By Tyson Bruce
The new eight-part, Dana White produced boxing reality TV show, “The Fighters”, debuted tonight on the Discovery Channel.
The show chooses to focus on the personalities and characters of boxing, rather than trying to find a new boxing champion, as previous reality shows have attempted to do. In particular the show is about resurrecting the local fight scene in Boston, which has been dramatically reduced in the last several years.
The first episode focuses on two amateur super middleweights, Matt Phinney, 28, and Anthony McKenna, 25, who have aspirations of turning professional. Although the episode concludes with them fighting in a three round bout, the main focus of episode one is on the struggle of their lives and the relationship with their trainers in preparation for the bout.
Critics of the show will certainly point out that the two men are of advanced age, most serious boxers turn professional in there early twenties, and have limited experience, with Phinney and McKenna each having only around 20-30 amateur fights. Many American boxers who compete at the national level have literally hundreds of amateur bouts by their early twenties, so taking them seriously as future pros will be a tough sell for some.
However, given the difficulties of the two contestants lives (Anthony McKenna is a recovering drug addict, and Matt Phinney is so broke that he sleeps in his car), it, none-the-less, makes compelling drama. The same goes for their trainers—the surly Peter Welch and the no nonsense Joe Ricciardi—who come across the TV screen like archetypes from a Rocky movie. It has a certain charm and familiarity that is sure to resonate with mainstream audiences and not just boxing fans.
Perhaps the best part of the show, if you can get around the reality TV show clichés, is the attempt to bring the local boxing scene back to Boston. Boxing, at its heart, is a sport dominated by regionalism and the heroes that represent those communities. In a not so distant past a fighter could make a pretty good living just being a regular on the local fight circuit. Remember the guys like Cyclone Heart and Willy “The Worm” Monroe that dominated the Philly fight scene of the 1970’s? Phinney and McKenna are a few galaxies away when it comes to talent, but the sentiment is still commendable.
Perhaps even more interesting, is the possibility of other cities with more experienced boxers being given similar exposure. The show could just as easily be set in Brooklyn, London, or Philadelphia as it is in Boston.
Having Dana White, the face of the UFC, involved in the sweet science is an interesting twist. The Internet is sure to be afloat with conspiracy theories, but if we are to take White at his word, then his involvement can be looked at as interesting and a positive addition to the boxing community.
Both McKenna and Phinney are portrayed as lost souls, for which boxing is the last source of hope and redemption. It hits hard on the underdog angle and makes the dramatic climax of the fight a gut wrenching moment for the audience. Matt Phinney is from the infamously tough Southie neighbourhood and McKenna from Saugus.
In the fight, McKenna was the boxer and attempted to keep the stronger Phinney at bay with his jab. Phinney, the Peter Welch trained fighter, managed to drop McKenna with a body-head combination in the opening round and continued to put the pressure on in the first and second rounds. McKenna fought back bravely in the final frame, but it was too late as Phinney won a comfortable decision victory.
Overall, the show is an interesting character portrayal about interesting characters that color the world of boxing. However, that fighters of such low merit received coveted national coverage over more accomplished amateurs (many of whom come from equally dire circumstances) has to be mentioned. Criticism aside, I am still looking forward to the shows progression.