THESE DOCS ROCK Boxing Documentaries Worth Checking Out

Even though there have been numerous documentaries on “The Greatest,” I still went to see “I Am Ali” when it was released in theaters and on demand on October 10. I am a sucker for boxing documentaries and I like to think every fan of the sport is too.

Fans often say that boxing needs a league akin to Major League Baseball or the NFL to bring order to the sport. That may be, but the lack of one is why boxing has brought us some of the best sports documentaries of the past 20 years. One does not have to go through a league to get to the truth of the story they are trying to tell and that makes for powerful cinema.

All great movies are special in their own way so it is almost impossible to rank movies from best to worst. However, here are ten boxing documentaries worth checking out.

Assault in the Ring (2008): The 1983 Billy Collins/Luis Resto fight in which Resto and his trainer, Panama Lewis, were convicted of assault for removing padding from his gloves is the one of the ugliest incidents in boxing history. Filmmaker Eric Drath’s documentary, which follows Resto as he tries to make amends, stays with you but matches that event’s sleaziness. A few years later, Drath filmed Sugar Ray Leonard’s reunion with Roberto Duran in the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary “No Más,” but their meeting does not have the impact that Resto’s and Collins’ does in his first film. Note: This film is also known as “Cornered: A Life in the Ring.”

26 Years: The Dewey Bozella Story (2012): After having his wrongful conviction of murder overturned after 26 years in prison, 52-year-old Dewey Bozella fulfills his dream of having one professional fight. The drama in this ESPN documentary does not come in the fight, but with Bozella’s attempt to be licensed.

Muhammad Ali: The Whole Story (2001): This seven-hour documentary spans Ali’s entire career and includes full rounds from many fights not shown on ESPN Classic. Those looking for salaciousness will be disappointed, but this is a must-have for those looking for comprehensive information.

When We Were Kings (1996): This Oscar-winning documentary tells the full story of the “Rumble in the Jungle.” What made it special was the fact that almost the entire movie was unseen footage from 1974 that captures the importance of the moment and the charisma of Ali.

Thrilla in Manila (2008): The 1975 rubber match between Ali and the late Joe Frazier is one of the greatest fights of all time, but one cannot think of it without thinking about the bitterness that Frazier carried into his final days. This HBO documentary captures the nastiness of the rivalry through interviews with Frazier and a shockingly blunt Ferdie Pacheco. In the end, you just wish Frazier could have let it go.

Muhammad and Larry (2009): Like “When We Were Kings,” almost all of the footage for this documentary was shot in the weeks leading up to “The Last Hurrah” and not released for more than two decades. While “Kings” captures the greatness of Ali, this one shows how far he had deteriorated. Maybe those around him could not see it because it happened gradually over time, but as you watch this documentary, you are heartbroken that the fight even took place.

Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth (2013): I was fortunate to see Tyson’s one-man show when it came through Washington, D.C. While the filmed version on Broadway does not include his ribbing of former brother-in-law and Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, it captures the essence of the most polarizing fighter of the past 30 years. It makes you cringe, shake your head in disgust, sympathize and laugh.

Legendary Nights: The Tale of Chavez/Taylor (2003): One of the most controversial and saddest moments in boxing history is discussed in detail in this excellent series from HBO. The network revisited the tale of Arturo Gatti and Mickey Ward last year. Boxing fans would love to see them do the same with the story of Meldrick Taylor and Julio Cesar Chavez.

J.C. Chavez (2007): Actor Diego Luna made his directorial debut with this documentary that accompanies Chavez as he closes out his career with retirement fights. When we join him, the legendary fighter is 42 and his skills have vastly diminished and the movie is more about him coming to terms with it and retiring with grace.

Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson (2004): The greatest documentarian takes on the most fascinating fighter in the history of the sport. Despite having limited footage at his disposal, Ken Burns captures the brutality of boxing and the hostility Jack Johnson faced greeting each day on his own terms. Every boxing fan should spend the four hours required to view this documentary.

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COMMENTS

-The Commish :

All of the above are worthy or being in a boxing fan's video library. As I was a part of "Assault in the Ring" (I was Editor-in-Chief of The Ring during that criminal event), the story is one which will stay with me forever. My editorial in The Ring, following Billy Collins Jr.'s death, helped open a case against Panama Lewis and Luis Resto, a case in which they were tried, found guilty ansd sentenced to a few years in jail. When they got out, they re-applied for their boxing licenses: Lewis as a trainer/cornerman, Resto as a fighter. They made their applications to the New York State Athletic Commission. I was no longer at The Ring. I was head of the Athletic Commission. I turned both of their applications down. For the emotions and the drama and the telling of the powerful story in the documentary, filmmaker Eric Drath won an Emmy. He deserved to win. Billy Collins Jr. did not deserve what happened to him, though. A few months ago, while at a boxing show on Long Island, Luis Resto and I happened to walk past each other. I said "Hello, Luis." He replied softly, "Hello, Commissioner." Then he said something else as I continued to walk. I thought I heard him correctly, but wasn't quite sure. I stopped, turned around and asked, "What was that?" He repeated his words. "You ruined my life!" he said. I looked at him with amazement. "I ruined YOUR life?" I asked. Then I repeated it, and continued. "YOU ruined your life. You and Panama Lewis ruined both of your lives. I had nothing to do with it. Don't you dare say I ruined your life. I didn't take the padding out of the gloves. I didn't put the gloves on knowing the padding was out. I didn't beat Billy Collins' face into a purple mask, knowing I was hitting him with nothing but taped knuckles! YOU ruined your life, not me!" I turned and walked away. Collins did not come over to apologize for his remark. He has never apologized, never shown a bit of remorse. His only remorse is that his license to fight and later work corners was permanently revoked. For that, he has remorse. For that, and also for his existence in a dark, dingy basement apartment underneath a Bronx gym. For his jail time, for his banishment from boxing and for his lonely, pathetic existence, he blames me! I have news for him. As I wrote in my editorial some 30 years ago: "If indeed there is a heaven, Billy Collins Jr. will spend eternity in paradise. As for his killer, the man I think to be his killer, the Grim Reaper will come calling one day, and send him to burn in the fires of hell for the same amount of time." If I were Panama Lewis or if I were Luis Resto, I'd look inside myself and finally come out and say "I'm sorry." It just might spare you on Judgement Day! -Randy G.


-Froggy :

Well said Randy G, I am glad you were the commissioner when they re-applied !


-TGK :

I think I own all of those and I would add "Facing Ali" to the list. The film came out in 2009 and is unique in that it focuses on poignant, insightful interviews with many legendary boxers for whom having the chance to get into the ring with "The Greatest" totally changed their lives. Whether they won or lost, it opened up doors of opportunity to them they would not have otherwise experienced. Included are Foreman, Frasier, Holmes, Ken Norton, George Chuvalo, Ernie Shavers, Ron Lyle, Henry Cooper, and more. A fantastic movie that will move you.


-stormcentre :

I think I own all of those and I would add "Facing Ali" to the list. The film came out in 2009 and is unique in that it focuses on poignant, insightful interviews with many legendary boxers for whom having the chance to get into the ring with "The Greatest" totally changed their lives. Whether they won or lost, it opened up doors of opportunity to them they would not have otherwise experienced. Included are Foreman, Frasier, Holmes, Ken Norton, George Chuvalo, Ernie Shavers, Ron Lyle, Henry Cooper, and more. A fantastic movie that will move you.
Yep, "Facing Ali" was indeed a good watch. As many of his opponents (in the movie) would say (or words similar to) . . "A lot of spectators would not get that Ali was a mean SOB, because they were used to thinking of him as boxing's smooth operator. The heavyweight that somehow floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee. But in the ring with him he was as mean - if not meaner - as any other top heavyweight of their time". In some ways I think some of Floyd Mayweather's opponents will say the same thing in the future years to come, particularly after Mayweather retires. One thing though, I can't remember if Frazier was interviewed for the "Facing Ali" movie. If he wasn't, after watching the "Thrilla In Manilla" it's certainly understandable! As, from his accounts in that flick, he would be absolutely loathed to give Ali props for being "hard and tough". If he was, I would like to be reminded if Smoking Joe actually gave Ali fair/reasonable props.