Hollywood loves professional boxing, with some of the greatest movies ever made portraying the noble art. It’s no surprise either, as the fight game is real, gritty, and dramatic. In its purest form, boxing is a sport where underprivileged kids fight for a way out of the slums, working hard and shooting for a better life. In most cases, it’s a rags to riches affair with prizefighting that makes it onto the silver screen.
Think boxing movies, and you’d be forgiven for conjuring up images of Rocky Balboa sweating it out, smashing the heavy bag in a vest soaked with sweat against a backdrop of a leaky, rundown gym. The Rocky movies – and there are more than a few now – are world- famous, a real work of art from Sylvester Stallone, who was inducted into the boxing hall of fame. But they are a work of fiction. Those based on a true story and real-life fighter are often more compelling.
From the rise and fall of a champion to the warrior battling back from injury. The seedy world of promoting a fighter to those winning big by backing a fighter on the sportsbooks. There’s something for everyone. While we wouldn’t put anyone off Rocky if you were looking for an enjoyable boxing movie – the first few, anyway – in this article, we shine the spotlight on three boxing true stories. You don’t even have to be a fan of boxing or sport to enjoy these gripping tales.
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If you are after a tense watch that shows the guts of professional boxing, the tale of former world champion Jake LaMotta is for you. There is as much violence and anger outside of the ring as inside the ropes in this movie as LaMotta struggles to live with bad results, jealousy, suspicion and fits of rage.
Jake’s anger issues are highlighted in this story as the savagery and brutality that made him a success in the ring threaten to ruin his life away from the sport. Filled with exhilarating highs and stomach-churning lows, this movie has it all. Directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci, it’s likely you could hazard a guess at just how brutal this storyline will be. The fight scenes really make this movie, and they are much more believable than your standard Rocky slugfest.
Boxing isn’t always shown in the best light on camera, but in Unforgivable Blackness, it’s a lack of human decency that is shown to be rotting. Based on the life and career of Jack Johnson, this biography lasting 214 minutes breaks down the tale of the first African American heavyweight boxing champion.
Competing in the early 1900s, Jack is remembered as a pioneer and one of the most influential boxers in history. He fought 95 times as a professional boxer, retiring with a record of 72 wins, 11 losses, 11 draws and three no contests, but his most brutal fight was for acceptance in a sport controlled by white males.
Unforgivable Blackness was directed by Ken Burns and stars Jack Johnson, Keith David and Samuel L Jackson. It has the ability to shock the viewer, tug at their heartstrings and inspire.
When We Were Kings
One of the best-loved boxing films ever made and, without doubt, one of the best sports stories ever brought to the screen. If you lived through the “golden age” of heavyweight boxing, you’ll know and appreciate the stories of Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. If you didn’t, you will have the time of your life discovering the backstory.
When We Were Kings is a documentary released in 1996 focussing on the 1974 heavyweight bout involving Ali and Foreman. The Rumble in the Jungle is well documented and has been covered in every angle by authors and sportswriters. Here it comes from the mouths of the fighters.
The late, great Ali goes into detail about how he was written off as an underdog. He was thought to be over the hill, ready for retirement but sharing a ring with a wrecking ball in Foreman. The two fighters haven’t lost any of their rivalry over the years but speak with passion and a genuine love for their opponent and the sport that made them legends.