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Knuckle Up: Top 5 Underappreciated Boxing Movies for Fight Fans

The sweet science has long crossed over onto the big screen with great success - some of the most beloved movies of all time have focused on the sport, from the classic Rocky movies (and its excellent modern Creed spinoffs) to Raging Bull to more recent standouts like Southpaw and The Fighter.

Even kickboxing and other martial arts have translated to some classic and popular combat sport flicks, such as the aptly titled Kickboxer or The Karate Kid. The new kid on the block, mixed martial arts, has slowly begun to invade the big screen as well with movies such as Warrior and Here Comes the Boom, though quality titles (similar to kickboxing) are still hard to come by as of yet.

What some fight fans may not realize however is there are quite a few lesser-known boxing titles that are well worth a watch. Given the limited release schedule for movies at the moment and yet another week off from major combat sports events, now is the perfect time to check them out.

Note: this list only includes acted films and thus no documentaries are included.

Resurrecting the Champ (2007)

This absolute gem is not one that focuses on the drama of being a fighter or what it entails like most movies dealing with combat sports, but rather turns the attention far into a fighter's future - in this case, a former champion and legend who was believed to have passed away but was actually found homeless, living on the streets of Denver.

The plot follows a young reporter (Josh Hartnett) as he rescues the broken down legend (played by Samuel L. Jackson) from an assault on the streets, only to uncover his identity and attempt to resurrect the fallen legend's story.

Jackson is particularly brilliant in his portrayal of "The Champ" and while it may lack the action that many are looking for when it comes to fight films, it more than makes up for it with its look at boxing history and the extremely intriguing true story Resurrecting the Champ depicts.

Despite a very compelling story with a rather shocking twist (if you haven't heard of the story before of course) and two bankable actors at the time, the movie flopped at the box office upon its release in 2007, earning just over $3 million on an estimated budget of $13 million.

It's truly a shame that such an interesting and enjoyable flick performed so poorly, but now that you know of its existence, you have no excuse not to watch it.

Jungleland (2019)

The most recent entry on this list, Jungleland is a rather unknown movie that never saw a proper theatrical release due to the current coronapocalyse, instead releasing on-demand late in 2020.

The movie stars Sons of Anarchy's Charlie Hunnam as Stanley, the rather seedy manager of Walter "Lion" Kaminski (played by Jack O'Connell), a fictional bare knuckle fighter.

Once a promising young boxer, Walter struggles to make a living in illegal bare knuckle fights while his brother frequently gets him into trouble thanks to his willingness to do just about anything to earn a quick buck, often at the expense of poor Walt.

Their ultimate goal is to reach and win a $100,000 underground tournament in San Francisco, but thanks to Stanley's questionable decisions along the way they are forced down an extremely dangerous path that quickly becomes a fight for survival outside of any competition.

Though the sporting aspect of the movie is mostly secondary to the predicament the brothers find themselves in, it does draw distinct parallels between the brother's relationship and the one between many fighters and their managers (particularly in decades past), with their handlers often putting their fighters in harms way for their own benefit and many a fighter's loyalty costing them far more than they realize.

It may not be based on a true story like the other movies on this list, but Jungleland is a solid film nonetheless and is well worth a watch.

Chuck (2016)

Not many outside of hardcore fight fans know that Chuck Wepner, a New Jersey heavyweight champion dubbed "The Bayonne Bleeder" in the sixties and seventies, was the main inspiration for one of the greatest boxing films and movie franchises of all time, Rocky.

A solid if unremarkable vet who had been in the ring with the likes of Buster Mathis and George Foreman on their way up and was the final opponent of Sonny Liston's famed career, Wepner's life would change forever when he received a shot at Muhammad Ali in 1975.

A massive underdog expected to be demolished early, Wepner impressed the boxing world with his grit and toughness by not only surviving against the Greatest, but even managed to hold his own, scoring a knockdown on the heavyweight king in the ninth round of their bout. Ali claimed the knockdown was the result of Wepner stepping on his foot (video showed this was true) but Wepner's ability just to turn it into a competitive fight was a monumental achievement in its own right.

Wepner would go 15 rounds with the GOAT before being knocked out with mere seconds to go in the fight, but the finish didn't matter - Wepner had already captured the hearts of the boxing world for his performance.

Rocky would soon grace the big screen across America and Wepner became a star in New Jersey, but like so many that experience rapid fame, Wepner struggled mightily - booze, drugs, and women became his downfall and the pride of New Jersey soon became a cautionary tale.

Liev Schrieber does an excellent job in his portrayal of Wepner, simultaneously being a self-centred asshole yet somehow still a loveable figure as he takes us through the highs and lows of Chuck's career and life.

It is an excellent film and fans of the sport and of course Rocky are in for a treat.

The Hurricane (1999)

Speaking of New Jersey boxers, The Hurricane tells the story of middleweight boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter.

Competing from 1961-66, it wasn't the in-ring exploits of Carter, who developed a 27-12 record and worked his way near the top of the middleweight rankings during his short career, but what happened to him outside of boxing that is truly tragic.

A gruesome triple homicide in 1966 occurred at a club one night in Paterson, New Jersey; Carter and his friend, John Artis, were driving home from another club that evening and were stopped for questioning. Despite initially being ruled out as suspects, a man (who was actually a suspect himself) claimed the two men were the ones who shot and killed the three victims, leading to Carter and Artis being convicted and sentenced to three consecutive life sentences apiece.

The dubious conviction inspired many to fight for Carter's innocence, with famed musician Bob Dylan even composing a hit song "Hurricane" about Carter's story.

Denzel Washington plays Carter in this 1999 biopic and does a remarkable job portraying the trials and tribulations of the wrongfully convicted boxer, with the film understandably focusing on his conviction and fight for freedom rather than his exploits in the ring, though the discipline and focus he gained from boxing regularly helps him through his struggles.

Despite featuring one of Denzel Washington's best performances and a great real-life story, the movie wasn't a big hit at the box office which is a real shame, but it isn't without its faults - in an effort to paint Carter as a saintly hero, some of the film's events were pure fiction and show his past in a much more positive light than was reality. Instead of highlighting how he was a victim of the courts for such an egregious miscarriage of justice, the film instead portrays him as a lifelong victim who had never done anything wrong in his life, which isn't quite true.

Nevertheless, it is a great watch even if not everything in the movie is entirely accurate.

Bleed for This (2016)

Bleed for This is one of those great movies whose flop at the box office is truly bewildering.

The biopic stars Miles Teller as Vinny Pazienza, a former light and super middleweight champion in the nineties that overcame what was believed to be a career-ending neck injury.

After losing to Roger Mayweather and getting into a spat with his coach, Pazienza hired Kevin Rooney (played by Aaron Eckhart) as his new coach and later moved up to light middleweight where he captured a title, only for his blooming career to come (quite literally) crashing to a halt when he was involved in a head-on collision that left him with a severe spinal cord injury. Though he would later be awarded nearly $1 million in damages as a result of the car crash, it did nothing to satisfy the "Pazmanian Devil" - he just wanted to fight.

Despite doctors stating he may never walk again and would certainly never fight again, Pazienza risked paralysis and even death by training through the pain against doctor's orders, overcoming all odds to not only overcome the injury but to make a return to the ring just 13 months after the near-fatal accident.

Vinny Paz, or the "Pazmanian Devil", would go on to capture super middleweight titles and defeated the great Roberto Duran not once, but twice, enjoying a highly successful career at the top of the sport for more than a decade after he had been written off by doctors and sports writers alike.

It's a truly inspiring and remarkable story and made for an excellent film, particularly with the performances turned in by the strong cast - the fact that it bombed at the box office is really bizarre and if you have any interest in combat sports, you owe it to yourself to check this one out.


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