“For the disadvantaged, boxing can be a way out. . .”
By Matthew Hurley: The new film Champs, written and directed by Bert Marcus, is a fascinating portrait of three of the most compelling fighters of the last thirty years – Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Bernard Hopkins. The documentary chronicles the lives of each fighter, told in their own words, with additional sound bites by talking heads including Ron Howard, Denzel Washington, Lou DiBella, Gordon Willis, 50 Cent, Al Bernstein and Micky Ward.
The similarities of all three fighters’ early years and how they handled oppressive poverty and the practical war zones of the streets is riveting.
Hopkins’ story becomes the most interesting of the three. His eloquence in describing the mistakes that led him to a six year prison stint at Graterford in Pennsylvania and his subsequent redemption is the stuff of the best motivational speaker.
“I was known as the guy who, if you wanna fight me, you’re gonna have to stab me. . . And then I thought, wait. What’s wrong with this situation? Prison is a business. Sixty thousand a year for one inmate? How can I keep myself from being an employee of this business?”
The answer – refocus his life and spirit through boxing.
Tyson’s story is one well known to the public and could have been a weak link in the narrative. But he has become such an emotional story teller that the highs and lows of his life, played out so nakedly in public, sound fresh and provocative.
Holyfield, who has recently become a much more gregarious man than the rather sullen figure he was in years past, is the most likeable of the three.
The universal theme that runs through the film is the pursuit of the American Dream. But the nightmares that exist before it is achieved and after it is accomplished are heartrending. Only Hopkins seems to have come out the other side unscathed.
As Lou DiBella opines, “There’s no other sport where you can rise and fall so quickly.”
If there’s a criticism, and it’s a small one, it is the exclusion of Bernard’s loss in his professional debut to Clinton Mitchell and his defeat at the hands of Roy Jones Jr. in his first world title bout. It would have been interesting to hear B-Hop talk about those particular setbacks and how he steeled his resolve and persevered.
Also, some of the fight clips lack continuity – but that’s a boxing fanatic’s gripe. It takes nothing away from the overall strength of what ultimately evolves into a very moving film.
Matthew Hurley is a full time member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His first book on boxing, Ringside Reflections, can be purchased at Amazon.com.
May 17, 2015