The Hustler and the Champ: Willie Mosconi, Minnesota Fats, and the Rivalry that Defined Pool

R.A. Dyer follows the lives of Willie Mosconi and Minnesota Fats, telling the story of America’s conflicted love affair with the sport of rogues.

Minnesota Fat and Willie Mosconi play pool
photo courtesy of Lyons Press

The true story of Willie Mosconi and Minnesota Fats

Before TV cameras, Howard Cosell,
and 20 million Americans, pool’s
greatest champion would challenge its
greatest hustler. The date: February
14, 1978. The stakes: honor, a legacy,
the true meaning of a sport. R.A. Dyer,
the award-winning author of Hustler
Days, tells the improbable but true
story of pool’s two most important
players and of a single match that
captured the public’s imagination like
none other, before or since. Willie
Mosconi stood for artistry, Minnesota
Fats for show business; Mosconi
brought dignity to pool, Fats made it
fun. When they came together for the
most watched pool match in American
history, the results would be explosive.

The great shootout

Willie Mosconi was pool's greatest champion - the winner of 15 world titles, the holder of records that have remained undisturbed for generations. Minnesota Fats was pool's most important trickster, a man who built his fame and fortune upon deceipt and guile. In 1978, both men came together for what would become the most viewed pocket billiards match in American history. Before a breathless nation, pool’s two most important personalities set out to prove who really was best.

photo of Minnesota Fats
courtesy of Billiards Digest

Mosconi may have been remembered as one of the most dominant sports figures of
all time, a man who had laid low some of the greatest players in history—but no one
would pose a greater threat to his legacy than the man-child Minnesota Fats. So when the consummate perfectionist and the unapologetic gambler finally went head to head for what Howard Cosell described as one of the most fascinating televised segments he ever hosted, all of America would ask the same question: Who would win?

The Hustler & The Champ tells of both men’s hardscrabble march to greatness, of
their bitter decades-long rivalry, and finally of the televised shoot-out that revealed
pocket billiards to millions even as it exposed the deep contradictions within all of
organized competition. Through the 1920s, the Great Depression, and the resurgent
1960s, R.A. Dyer follows the lives of both men and tells the story of America’s conflicted
love affair with the sport of rogues.

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