The perils of fame and fortune were on full display during the 80s and 90s. Celebrities, including musicians and sports heroes, made millions, spent millions, and lost millions; and left with nothing more than the names they made famous. This is especially true in the world of boxing.
In his 2014 documentary Champs, director Bert Marcus examines the lives and careers of the three most well-known boxers of that time: Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, and Bernard Hopkins. His story of these champions parallels the story of the kings of old, finding fame from their humble beginnings only to watch their kingdoms crumble in the end.
Marcus opens with the state of African-Americans in relation to the sport of boxing. Boxing was like a lottery in the sense that it’s just you and the brass ring of fame and fortune. It’s a sport that preyed explicitly on the poor. You see, rich people don’t buy lottery tickets, and they don’t box either. Boxers put both their bodies and lives on the line in hopes of living a better life than they have now.
Evander Holyfield lived in poverty, learned to box, and was destined for gold in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. He would settle for the bronze medal after a controversial call that cheated him of the gold. Never bitter, Holyfield strove to be boxing’s best fighter and became boxing’s only four-time world heavyweight champion.
“…examines the lives and careers of the three most well-known boxers of that time: Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, and Bernard Hopkins.”
Tyson learned to box in juvie. It was a respite from the abuse he experienced as a child. His raw talent and lightning speed pulled him off of the streets into the home of his boxing coach. A natural talent with an aggressive boxing style made Tyson the boxer to watch. His career took off quickly, but his playboy lifestyle would land him back in prison. In the end, he’d admit his heart was just not in it [boxing] anymore, and he just needed the paycheck.
Like Tyson, Bernard Hopkins found the love of boxing in prison. It just clicked that he could fight and he could be the best at it. From his prison cell, Hopkins’ dedication assured himself a ticket away from this troubled life and to become one of the most successful boxers in history. Today, he helps emerging fighters protect themselves, their finances, and their future.
Director Marcus documents the inspiring path each man took to the top and how they became a tragic hero in the end. Each man started as the underdog in life, clawed their way up to becoming king, only to see their kingdoms crumble by friends and advisors who took advantage of their riches. In the end, both Tyson and Holyfield would earn hundreds of millions of dollars from boxing and finish broke and in debt.
“…tells a rags-to-riches story set in the brutal landscape of boxing and sports entertainment.”
Marcus then addresses problems the sport of boxing faces today. For example, boxing is a sport with very little government oversight, while being one of the most brutal sports since its inception. As spectators, we thrive on the game’s brutality as one fighter beats the other to a bloody pulp. We forget that in the end, there’s a man who’s just been beaten to a bloody pulp. 90% of professional boxers experience some form of brain injury and yet nothing is done, and no one on any level seems to care.
What I like most about Champs is the brutal honesty Marcus gets from his three subjects. Their openness comes from the fact that these three men have been retired for quite some time and had time to reflect on their careers—warts and all. I’m a fan of character studies, and I know its never easy to admit one’s faults and ultimately come to grips about what is really important in life. I’d say the most interesting reflection comes from Mike Tyson as he sheds his bad boy image for a calmer life.
Champs tells a rags-to-riches story set in the brutal landscape of boxing and sports entertainment. You’ll find inspiration from the stories of its three subjects and make you think again about the gladiatorial game and business, we know as boxing.
Champs (2014) Directed by Bert Marcus. Featuring Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Bernard Hopkins, Mark Wahlberg, Denzel Washington, Ron Howard, Spike Lee, Mary J. Blige, 50 Cent.
8 out of 10 stars