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Boxing: Breaking Down Boxing's Hollywood Connection

Alejandro 'Alex' BurgosContributor IIMarch 4, 2013

Boxing: Breaking Down Boxing's Hollywood Connection

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    Since the early days of boxing at the turn of the 20th century in the United States, the upper class and starlets of the entertainment world have been enamored with the sweet science. In the 1920s, boxers like Jack Johnson and Jack Dempsey were the celebrities of their time and often dated socialites and Hollywood actresses (per Wikipedia).

    Some of Hollywood's most notable actors have starred in boxing films such as Raging Bull, Rocky and Cinderella Man. The success of these films and others has helped strengthen the connection between Hollywood and pugilism.

    Today, boxing doesn't hold the same mainstream clout as it once did in the early 1900s. And though it's a strange relationship that exists—as The Seattle Times notes—there is still a definite bond that is alive between Hollywood and the sport of boxing.

    There is something about two boxers going toe-to-toe in the ring that captivates even the biggest movie stars and athletes of other sports. When Manny Pacquiao was upset by Timothy Bradley in June 2012, celebrities took to Twitter to voice their displeasure. Everyone from Miley Cyrus to Justin Timberlake let it be known that they do watch boxing and care about the results.

    There are tons of famous celebrity boxing fans, such as Brad Pitt, Justin Bieber and Lil Wayne. This list not only looks at the biggest modern-day boxing supporters, but also how these Hollywood stars are closely connected to the sport.

Mickey Rourke

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    Way before his triumphant return to film and work on big-budget films such as Sin City, Iron Man 2 and The Expendables, Mickey Rourke was a Hollywood darling in the '80s. In 1991, Rourke decided to leave acting to become a professional boxer. During his brief career, Hells Angels member—and close friend of Arturo Gatti—Chuck Zito trained Rourke, as did the legendary Freddie Roach (per Wikipedia).

    Rourke urged Roach to train him in Las Vegas, which led Freddie to open up the now famous Wild Card Gym. As has been documented on HBO's famed series, 24/7, Mickey Rourke sightings at the Wild Card Gym are commonplace, especially when Manny Pacquiao is training for a fight.

Jay-Z and Roc-A-Fella Records

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    Back in 2001, Roc-A-Fella records was only five years old and rapper Jay-Z was just that, a rapper. Mr. Carter was not yet the media mogul he is today, and both him and business partner Damon Dash were looking for ways to branch out into industries other than music, such as movies and sports.

    Dash struck a deal for Rocawear—the upstart clothing brand of Roc-A-Fella records—to make a custom pair of boxing trunks for Marco Antonio Barrera to wear for Barrera's fight versus “Prince” Naseem Hamed.

    Needless to say, the idea was a huge success.

    Barrera made headlines for the boxing clinic he put on against the previously unbeaten Hamed, and Rocawear got the promotional boost it was looking for. According to their website, Rocawear.com, the clothing line now reports annual retail sales over $700 million.

    Since their breakout sponsorship deal with Barrera, Rocawear has sponsored former champion Winky Wright as well as highlighted athletes they think will be future stars in boxing. Damon Dash also formed a promotional merger with Lou DiBella in 2005 to create Dash-DiBella Promotions (per The New York Times). The merger helped fighters such as Jaidon Codrington and Andre Berto get their starts in the sport. 

50 Cent

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    Curtis Jackson, aka 50 Cent, has had enormous commercial success as a rapper. He also has firsthand knowledge of what it's like to be around the most elite fighter in the world, Floyd Mayweather Jr. Though the former “best friends” had a public falling out last year via Twitter, 50 Cent has continued to forge forward in the sport of boxing.

    In 2012, 50 started his own boxing promotional company, SMS Promotions. SMS is home to well-known fighters such as Yuriorkis Gamboa, Andre Dirrell and former IBF featherweight champion Billy Dib. On March 1, Dib headlined SMS' first marquee fight card on ESPN2's Friday Night Fights.

    SMS will be looking to regroup after Dib's surprising loss to Evgeny Gradovich. Regardless of the loss, don't expect 50 Cent or SMS Promotions to go down without a fight.  

Nick Cannon

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    Nick Cannon seems to be everywhere these days. From hosting the Saturday night festivities at NBA All-Star weekend to stepping in as a guest ring announcer on HBO for the Andre Ward vs. Chad Dawson clash, Cannon is a busy man.

    According to ESPN, Cannon is a self-proclaimed “boxing head” who can hold his own in the gym. Cannon is also a big fan of super middleweight champion Andre Ward. Even if Cannon isn't serving as the ring announcer, expect to see him ringside at Ward's next fight.

Mark Wahlberg

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    Mark Wahlberg can always be spotted in the crowd supporting one of his favorite fighters, Manny Pacquiao. But, Wahlberg's interest in the sport dates back to before Manny Pacquiao became a household name.

    According to Contactmusic.com, Wahlberg took a serious interest in boxing while training for his role as Micky Ward in the 2010 Oscar award winning film, The Fighter.

    Wahlberg is one Hollywood star who can actually be called a diehard boxing fan. He dedicated over four-and-a-half years of training to become a believable on-screen version of Micky Ward (via ESPN).

    Wahlberg has said that he's gotten a chance to hang out with both Mayweather and Pacquiao, and according to ESPN, he lists Micky Ward as one of his all-time sports hero's.

Vince Vaughn

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    According to his Wikipedia bio, Vince Vaughn is a huge boxing fan. Vaughn has shown the sport some love on the big screen, playing a boxer alongside Jon Favreau in the 2001 offbeat comedy, Made.

    Currently, Vaughn is trying his hand at managing Ghanaian lightweight boxer Yakubu Amidu. Amidu has fought on ESPN2's Friday Night Fights in the past and is looking to rebound after his last loss to Ji-Hoon Kim.

    With Vaughn's star power, he may look at managing more prestigious fighters in the future.

Rosie Perez

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    Rosie Perez can stake a claim to being part of one of the greatest opening scenes in film history. In the opening sequence of Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, Perez shows her ability to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, so it's great to know that she is an avid boxing supporter.

    Perez calls herself a "fight fan" on her Twitter bio, and she's definitely not shy about tweeting her opinion when it's fight night. Rosie has done her share to help the sport of boxing as well, specifically when she hosted a discussion on women's boxing during the build up to the Olympics in 2012. 

    Even after 20-plus years in the movie business, Perez's beauty and star power can still make a nervous geek out of the best boxing writers:

    @rosieperezbklyn - geez, Rosie, Im so honored.Do the Right Thing!!!

    — Steve Kim (@stevemaxboxing) February 17, 2013

Snooki

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    Reality television star Nicole Elizabeth Polizzi, better known as Snooki, is probably the most surprising person on this list.  

    In 2012, Snooki and her father, Andy Polizzi, created Team Snooki Boxing. The promotional company is home to featherweight contender Patrick Hyland and his two brothers, Paul and Eddie Hyland.

    Patrick Hyland lost the first fight of his career against Javier Fortuna on the undercard of the Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez fight card in December 2012. Though Team Snooki has been relatively quiet since Hyland's loss, look for more action from the company in 2013. 

Sylvester Stallone

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    Sylvester Stallone helped create one of the most high-profile boxing movies of all time. The Rocky movie series captured the imaginations of people everywhere with it's rags-to-riches story.   

    For the final movie of the series, Rocky Balboa, Stallone enlisted former light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver as well as boxing promoter Lou DiBella. The movie was a critical success.

    In 2011, Stallone was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. During his acceptance speech, Stallone took a page from the famous boxing film he created and proudly proclaimed, "Yo, Adrian, I did it!" (per USA Today).   

Denzel Washington

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    Denzel Washington was nominated for an Oscar award for his portrayal of Ruben "Hurricane" Carter in the 1999 film titled The Hurricane. Denzel says that boxing not only helps keep him in shape (per Chicago Tribune), but also helps him to relax (per ShowBizSpy.com). 

    Denzel has visited Manny Pacquiao and Vitali Klitschko in training, and continually shows his support for boxing by attending live fights. Washington is usually one of the more animated A-list fans cheering for his favorite fighter.

Will Smith

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    In 2001, Will Smith took on the role of one of the most popular boxers of all time, Muhammad Ali. The film, Ali, was generally met with positive reviews and put the Hollywood spotlight back on the sport of boxing. 

    In preparation for the once-in-a-lifetime role, Smith even got the chance to train with Ali. Smith was so convincing in his portrayal that a celebrity boxing promoter offered him and Mark Wahlberg $1 million to duke it out in the ring.

    In an ESPN SportsNation chat, Wahlberg said he knocked out 15 to 20 people while training for the role of Micky Ward, but Smith has shown some pretty tough moves in the gym himself. Will we ever find out who would win that matchup?  Probably not.

    Follow Alejandro "A-TRAIN" Burgos on Twitter. 


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