10 Must-See Boxing Documentaries
by Hans Olson
This is a relatively slow month if you’re a boxing fan; we’ve gone a few weeks between major fights on the premium networks. If you’re like me, you start to go into withdrawals. If the return of ESPN’s “Friday Night Fights” hasn’t been enough to satisfy your boxing fix…let’s take a look at 10 must-see boxing documentaries to check out during these long winter months…
10. Kassim The Dream (2008)
“Kassim the Dream” is the story of Ugandan-born fighter Kassim Ouma, who at the age of six was kidnapped and forced to join the National Resistance Army where he was a child soldier. Upon joining the Army’s boxing team, Kassim realized boxing could be a way out of Africa, and he defected to the United States. Director Klef Davidson documents not only his past horrors, but the present struggles of a fighter during what was to be the most important fight in his career—a middleweight showdown with then-champion Jermain Taylor.
9. Joe Louis: America’s Hero Betrayed (2008)
“Joe Louis: America’s Hero Betrayed” tells the story of Joe Louis, and how he changed the course of history, shaping American society’s racial consciousness during a time of war and prejudice. At times saddening, the film is an accurate depiction of not only what an American athlete is, but what they are to us—and how Joe Louis deserved better as his life reached it’s later years.
8. Tyson (2008)
James Toback’s 2008 triumph “Tyson” wasn’t only an achievement due to it’s subject, but in the way which we were able to understand the subject—the subject being of course Mike Tyson. Where prior Tyson documentaries and film adaptations we learned of Mike’s harsh upbringing and the subsequent downfall of his career, Toback’s film had an anxious quality that was able to maintain emotional grit due to the relentless candor Tyson gave him. At times disturbing, it’s a look into the psyche of a man we’ve for years tried to understand.
7. Muhammad and Larry (2009)
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6. Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story (2005)
“Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story,” tells the tale of Emile Griffith and his 1962 bout with Benny “Kid” Paret that ultimately ended in Paret’s death. It’s a harrowing story detailing the inner rage and pain of Griffith, whose sexual identity was insulted by Paret at the bout’s weigh-in. Director’s Ron Berger and Dan Klores explore a life of violence, fame, and sexual politics that Griffith endured, and the effects of all therein.
5. Southpaw (1999)
“Southpaw” is a fantastic look at Francis Barrett, a Galway City fighter who came from Irish Traveller heritage. Irish Traveller’s are often discriminated against in Ireland, and the film’s essence captures the determination of overcoming that obstacle as Barrett represents Ireland on his journey to the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
4. Broken Noses (1987)
Although not a star-studded big name story, “Broken Noses” is the story of former pro boxer Andy Minsker and the Mount Scott Boxing Club. The sweeping dreaminess of the jazz score and black and white imagery strangely capture a quality of the hardships of the fight game, enhanced by the emotional quality of the characters involved. The spirit of these small gyms and hard working coaches—especially in regions like Oregon where the film is based—is the heart of what the sport of boxing is all about.
3. The Thrilla in Manilla (2009)
Years removed from one of the most grueling fights of all time, the story of “The Thrilla in Manilla” is re-told. This time however, it’s Joe Frazier recounting his side of the fight, and what HBO called “a tale of personal betrayal that was stoked by the racial politics of 1970’s America.”
2. Assault in the Ring (2009)
“Assault in the Ring” takes us back to that fateful day on June 16, 1983 when Luis Resto defeated Billy Collins Jr in one of the most controversial fights of all time. Resto, a huge underdog going in, hammered Collins over the course of 10 rounds to win a decision. After the fight however, Luis Resto’s gloves were found to be missing a large amount of horse-hair padding, along with other illegalities that the film shines light on. It’s a story of not just one, but the many lives that were ruined that night—and Resto’s attempt at coming to terms with his own.
1. When We Were Kings (1996)
Leon Gast’s Academy Award winning documentary of 1974’s “Rumble in the Jungle” between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman is simply must-see. There’s nothing more to say. Go see it.
Boxing Insider’s Hans Olson can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @hansolson