As lockdown continues and the wait for significant live boxing rumbles on, Luke G. Williams picks out some of the best boxing-related viewing available on streaming providers…
Mr Calzaghe (2015, currently available to Amazon Prime subscribers in the UK)
Come November, it will have been 12 years since former super-middleweight and light-heavyweight world champion Joe Calzaghe hung up his gloves with an unblemished pro record of 46-0 .
This highly entertaining and moving documentary, expertly martialled by Welsh director Vaughan Sivell, is lent extra emotional resonance by the recent deaths of Joe’s parents, Enzo and Jacqueline. Both appear here, with snake-hipped Sardinian-born maverick Enzo inevitably making the bigger impact, as the compelling narrative of his relationship with his son in and out of boxing takes centre stage.
While the main tropes of the narrative will be familiar to boxing fans – Enzo’s peripatetic journey from Sardinia to south Wales, the tin training shed in Newbridge, the amateur brilliance, the brittle hands that threatened to derail the pro career – it’s the small details and hidden gems that make this a compelling watch, including some brilliant footage of young Joe as an amateur and a wonderful scene where Mikkel Kessler joins Calzaghe to re-watch their classic 2007 scrap.
Steve Farhood, Gareth Davies and Thomas Hauser are among those providing pugilistic expertise and context, while actors Michael J. Fox, Matthew Rhys and musician James Dean Bradfield tick the obligatory celebrity talking heads boxes.
The most illuminating contributions, however, arguably come from Joe’s sisters and sons, who provide some vivid biographical details and emotional touchstones.
Despite its ‘official’ nature, Mr Calzaghe does not shy away from difficult issues – including Joe’s divorce and some of the frustrating longueurs of his career.
Two caveats, however. Firstly, it would have been refreshing to see more of Jacqueline, the Calzaghe matriarch whose contribution to the story has so often been sidelined by media outlets in favour of the well-worn Enzo-Joe narrative.
Secondly, it should be noted that in attempting to provide a more Hollywood-esque finale, the film disappointingly fails to emphasise just how faded the version of Roy Jones was that Calzaghe faced in the final fight of his career at Madison Square Garden.
Nevertheless, this is a compelling film that enhances Calzaghe’s reputation without ever veering too far into hagiography.
The final, rising shot of Joe with his sons and father playing football on a beautiful south Wales beach will certainly leave you with a lump in the throat.
David vs Goliath (2020, currently available to Amazon Prime subscribers in the UK)
When I saw this title pop up as ‘recommended’ on my Amazon Prime account I presumed it was a documentary about David Haye’s 2009 WBA heavyweight title contest against Russian behemoth Nikolai Valuev – a triumph for Haye that was a terribly big deal at the time but seems to have faded rapidly in the public consciousness during the intervening period.
Disappointingly, however, closer scrutiny of the blurb revealed that David vs Goliath is actually a 1 hour 34 minute documentary about poker virgin Haye’s attempts to learn the card game from scratch within 12 months and successfully compete at the Grosvenor Casinos Goliath, arguably the most prestigious poker tournament in the world outside of Las Vegas.
Imagine my surprise then when what could have been – in less assured hands than director Colin Offland – a superficial trifle, actually turned out to be a strangely compelling and addictive watch.
Haye’s undoubted charisma fuels the narrative, as he prowls and swaggers his way across the screen, turning up late for planned training sessions and failing to do his poker homework.
As it has done since the beginning of his boxing career, Haye’s seemingly unapologetic ego intrigues, leaving us to ponder where the narcissism ends and the tongue-in-cheek showman begins – a conundrum that has always, truth be told, been at the root of the Hayemaker’s enigmatic appeal.
As he struggles to learn the rudiments of Texas hold ‘em and suffers some embarrassing losses at minor tournaments in preparation for the Goliath event one cannot help but despair at the ineptitude of Haye’s professional mentors, who singularly fail to adapt their rather dry teaching techniques for the clearly kinesthetically inclined Haye.
At which point potential salvation arrives in the unlikely form of a new mentor – Haye’s former professional foe turned friend Audley Harrison, who has clocked up $1.4m in poker winnings since taking up the game in 2014.
I won’t spoil what happens next, but this engaging documentary proves surprisingly moving and even a touch inspiring.
Creed 2 (2018, currently available to Netflix subscribers in the UK)
The eighth installment in the Rocky series won’t convert any non-believers, but for fans of the franchise it ticks plenty of the requisite boxes.
Rather like the first Creed film and several of the latter entries in the original Balboa-focused series, the basic concept is somewhat ridiculous – Adonis Creed (the ever engaging Michael B. Jordan), now WBC heavyweight champion, engages in a two-fight series with Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), son of the infamous Ivan (Dolph Lundgren) who was responsible for the death of Adonis’ father Apollo in an exhibition contest back in 1985’s Rocky IV.
All the predictable Rocky story beats are here – from the evolving romance, to the early pugilistic setback, training montage and, finally, the against the odds triumph.
However, what elevates the material to heights occupied by previous high points in the series, such as John G. Avildsen’s 1976 original, 2006’s Rocky Balboa and Ryan Coogler’s first Creed picture, is the emotional resonance of some of the performances and relationships.
Stallone, as he was in the first Creed, is extraordinary, all shambling dignity and lachrymose shrugs and inflections. His shuffling movements and the alternating pain and hope that radiate from his eyes are mirrored by the superb performances, despite very little dialogue, of Lundgren and Munteanu, who perfectly capture the pain and humiliation the Drago family have suffered.
The sympathetically drawn Dragos are a million times removed from the cartoon villainy of Rocky IV. Indeed, this viewer’s sympathies were almost equally divided between Adonis’ desire for revenge and redemption and Ivan’s attempts to exorcise the demons of his past through his remarkably physically sculptured but clearly damaged and fearful son.
Yes, clichés abound and the final fight sequence is not among the series’ finest fistic showdowns, but the final minutes of the film, in which three contrasting father-son relationships are reconciled to varying extents, is an emotional tour de force.