THERE was always something about boxing-themed films that got my attention.
Maybe it was the action surrounding the fight scenes. Or maybe it had more to do with the stories attached to the journey of becoming champion.
I remember, in particular, the Rocky series, especially Rocky III. As I was leaving the cinema in Peckham, South London, I saw former British heavyweight champion Trevor Currie, who stopped to tell me it was the second time he had watched the film.
I retained a memory of Clubber Laing, played by Mr T, specifically the image, a clear one, of him running through the streets of Philadelphia punching with venom at an imaginary opponent. The intensity of the fight was obvious as he performed his sit-ups, executing them with purpose on the incline bench. The whole scene grabbed my attention. It was a mental boost for me. But it was not only me who seemed to be hooked by it.
When you recall the theme tune, ‘Eye of the Tiger’ by Survivor, you realise it is still a popular walkout track for boxers some 40 years later. It is popular not just with the boxers but the supporters too.
We say that ambitious young boxers have ‘the eye of the tiger.’ To me, that is the burning desire to win. You fight with a purpose because you want to be the best. And with being the best comes great rewards.
Back then, I listened to the theme song in the gym as I trained using my large ghetto blaster. I would listen to it while honing my skills. I also listened to it on my Sony Walkman cassette player as I completed my early morning runs.
Today’s boxers use technology that is so much more conducive to training, with ear buds, Bluetooth, and mobile phones. You can be in the ‘fight zone’ anywhere. Training can be demanding on your body, but you can push yourself further when inspired.
Some scenes in boxing films are greatly exaggerated. It is artistic licence. But the films are often based on what happens in gruelling boxing matches and there have been some epic ones, too. The ring wars between Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward, for example, made for an exciting trilogy. For many, in fact, the ninth round of their first fight, in 2002, immediately comes to mind when thinking of great boxing moments. I watched that intently and saw both boxers displaying the boxing maxim of ‘blood, sweat and tears’. It was a war of attrition, both that round and that fight. Neither man appeared willing to give ground.
Another fight that is always discussed in barber shops is the middleweight fight between Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns. They gave the boxing world three brutal rounds and had fans on the edge of their seats from the start of the fight until the finish.
Similarly, the 15th round shared by Larry Holmes and Ken Norton was an absolute ‘scorcher’. That round saw them trading big bombs and trying to secure victory in a close fight.
George Foreman and Ron Lyle, meanwhile, had a classic heavyweight slugfest in 1976. It was a battle without artistry, that one; just heavy bombs being thrown and both visiting the canvas twice. It then ended when Foreman finished Lyle with a thunderous right hand.
Another classic took place in 2013, when Timothy Bradley and Ruslan Provodnikov traded brutally for twelve rounds. Bradley looked like he was about to be knocked out a few times during the fight but showed heart and determination to claim victory after twelve hard rounds.
Also in the category of modern classic is the 2005 war between Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo. I was actually a guest analyst on Sky Sports that night, so got to see Corrales’ amazing comeback in real time. That night, with a closed left eye, he had been knocked down twice in the 10th round and seemed on the verge of being stopped by Castillo. However, Diego willed himself to rise from the canvas and managed to stop Castillo in that same round.
These are the kind of action fights that could have been the basis for a script for a successful film. Another is the 1990 fight between Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn. That, their first fight, had fans searching for media stories long before the days of social media. Teletext and Ceefax used to show quotes from both fighters, which set the scene for both fans and the boxing fraternity and had us all excited about the pre-fight build up and the event. The fight night itself, of course, was a thriller, with excitement from start to the finish; a rewarding evening which satiated both fans and boxing purists alike.
I have mentioned only a few examples of classic matchups but there have been many more. And it is not only the world title fights or televised matchups that produce great fights.
World title clashes produce epic battles, yes, but sometimes it is the supporting fights on the undercard that turn out to be the electrifying attraction. For instance, I watched the 2003 battle between David Walker and Spencer Fearon, which went back and forth for the four rounds it lasted. Both men stood their ground, landed hard punches, and showed immense heart and bravery.
The thrill of boxing is the unknown, always. You can never be certain, no matter how good it looks on paper, that a contest will produce a classic battle to stand the test of time.
Next month we have the welterweight fight between Errol Spence and Terence Crawford. It is one of the biggest fights in boxing right now, but we can only hope that the actual fight is as entertaining as anticipated. Both boxers are undefeated champions who have winning mentalities and both can be expected to perform at their best because they know it is an opportunity to become established as the number one of their era and a boxing great.
For boxing fans, whatever the result, it is just good to see the best fighters in each division begin to challenge each other. This is how it used to be in years gone by.
Thrill and excitement must not only be limited to the big screen and movies. It must happen in the boxing ring, too. The excitement attached to good fights is one of the reasons why boxing has always been a favourite with film producers. The Rocky series, after all, was, we understand, developed from an idea from Muhammad Ali’s world title defence against Chuck Wepner. And it is possible that from other fights other great boxing films can one day be created. This, in turn, will also inspire new prospects and boxing talent.