Review By Bradley Smith
“Boxing is the ultimate representation of the American dream; it allows someone who came from nothing to achieve greatness. It’s about his talent, his own skill, and his own determination.” Sports Writer George Willis, Champs
The documentary film Champs takes an in depth look at the life and times of a few legends of boxing: Evander Holyfield, Bernard Hopkins, and Mike Tyson. Writer and director Bert Marcus follows their paths to success and self-discovery with some of their biggest boxing matches/stories; and along the way he touches on some of America’s worst social issues like violence, prison system failures, poverty, racial inequality, and substance abuse. Among the commentators are the boxers themselves, their friends, and a few celebrities like Spike Lee, Mark Wahlburg, Curtis Jackson (50 Cent), Ron Howard, and Denzel Washington.
Admittedly, I’ve never watched or wanted to watch a boxing match; just never cared for fighting. Yet, there are clips of fights, highlights, that are coupled with commentary that humanize these fighters and make it interesting for a person like me. There are many inspirational stories, like how Holyfied handled a seemingly undeserved potential set back in his career when he got disqualified from the 1984 Olympics because the ref apparently said “stop” right before Holyfield through a punch that most believed ended the game. Or how Hopkins kept his sanity in prison by participating in boxing tournaments in jail and becoming the “middleweight state penitentiary champion” which is when he says he fell back in love with boxing.
It is not just the title fight highlights that the film covers. When a person receives a huge windfall, it statistically often follows by huge problems or bankruptcy if they don’t get help controlling their newfound wealth. Boxers are no exception as this film includes news clips about Tyson and Holyfield losing a lot of their wealth after the height of their careers. And it does not end with the financial issues. Among others, there is a touching segment where Tyson talks openly about the negative effects his career had on him beyond the financial troubles.
An eye-opening look at some social issues are also presented with commentary and onscreen statistics. For example, when talking about Hopkins early days in prison and the increasing tendency for prisons to punish rather than rehabilitate, statistics like “America makes up 5% of the world’s population but has 25% of the world’s prisoners” and “75% of black parolees are rearrested within 3 years” are shown. It makes us think about the improvements we still need to make in our great country.
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