the sneaky veteran of the Lost Generation loops a front choke on Irving so hard it bows his neck.
“I’ve run with the bulls, son. I’ve been in two World Wars. And you’re supposed to frighten me? I’ve landed fish bigger than you. Let’s just settle in so you can tap-out, Johnny Boy.”
In a surprise move, Irving rolls Hemingway over the top in a face to face gut-wrench that slams Ernie’s face into the mat on one side, then the other, until he releases the choke.
“F. Scott Fitzgerald whipped you. People read The Great Gatsby, not The Sun Also Rises. If Nick Carraway was in here with Jake Barnes he’d drop him the way I’m about to do you,” Irving says.
Hemingway rolls to his belly to build his base when Irving hammers him down with body bumps. Hemingway protects his neck against a rear naked choke, but Irving spins to the side and jams a vicious half-nelson in that nearly tears off an ear.
By the time Hemingway reacts, it’s too late. Irving rolls him and sinks the half so deep that his knuckles dig into Hemingway’s sternum. The crackling sounds come from Ernie’s neck, chest, and his hand pounding the mat in a tap-out.
Irving stands over Hemingway with arms raised.
“You don’t scare me, Ernest. Steinbeck scares me, but not you,” he says.
“Then you don’t know who to be frightened of. That’s usually the case with men who spend too much time on their hair. Ezra Pound could take you down.”
“What you’ll see, pretty boy, is Ken Kesey. The man who introduced the Stamper family is going to stomp a hole right through you.”
“At least he knew how to write in America. He’s good enough to do it here instead of run off to Paris to look exotic.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means what it says. You needed settings your audience didn’t know to prop up your work. It couldn’t stand alone. Kesey is all-American all the time.”
“Closer than you.”
“A Nobel Prize sits on my mantle.”
“I’ve got an Academy Award.”
“Winner of our rematch takes both?”
“Then I’ll have two, yours and the one I’ll get on my own,” Irving says.
Hemingway reaches over and messes Irving’s hair. “Get a haircut or the next time I’ll snatch you bald-headed.”
“Like this time, Ernie? It’ll end up just like this time. Where’s Kesey. I’m ready now. I’ll send him over a cuckoo’s nest.”