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As a former fighter, current promoter and someone who has spent his entire life in the sport of boxing, I am always dubious about movies and television shows that depict a fictionalized version of the sport. Due to time constraints, budget realities and the need to sell a product to an audience largely unfamiliar with what boxing is all about, what viewers tend to be presented with is a stylized, unrealistic account of the Sport of Kings.
Given that, Southpaw is surprisingly authentic, at least in its portrayal of fight scenes and training sequences featuring Jake Gyllenhaal as light heavyweight champion Billy Hope.
Hope and his opponents, including real professional fighters Aaron Quattrocchi and Rayco Saunders as Keith “Buzzsaw” Brady and Kalil Turay, respectively, do a great job looking realistic in their jabs, hooks and crosses and even their defense (though there isn’t much of it on display).
Gyllenhaal, in particular, is outstanding. His transformation from someone who looked like a small welterweight (maximum 140 pounds) in his last film, Nightcrawler, into a legitimate-looking light heavyweight (175 pounds) is nothing short of remarkable, and he employs his considerable acting skills to make the audience believe that he could actually be a champion-caliber fighter. Also helping with the real-life feel of the boxing scenes are turns by HBO boxing commentators Jim Lampley and Roy Jones Jr., referee Tony Weeks and boxer Victor Ortiz, who plays one of Hope’s sparring partners and supporters.
Sure, the onscreen fighters swing from their heels throughout the film, the banter between trainer and fighter in the corner between rounds is a bit over-the-top, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a referee or doctor allow a fight to continue with so much blood on the canvas. But there is a healthy amount of realism throughout the boxing sequences.
Ironically, it is where many boxing films like Rocky, Million Dollar Baby and others have been so successful — in the scenes that take place outside of the ring and the gym — where Southpaw ultimately lapses into stereotype and does a disservice to its audience. Gunplay at black tie functions; fighters unleashing uncontrollable rages at home; promoters fixing fights. Has this type of behavior reared its head in the history of our sport? At times, unfortunately, yes. Is it common? Absolutely not.
However, regardless of what we in the boxing business think of the film, the good news is that Southpaw and the upcoming film, Creed — another addition to the Rocky series — are helping to bring boxing back to mainstream audiences that we need if we hope to grow the sport.
And that is a great thing.
Oscar De La Hoya is a 10-time boxing world champion in six weight divisions. He is now chairman and CEO of Golden Boy Promotions.
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