Lauren D. Chouinard has never been a boxer or an expert on the sport.
The true fact is he spent his childhood in the inner city of Chicago's south side a few blocks from the home of Cassius Clay (now Muhammad Ali) during a turbulent time of the 1960s trying to keep from getting his ass kicked, stabbed or shot.
But you'd never know it from his new book: “Muscle and Mayhem: The Saginaw Kid and the Fistic World of the 1890s.” The book, released recently by Dog Ear Publishing ($29.95), takes an interesting look at George Henry Lavigne - better known as “The Saginaw Kid” - the lightweight boxing champion of the world from 1896-1899. The book also features the early days of boxing when the Queensberry Rules, featuring gloved fists and timed rounds, began to transform boxing into a legitimate sport.
Chouinard's mother is Lavigne's second cousin “a few times removed,” and the person who motivated him to write the book. In fact he dedicated the book to his mother, Eleanor Emma Lavigne, who he calls “the greatest little sports fan of the 20th century.”
It may have been, in part, because of his bloodlines with Lavigne that put Chouinard on an extraordinary journey that captured the boxer's greatness in this comprehensive biography.
Boxing historian Bill Schutte was the original collector of all things Kid Lavigne. According to Chouinard, it was his archive that was sold to a man by the name of Harry Shaffer from whom he purchased a copy. The two men provided the author with a trove of articles about Lavigne.
The rest, as they say, was good, old fashion hard work.
The book was researched to the depths for over three years and chronicles Kid Lavigne's birth in 1869 to his defeat of “Iron Man” Dick Burge of England for the world lightweight title in 1896 and everything in between. The story pulls no punches (no pun intended), following Lavigne's booze-fueled decline, a dozen arrests, a foray to Paris to conduct a boxing school, trips to the insane asylum and ultimately his death at age 58 in 1928 in Detroit.
Lavigne, who stood just 5-feet, 3 ½ inches and weighed only 132 pounds, was born in Bay City but moved to Melbourne (near Zilwaukee) when he was young to work in a lumber camp. That was where he learned to fight bare-fisted; taking on all comers. That's why Chouinard considers Lavigne more of a brawler than a fine-tuned boxer.
The book features dozens of photos and quotes from original correspondence, and deftly mixes genealogy, history, culture, and sport, showcasing boxing's early beginnings and providing an entertaining account of the life of Kid Lavigne, one of the era's most popular and accomplished pugilists.
“His stamina and capacity to absorb punishment were seldom equaled in any age of boxing,” said Chouinard. “The Kid was first and foremost a body puncher. He deployed his formidable talent through a suffocating attack designed to overwhelm and incapacitate his opponent.”
“Submission was often the cumulative effect of many rounds of crushing body blows that set up a final smash to the chin that ended it. There was simply no quit in him. He was in a work, 'relentless.' He was also typical of his day as he lived fast, fought hard, drank too much, attempted a failed comeback, and died fairly young after squandering a fortune.”
The 436-page, 35-chapter book was so well written it seemed as if Chouinard had personally met Lavigne. That's because of the love and passion the author has for George Henry Lavigne. Chouinard admits he wasn't a boxer or an expert on the sport but he just may be the world's foremost authority on Kid Lavigne.
The chapter that I found most interesting dealt with Charles A.C. Smith, “a large, muscular and handsome black man.” I've read quite a bit about C.A.C., as he was known, as he came to Saginaw from the south in the 1860s. Smith would become an accomplished heavyweight boxer while also running a barbershop on Tuscola Street. At the time there were 32 black barbers in the “Saginaws,” but none who possessed the fistic skills of C.A.C. He opened a boxing stable in 1883 and that's when he crossed paths with Lavigne, helping train and teach the sport to the raw fighter.
After his career ended Lavigne worked for Henry Ford as a night watchman. Chouinard, however, said Lavigne was basically one of Henry Ford's “thugs.” When he needed dirty work done he called upon Lavigne.
The Saginaw Kid was inducted into the Ring Hall of Fame in 1959, Michigan Boxing Hall of Fame in 1965, International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1998, Bay County Sports Hall of Fame in 1998, and the Saginaw County Sports Hall of Fame in 2002.
The 60-year-old Chouinard earned a bachelor's degree in history from Illinois State University where he helped found its rugby team. In 1978 he moved to Eugene, Ore., to open Pacific Nautilus, a health and fitness club. Chouinard worked in municipal government for 27 years, retiring as the City of Eugene's human resource director in 2008. He also wrote “Get Off Your Butt,” a guide to getting in shape while overcoming excuses. Chouinard belongs to the International Boxing Research Organization and lives in Eugene with his wife, Carrie.