With no live boxing taking place due to the ongoing coronavirus, hardcore fight fans, boxing junkies if you prefer, are having a tough time of things. Yes, there are far more serious issues than boredom to contend with right now, but just the same it’s tough on a person’s mental health these days; isolated as many people are. Some fight fans are spending their spare time watching classic fights from yesteryear, and thank heavens for YouTube!
But over the long years of the sport, some fine boxing documentaries have been made. Filmmakers and all-round historians have long been fascinated by the exploits of the prizefighter, of the life fighters live in and out of the ring. There have of course been many dozens of films/movies devoted to boxing; some fictitious works, others based on true events.
But in terms of actual boxing documentaries, here are five that have to rank as personal favorites here. You could do a lot worse than to spend a few hours watching, or re-watching, the following works:
“Thrilla In Manila” – The HBO doc that went out when both Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier were still alive, this film caused plenty of controversy. For the first time, Frazier’s side of the blood feud with Ali was told. Ali fans had a tough time with a number of parts of the documentary, and maybe they still do even now. But whether you agree with the content or not, it cannot be denied how the thing is brilliantly put together. And of course, the third fight Ali and Frazier had, in 1975, is arguably the greatest heavyweight fight of all-time.
“Assault In The Ring” – Also distributed by HBO, this documentary tells the long and at times twisted tale of the Luis Resto-Billy Collins fight and the subsequent death of Collins. The infamous Panama Lewis, trainer of Resto, was banned from boxing for life for having removed the padding from his fighter’s gloves. Collins took a savage beating, his eyes pounded shut. Nine months after the fight in 1983, Collins was dead at the age of 22. The research done by Eric Drath, along with the director’s ability to track down and speak with key people in the story, make for a truly fascinating film.
“The Fight Of Their Lives” – From ITV and devoted to the tragedy and the aftermath of the savage 1995 fight between Nigel Benn and Gerald McClellan, this film is as hard to watch as it is engrossing. At times heartbreaking, especially seeing McClellan in his damaged condition, the film is also a vivid reminder of how brave all fighters have to be. It’s tough listening to Gerald’s “trainer” Stan Johnson spew out his nonsense, but this aside, the film is a stunning piece of work. Not for the fainthearted.
“When We Were Kings” – Leon Gast’s seminal piece of work covers the epic Ali-George Foreman fight – and all that went on in Zaire, Africa. Not just a boxing documentary (James Brown fans love the film), this one crams so much into it’s run time. Ali, Foreman, Don King, Norman Mailer, George Plimpton and a number of other notables speak passionately on the biggest boxing match the world has ever seen.
“I Am Duran” – This one is still pretty new, but if you haven’t seen it yet, do so now. The Duran story is set alongside a most interesting political backdrop and it really is amazing to see, or to be reminded, how BIG Duran is in his homeland of Panama; how powerful even. And the people who appear in the film do compromise of an interesting bunch: movie stars, boxing promoters and of course Duran’s former foes. The only quibble here is the fact that this film is not long enough.
Some other good ones:
“Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise And Fall Of Jack Johnson.”
“I Am Ali.”
“Sugar Ray Robinson: The Bright Lights And Dark Shadows Of A Champion.”
“Ring Of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story.”
“The Long Round: Chuvalo Vs. Ali.”