Film Reviews

CHAMPS

By • Mar 13th, 2015 •

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Those born with silver spoons will never chase the golden gloves to become champs.

The storybook nemesis – poverty – with its trappings, pushes disenfranchised youth to crime and to find a pack to run amok with, usually leading to a reform institution. Strong-willed, with discipline and stamina for unforgiving physical training, contenders ranking to championship levels will pass through a set of ropes onto a mat in a forum before those willing to pay an extravagant amount of money to sit ringside while two men bash in each others’ skulls. And yet, there is elemental beauty in such a brutal sport.

Brooklyn born Mike Tyson and Philadelphia son Bernard Hopkins found themselves as statistics with the authorities. However, Evander Holyfield kept his nose clean and walked the straight and narrow in Alabama due largely to his mother’s influence. CHAMPS, from director Bert Marcus, gives insight into the rise of these three champions, paralleling their stories of humble beginnings and what path turned them onto the sport. The first act is the usual sports film fare with pictures and archival footage. It then crescendos into a strong advocate for regulating the sport to shield those who do give their blood, sweat, and tears from unscrupulous thieves cloaked in forms usually as managers, promoters, and friendly-faced lawyers.

The film does deliver a one-two punch when both Tyson and Holyfield are common casualties to the saying, the bigger they are the harder they fall. Unfortunately, this truism is all too common in the boxing arena. Athletes who blazed a trail to riches are brought to their knees strapped with financial burden atop a mountain of debt. The fight prizes, now padlocked gates to palaces and Rolls Royce repossessions, become public images to tear down the once mighty champions.

Besides brawn and fighting technique, character defines the boxers. Tyson and Holyfield speak honestly about themselves and their pasts. Holyfield has always conducted himself with dignity. Clips of his 1984 Olympic bout in which he is unjustly disqualified displays his demeanor, about which sportscaster Howard Cosell marvels. In contrast, Tyson’s opprobrium made him a media darling who barked and bit, making headlines. Reflecting upon these, a prostrate Tyson is remorseful, making penance for his past by taking ownership. He notes his gradual transformation by attributing the strength found in his wife and family.

Bernard Hopkins’ renewed interest in boxing took place while in Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution at Graterford which gave rise to his reign as prison boxing champ. Serving five years of an eighteen-year sentence, he went on to a successful career in which he started much later than other boxers. Still boxing, his last bout at age 49, he holds the title as the oldest professional champion. He has maintained his wealth and is a partner in Golden Boy Promotions. He voices his opposition to the current prison system in that it churns out worse criminals then when they entered due to a designation for punishment rather than reform. The boxing program that revitalized and gave purpose to his life has long been dismantled. He maintains that boxing was a physical and mental release, which made the prison a safer environment for both guards and inmates.

Today, America’s dream is an actual nightmare with countless kids on the streets trapped in the same cyclic destructiveness. The film’s social commentary ties in how the past will play a prominent role in adulthood. Entering the fight game with hope and nothing else, an absence of proper guidance and protection to the uneducated trusting fighter, leaves a hulking shell in a heap of hurt and destruction.

CHAMPS directed by Bert Marcus. Featuring Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Bernard Hopkins. With Mark Wahlberg, Denzel Washington, Spike Lee, Ron Howard, Mary J. Blige, and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, as well as writers and sports authorities.

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