It was back in the mid-eighties that I took to going (along with a friend) to fights at the Lowell Auditorium. This is not the first time I had gotten into boxing. As a kid, I grew up watching fights on tv. There was a woman who lived next door, a friend of my mother’s who was a huge boxing fan, and we all watched some matches of the day. My mother was in her early thirties at the time, and her friend was a widow of a certain age. And me, a 12-year old kid. An unlikely group to be sure. This was the golden age of tv boxing, what with matches with Carmen Basilio, Gene Fullmer, Dick Tiger, Sugar Ray, Benny “Kid” Paret, Florentino Fernandez (he of the big schnoz. When that nose started bleeding it was a gusher), Joey Giardello, Archie Moore, Floyd Patterson, and on…
Then when I was in high school in the early sixties, Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) fought several fights (four of his first five) at the start of his career in Miami Beach. I got to see his second (Herb Siler) and his fourth (Jimmy Robinson) I even saw him running on the Beach once. I was in my first year of college, when he won the title from Sonny Liston in Miami. I was away at school, so missed it. I did see the defense when I was working a summer job up in Lake George, NY on a big screen feed from Lewiston, Maine. One thing and another, there was just too much going on, I let my boxing viewing lapse until I was living in Massachusetts, and went with a buddy up to Lowell and saw some great fights. Not only the Ward fights (early ones) but some other great wars and Golden Gloves matches, too. One of these fights was between two fighters whom I do not recall. But one of them was from Southie and one was from Eastie. That battle ’bout tore the house down.
As for Ward, we attended his 10th and 11th victories (still undefeated at the time): John Rafuse (who I also saw fight a few other times. He may have been the Eastie guy referred to above) and Carlos Brandi. It was sometime after that that his hand was injured (I never knew the circumstances exactly, just rumors), but the movie has fleshed that out for me.
By the time of the Ward-Gatti wars, I had again lost interest in the fight game. Too bad, because they are now revered as classics. Ward was always a great fighter to watch, fearless and a non-stop whirlwind of a boxer.
The movie picks up Ward’s (and Dickie Eklund‘s) story when Ward was on the downside – before his “comeback”. I was prepared for Mark Wahlberg to be the big star. But sorry. Christian Bale steals the show as Dickie Eklund, Micky’s half-brother, and Amy Adams as Micky’s girlfriend is just plain terrific. Do not overlook Melissa Leo (sooo good in HBO’s Treme) as the mother of Eklund and Ward. The siblings of Eklund-Ward teeter on caricature, but it looks like they all had fun goofing in front of the camera. This may not stack up to Raging Bull, but it is nevertheless a fine boxing film. It definitely should garner several Oscar nominations – especially for the acting. This one should be seen by cinema fans.
And for boxing fans only: Round 9 of the first Ward-Gatti fight was the Round of the year from the fight of the year. Some have called it the Round of the Century.