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10 Boxers Whose Lives Should Be Made into Movies

Briggs SeekinsFeatured ColumnistAugust 11, 2013

10 Boxers Whose Lives Should Be Made into Movies

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    Boxing may have waned in popularity over the years, but boxing movies have remained constant winners with the movie-going public. The Fighter, released in 2010, won awards, did terrific at the box office and has already developed into a staple on cable television.

    In 2014, Hands of Stone will be released, starring Robert De Niro as trainer Ray Arcel in the biopic based upon the legendary Roberto Duran. I haven't been as excited about an upcoming movie since...well, probably The Fighter.

    IMBd also has a listing for a Mike Tyson biopic in early production. According to a January 2013 story on the website The Humor Mill, another biopic is in the works for Joe Louis.

    In October 2012, Cinema Blend reported that David Oyelowo had been cast to portray pound-for-pound great Sugar Ray Robinson. If it does that film right, it will have the best soundtrack since Robert Altman's Kansas City. 

    Hollywood always seems to like to jump on a trend and run with it, and this is a case where I completely approve.

    I offer this list in the spirit of getting more of a good thing. Even the best movies about boxing are rarely as good as actual boxing matches. Still, they are certainly better than most other movies.

    And the more popular boxing becomes with the general public, the more live boxing programming we will see showing up on the dial.

     

     

Alexis Arguello

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    A movie about Alexis Arguello would focus on some of the most exciting boxing matches of the late 1970s and early 1980s, set against the back drop of the Cold War-fueled conflict that tore Nicaraguan society apart during that same era.

    The Explosive Thin Man was a major national hero in his homeland and deeply involved with his country's historical arc, both as a soldier during the conflicts and later as a politician, following his retirement from boxing.

    Arguello's 2009 death has been ruled a suicide, though speculation of foul play has surrounded it.

     

Emile Griffith

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    Emile Griffith passed away on July 23, 2013. On March 24, 1962, he was involved in one of boxing's most high-profile tragedies, when he killed Benny Paret in the ring on live national television. Paret had enraged Griffith during the fight's weigh-in, when he insulted Griffith with an anti-gay slur.

    Griffith has already been the subject of an excellent documentary, Ring of Fire. A native of the Virgin Islands who grew up in New York city, he found his way into the sport almost by accident, after his boss at a lady's hat factory noticed his impressive V-shaped physique and tabbed him as a natural for prizefighting.

    Although he was one of the top pound-for-pound fighters of the 1960s, Griffith was a personality who very much played against type for a professional fighter. That's the kind of quality that would make for very interesting drama in a feature film.

Salvador Sanchez

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    Before crashing his Porsche and dying at age 23 in August 1982, Salvador Sanchez had already put together a career worthy of the Boxing Hall of Fame. He compiled a 44-1-1 record with 32 KOs and in 1980 captured the WBC featherweight title by defeating Danny Lopez.

    Sanchez turned professional at 16. His story would be the perfect vehicle for dramatizing the incredibly rich boxing tradition of Mexico.

    Few stories have more dramatic appeal than the tragedy of an incredibly bright light that burns out too soon.

    For would-be players trying to sell a Salvador Sanchez project to a movie studio, here is your one-line pitch: “It's Selena, only about boxing.”

Max Baer

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    Max Baer was among the most colorful characters to ever hold the heavyweight championship. Nicknamed “The Magnificent Screwball,” the former Nebraska farm boy became a fixture of the Hollywood nightlife, dating starlets and starring on the screen himself.

    The man Baer beat for the title, Primo Carnera, and the man who took the belt from him, James Braddock, have both already had movies done about them, and Baer has figured as something of a villain in both films. His family has expressed particular unhappiness with the way he was portrayed in Cinderella Man.

    Baer's life is worthy of its own cinematic treatment, and a film where he was the star might provide a more balanced treatment of his life.

    Joe Louis' Round 1 KO of Max Schmeling in 1938 is accorded the greater historical significance, but Baer's Round 10 TKO of the German in 1933 had a similar importance for Baer's fellow Jews, who were already alert to the anti-Semitic rancor emerging under the Nazi regime.

     

Hector Camacho

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    Hector Camacho was among the most colorful and exciting boxers of the 1980s and '90s. His life outside of the ring was even wilder than his fights inside of it.

    Camacho was murdered in November of 2012. During his life, he had frequent run-ins with the law, but he was always very popular with the fans.

    His boxing career stretched 30 years and included bouts with major stars like Sugar Ray Leonard, Felix Trinidad, Oscar De La Hoya, Julio Cesar Chavez and Roberto Duran. Very few fighters in the past three decades have enjoyed greater mainstream fame.

     

Harry Greb

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    Harry Greb was perhaps the single greatest middleweight champion in history. Yet he is something of a mythical figure for the sport. Although he fought 300 professional bouts, as far as I am aware, virtually no footage exists of his fights.

    The Pittsburgh Windmill was described as a bundle of energy both inside the ring and away from it. He was the sort of figure who made the 1920s roar. A Harry Greb movie would be a terrific period piece, featuring speakeasies and flappers as background scenery.

    Greb was a classic example of a somebody who lived fast and died young. According to BoxRec, he died in 1925 following a car accident, at just 32 years of age.

Abe Attell

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    Abe Attell was a dominant featherweight champion during the first decade of the 20th century. In retirement he operated a successful shoe store, but any film made about his life would have to focus on his role in the 1919 Black Sox gambling scandal and his relationship with the gambler Arnold Rothstein.

    Attell was brought up on charges, though never convicted, and was reputed to have been involved with dispersing payments to the Chicago White Sox players who threw that year's World Series against the Cincinnati Reds.

    Michael Mantell gave an excellent performance as Attell in the classic movie Eight Men Out, but the fighter known as The Little Hebrew would make a great subject in his own right.

     

Archie Moore

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    Archie Moore had one of the longest and most remarkable careers in the history of boxing. Well into his 40s, the Old Mongoose still reigned as the light heavyweight champion of the world while regularly moonlighting as a top heavyweight contender.

    Moore was an extremely popular and charismatic figure, and he transitioned at the end of his boxing career into a second career as a character actor in Hollywood.

    A movie about Moore's life should focus on his involvement in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and his work with at-risk youth. Moore was among boxing's most important and entertaining fighters. Outside the ring he was a great role model for being an engaged and active member of society.

     

     

     

Jack Dempsey

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    Jack Dempsey was the subject of a television movie in 1983, the same year that he died. I can remember watching it and enjoying it when I was in junior high school.

    But the Manassa Mauler's life story is way overdue for a proper cinematic treatment. Born into a poor farming family in rural Colorado, Dempsey spent the early years of his career traveling around like a fighting hobo, hopping trains and engaging in underground barroom scraps to pick up extra dollars.

    But from 1919 to 1926 he reigned as the heavyweight champion of the world and as the biggest sport's star of the day, aside form perhaps Babe Ruth.

    As reported by Nat Fleischer in his book The Heavyweight Championship, Dempsey's July 4, 1923 fight with Tommy Gibbons would make a worthy subject for a film in its own right, a heist comedy along the lines of The Sting or Oceans 11.

    Anxious to distinguish their obscure little town, the leading citizens of Shelby, Mont. were bamboozled into essentially bankrupting their entire community in order to play host to the fight.

    But Dempsey's life story itself stayed fascinating for years after his retirement. Dempsey owned one of the most popular restaurants in New York City and authored several books, including a hand-to-hand combat manual for the military during World War II.

     

John L. Sullivan

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    There was a biopic of John L. Sullivan in 1945, but he is another fighter who is way overdue for an update. The last bare-knuckle champion and the first gloved one was the biggest cultural figure in America during the 1880s, and he truly deserves to be described as our nation's first modern sports star.

    The Boston Strong Boy was a giant in the ring and lived like a giant outside of it, as well. He was a swaggering extrovert who treated royalty and laborers alike with the same cheerful, back-slapping friendliness. His drinking and carousing were legendary.

    The illustrations and descriptions of his 1889 showdown with Jake Kilrain in my Police Gazette anthology should inspire any movie producer.

    The fight was held in a top-secret location, due to boxing's still illegal status at the time. The morning of the fight, sporting swells in New Orleans packed onto a mystery train to be taken to the fight. Legendary Wyatt Earp deputy Bat Masterson was among the exuberant crowd.

    It's a scene that begs to be filmed, along with the rest of the Great John L.'s larger-than-life story.

     

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