For 20 years the film negative of this remarkable documentary TitleShot – probably the last to be shot entirely on 16mm film– has been in cold storage. Life and circumstances had interrupted its completion, and other award-winning documentaries were made in the meantime. Now a Kickstarter campaign is launched by filmmaker Gaylen Ross to finally finish this film.
The good news is that the lapse of two decades has allowed for a unique time capsule: a window into a boxing era now gone. Much of TitleShot was filmed at New York’s world-famous Gleason’s Gym during a very exciting era when the place was filled with World Champions and contenders. TitleShot shows what really happens to a professional fighter through the rise and fall of professional junior middleweight Ugandan boxer Godfrey Nyakana. From training at Gleason’s to fighting at the Great Western Forum of Los Angeles, TitleShot captures the uniquely exquisite blow-by-blow action of professional boxing through Nyakana’s title quest.
Careers have risen and fallen (and some to return again) since TitleShot’s filming in the late 90’s. Godfrey is seen sparring with then up-and-coming Shane Mosely (as Shane’s father/trainer looks on) or getting pre-fight bedroom advice from legendary featherweight Kevin Kelley and his wife. Included are some of boxing’s greats, like trainer Bob Jackson, former middleweight contender turned trainer, “Irish” Bobby Cassidy, and a few no longer with us — legendary cut man Al Gavin, Muhammad Ali’s trainer Angelo Dundee, and promoter Cedric Kushner. These old-school trainers and cornermen are the last of a breed and represent the glory days of boxing.
Equally we see how much has gotten worse for the middle class fighter since then. For those in the film like Kelley or Mosley, and Godfrey, boxing in the 1990s offered the possibility to survive until a real payday came along. Today the distance between the elite fighter and the emerging contender is probably greater than its ever been. Gleason’s gym is still filled with fighters, the dreams are still there. But the brass ring is ever further away.
Through the extraordinary verite cinematography of Bob Richman, (Metallica, The September Issue, Paradise Lost,) TitleShot offers some of the best in the ring fight action and emotional intensity of great fight films. The film travels with Godfrey from match to match – the preludes, the fights themselves and their climatic outcome. A former Commonwealth games gold-medal winner, Godfrey travels 3 hours on the subway each day from a tiny basement apartment in the East Bronx to Gleason’s. For Godfrey this is not just a fight for a title but for his life — manager, trainer, big money backers, wrapped up in the American dream.
All the while we meet other struggling boxers who are on their own way up or down, including a Detroit heavy weight who meets up with Godfrey, as both find common ground as they travel through South Central Los Angeles. Tough battles lead to the stunning pain that accompanies a knockout loss, or the exhilaration of a win as this roller coaster ride careens from locker rooms to midnight strategy meetings with trainer and manager. The film stays with Godfrey and his team, as they groom him, train him, celebrate with him or pull him back from defeat until that final title shot. The title is a dream not only for Godfrey, but also for his trainer Bobby Cassidy, who confronts his own lost chances as a boxer, while pursuing the championships for his fighters.
The film will update where the fighters are now: Godfrey Nyakana has returned to Uganda and is now mayor of a district of its capital, Kampala, or fighters like Kevin Kelley, and Shane Mosely currently training his own son, while planning a comeback in the ring.
Director Gaylen Ross
Producers Gaylen Ross, Andrew Ford
Consultants: Bruce Silverglade, owner Gleason’s Gym
and Robert Cassidy, sports journalist
Photo courtesy Chris Cassidy