Movie Review: CounterPunch – Boxing’s Hoop Dreams

CounterPunch, a Netflix documentary written, produced and directed by Jay Bulger, a former amateur boxer himself, examines the current state of boxing in America through the lives of three boxers –¬†Christopher “Lil B Hop” Colbert (The Prospect), Cam F. Awesome (The Amateur) and Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin (The Professional) – as they each seek to firmly plant their stake in the ground at three different stages in their boxing careers.

First we have the story of Lil B Hop, who is a young fighter from Bronx, New York. He is a 4-time National Champion, a Golden Gloves Champion and the #1 ranked amateur in the New York. Like so many young fighters, surrounded by all of the troubles and misfortunes of living in a violent, crime-ridden and impoverished reality, Lil B Hop has staked his escape from the “hood” on the sport of boxing. Blessed with natural hand speed, punching power and a boxing IQ beyond his years, we get a firsthand look at his maturation and realization of what it will take to become a successful professional fighter.

Next, is the story of Cam F. Awesome, America’s all-time winningest amateur boxer. Passionate about making it to the Olympics, Cam won’t let anything get in his way – even his weight. After failing to make the Olympic team as a super heavyweight (201+ lbs.), Cam reshapes his body, losing fifteen pounds and moves down to heavyweight (201 lbs). Known for his crazy fighting style, Cam has decided to forgo the money at the professional level and instead pursue the glory of Olympic gold.

Finally, we have the story of New York (by way of Grand Rapids, Michigan) based fighter Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin. A professional fighter at the top of his game, Quillin has an undefeated record and is the former middleweight champion after unexpectedly vacating his title. Now back in the ring after a long layoff, Quillin is seeking to recapture the middleweight title and the respect of his fellow boxers, both current and past.

Bulger, intricately weaves these three stories within the context of the current state of affairs in boxing today.

“The Olympics used to be where the USA beat the crap out of the world. Where we proved, we were the best boxers.”

The film does a wonderful job of highlighting the systematic challenges and changes within amateur and professional boxing. At the amateur level, the film explores the notion of “glory” that American boxers have lost when it comes to international competition, especially the Olympics. As Bulger says in the film, “the Olympics used to be where the USA beat the crap out of the world. Where we proved, we were the best boxers.” But in 2012, the US Olympic Boxing team had its worst showing in history, when it failed to win a single gold medal. Oscar De La Hoya and Sugar Ray Leonard, both of whom are featured in the film, each point to the notion of “glory” as the thing that fueled America’s dominance of amateur boxing for so long. As De La Hoya said, “the glory, the honor, the respect is gone” from amateur boxing. This begs the question of who or what can restore the passion and success that once defined amateur American boxing?

CounterPunch, also touches on the highly debated subject of boxing as a business and the influence of Floyd “Money” Mayweather. The Mayweather “it’s all about the money” attitude towards boxing is seen as being one of the primary reasons young boxers forego the amateurs and turn professional; thus the poor US results in international competition and the higher risk of failure due to turning professional prematurely. What Mayweather has done is capitalize off of the omnipresence of media, both traditional and digital, and the birth internationally of the idea of “mega-stardom” (a la Michael Jackson, Beyonce, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, etc.) to build a brand and a business, while backing up his brash and bold attitude with flawless results. While the “Mayweather Effect” is very enticing to up-and-coming fighters and presumably puts their focus on money instead of boxing, one can’t blame Mayweather for extracting as much monetary value out of boxing as possible. It’s a very dangerous sport and he ought to ensure his future financially, is secure. It’s up to the trainers and managers to keep young boxers humble, focused on winning, building a reputation as a strong fighter and realizing that the money will come with success.

Furthermore, the film discusses the absence of a single controlling body, which enables promoters, such as Al Haymon to position himself as the authority in boxing, via his Premier Boxing Championships franchise. Haymon has signed the best fighters and essentially controls who fights who. Moreover, he does not do business with competing promoters, such as Golden Boy Promotions or Top Rank and this ultimately stops the best fighters from fighting one another. In my opinion this has hurt the appeal of boxing to the casual fan. On the off chance that the best fight the best (e.g. Mayweather vs. Pacquiao), the fighters step into the ring out of their prime. There is truly a need for an independent governing body that can regulate and mandate that the best fights happen. This will go a long way to restoring the popularity of boxing in America.

Overall, the documentary is a well done. Bulger balances telling the stories of Cam, Peter and Christopher with capturing the state of American boxing in 2017. He shows the triumphs and the struggles of boxers trying to navigate a sport that is as dangerous as the realities they come from.

Watch CounterPunch on Netflix.

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