Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Five Greatest Fictitious Boxing Matches of All-Time!

A tribute to the most amazing slugfests ever waged by wholly made-up people.

After half a decade of delays, the two best boxers of our generation will finally square off next week. No doubt a match-up that will shatter Pay-Per-View buyrates (thanks in no small part to the mind-numbing $99 ordering fee), Mayweather vs. Pacquiao has all the makings of a Sweet Science classic. If things go right, it very well could be the most important fight since Ali vs. Frazier, potentially kicking off a renewed national interest in the sport -- which, believe it or not, was once more popular than football, basketball and every form of auto racing you can think of combined.

Then again, it could be an absolute debacle and yet another shameful black eye to the sport's reputation, like the infamous second Tyson and Holyfield tilt and, to a much, much lesser extent, the hilarious Money vs. Ortiz kneeslapper from 2011 (a bout, it is worth noting, that remains more famous today for Larry Merchant's post-fight awesomeness than the match itself.)

Alas, whether the fight is every bit as awesome as Hagler/Hearns or Corrales/Castillo I or just a big, fat, stankin' shit fest, it will at least answer a question pugilism fans have been debating since George W.'s second term of office. Yeah, some are already bitching and bellyaching about how the fight would've turned out had the two fought in their alleged "primes," but frankly, we ought to be thanking our lucky stars we're even getting the bout at all. Unlike with MMA "dream match-ups" like Fedor vs. Brock Lesnar or Anderson Silva vs. GSP, we'll never have to wonder "what could've been" after May 2.

With the media limelight firmly focused on boxing for the first time in what seems like ages, that got me thinking about some of the other in-ring classics we've had over the years -- those being, the super-memorable boxing bouts featuring people who don't really exist. Who among us could ever forget Charlie Chaplin's iconic Tramp getting the shit mercilessly beat out of him in "City Lights," or Chuck Bronson's bare-knuckle slobberknobber against Nick Dimitri at the end of "Hard Times," or the exploits of Martel "Too Sweet" Gordone as a prize fighter wrongly imprisoned for murder three separate times across three separate movies, including one where he's mentored by Mr. T and another where he's trained by a subterranean crack-smoking midget rapist?

As such, I've decided to peruse through the wide, world of fictitious film and television pugilism to pluck out what I consider the five greatest make-believe boxing bouts of all time. Some are legitimately riveting facsimiles of actual boxing contests, while others are rather hilarious (if not scornful) parodies of what the industry of boxing has become. The only real requirement here is that the fights themselves have to at least somewhat abide by the normal rules of boxing, so while unsanctioned street fist fights are eligible, I disqualified anything that included any sort of shenanigans that wouldn't be allowed in a "real" bout -- so that means nothing with kicking, choke holds, body slams or use of weaponry makes the countdown. And with those caveats cleared out of our way, who among us are ready to motherfucking rumble?

Rocky Balboa vs. Apollo Creed I
Rocky (1976) - Philadelphia, Penn.

Well, it would be pretty hard to talk about great fictitious boxing matches without talking about the greatest fictitious boxer of all-time, who incidentally, also made up one-half of the greatest fictitious fights in the history of cinema. 

Quite possibly my favorite movie ever, "Rocky" is actually kinda-sorta-but-not-really based on the real-life story of Chuck Wepner, a no-name boxer who got the chance of a lifetime against then-world champ Muhammad Ali and came *this* close to dropping him, before ultimately getting finished in the last round. The concluding fight scene in "Rocky" doesn't necessarily follow that match all that faithfully, but it nonetheless does a pretty good job of dramatizing the bout.

At just barely 10 minutes in length, the first cinematic Apollo Creed/Robert "Rocky" Balboa showdown is, to this day, the most beautifully scripted boxing scene in movie history. Yeah, it's not exactly the most realistic boxing ever portrayed on the screen (it's more inspired by Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots than Roberto Duran, apparently) but compared to the absolute bullshit excuse for pugilism we got in "Raging Bull," the all-offense onslaught on display in the 1976 original is still fairly technical looking, without sacrificing an ounce of excitement. It's really hard for sports movies to capture the magic of real-time sporting events, but "Rocky" comes about as close as I've seen any film to replicating the unreplicable. An expertly shot sequence combining skillfully edited montages and incorporating minimal but meaningful slivers of dialogue (the camaraderie between Balboa and Mick, especially), it also contains what is arguably the single greatest mark-out moment in American film history -- I can only imagine audiences back in '76 literally leaping out of their seats and cheering like it was a real fight when Rocky scored that first, unexpected knockdown. The fights (and the films themselves) may have gotten goofier and goofier as the series progressed, but it's hard to dispute the pure, undiluted greatness of the original Rocky tussle, which is every bit as gripping and pulse-pounding now as it was 40 years ago. 

Bootney Farnsworth vs. 40th Street Black II
Let's Do It Again (1975) - Atlanta, Ga.

To this day, the double-knockdown finale at the end of "Rocky II" is a source of endless debate for hardcore boxing and movie nerds. While some consider it a stroke of dramatic genius, others think it's a pretty corny and forced plot mechanic. Interestingly enough, the first "Rocky" sequel wasn't the first film to utilize that particular ending, ... in fact, it was used in a movie that actually predates the original "Rocky!"

Sidney Poitier is rightfully considered one of the greatest actors in Hollywood history. After breaking the color barrier in the 1950s, he wound up -- irony of ironies -- becoming a pretty prolific director of blaxploitation flicks, starring and producing a series of excellent screwball comedies alongside Bill "No Means Yes and Yes Means Anal" Cosby in the mid-1970s. Released a year before "Rocky," the second film in the unofficial "Uptown Saturday Night trilogy" is a pretty damned fantastic little movie, featuring one of the more creative -- and hilarious -- takes on a boxing thematic you'll ever see in a motion picture.

In the film, Poitier and Cosby play these two Moorehouse graduates who wind up in New Orleans, where they use hypnotism on a no-name prizefighter (played, if you can believe it, by Jimmie "J.J." Walker!) so they can clean up big on a bet. Of course, the mafia (led by a dude named "Biggie Smalls," naturally) track them all the way back  to Atlanta, where they are goaded into setting up a second match between Farnsworth and 40th Street Black. Ingeniously, the two manage to sneak into the opposing locker room and hypnotize the other fighter before placing their money on the fight being a draw -- leading, of course, to the infamous double KO finale. Sure, it's a gimmick that's been copied by a litany of films and television shows since, but as far as I am concerned, no piece of media has ever pulled the hook off as successfully -- and cleverly -- as "Let's Do It Again."

Little Mac vs. Mike Tyson
Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! (1987) - Every living room in America

If you grew up in the late 1980s, odds are, you played a whole hell of a lot of Nintendo. As one of the most-beloved NES games ever (and really, one of the unsung pioneers of the rhythm-action sub-genre), "Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!" remains an iconic -- and MUCH-discussed -- title to this very day.

Kids today will never really understand the appeal of the game, and most certainly, just what it meant to make it all the way to Mike Tyson to begin with. All you whipper-snappers today can just go on your YouTubes and you DailyMotions and watch a few videos and figure out the enemy movement patterns, but back in the day, we had to figure that shit out on our own. That meant, trial, that meant error, and that meant a lot of getting knocked the fuck out by borderline offensive stereotypes. Alas, ever the dedicated joystick handlers we were, we took our time and practiced, practiced and practiced until we finally did figure out, master and exploit the idiosyncratic weaknesses of Soda Popinski, Bald Bull and especially that no good, pants-dropping piece of shit King Hippo.

Unfortunately, our mutual joy was short-lived. The first time I made it to the grand finale bout against Iron Mike, I was ecstatic -- that is, until he took a step back and took my head off with an all but unavoidable uppercut. Yeah, I knew all about the supposed "winking" glitch, but try as I may, I could never make it out of the second round against America's favorite convicted rapist, nor could any of my grade school chums. Even now, this is considered the boss battle to end all boss battles, and for good reason. Then again, maybe it shouldn't be all that much of a surprise -- in the real world, just how well do you think a Carl Winslow-trained Ralph Macchio would do against the Baddest Man on the Planet in his prime, anyway?

Jason Voorhees vs. Julius Gaw
Friday the 13th Part VII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989) - New York City, NY

You' ve got to give poor Julius some credit -- it takes a lot of cojones to goad an unkillable psycho-murderer retard-hillbilly zombie slasher into a round of fisticuffs, even if you are rocking the sweetest Harlem Globetrotters windbreaker this side of an LL Cool J video. 

While "Friday the 13th Part VIII" is generally considered one of the weaker installments in the equally beloved and loathed series, it did have some pretty gnarly death scenes in it -- none of which were as memorable as that of Mr. Gaw's. With his skillful amateur boxing put on display early in the film, we knew that when it came time for him to bite the bullet, he wasn't going down without a fight, and the inevitable rooftop barn-barner atop the streets of NYC more than lived up to the hype. 

Sure, sure, there wasn't a whole lot of offense from Mr. Voorhees -- he more or less let Julius wail on him until his hands were just chunks of bloody hamburger meat -- but when the time came for Jason to finally start counter-punching, well ... let's just say that he would probably do just as well as an Ultimate Fighter as he would a machete-wielding mass killer. Oh, and in case you were wondering: the same actor that played Julius was the same dude that played Loco in "South Central" -- although I highly doubt V.C. Dupree is identified as anything other than "that one dude that got his head punched off by Jason" when spotted in public. 

Homer Simpson vs. Drederick Tatum 
The Simpsons (1996) - Springfield, Ky.(*

"The Simpsons," now in what I believe is its 50th year on the air, was once a pretty good TV show. "The Homer they Fall," an episode which originally aired back in 1996, is pretty indicative of what the show did right, presenting a one-joke premise that never really exhausts itself.

After Homer gets attacked by some local ruffians, misanthropic barkeep Moe -- a former boxer himself -- notes the Simpsons' patriarch's incredible ability to withstand cranial punishment. Never one to turn away from a profitable enterprise, he becomes Homer's manager as he slowly works his way up the indie boxing circuit in Springfield. Of course, Homers himself really doesn't have any offensive strategy -- he just lets his foes pound on him until they're exhausted, and then he tips them over. It does him quite well in the ring ... that is, until he's lined up in a fight with Drederick Tatum, a Mike Tyson expy that just got out of prison. The attention to detail here is pretty goddamn impressive -- when Tatum comes to the ring, he does so to "Time 4 Sum Aksion," which was the actual song Tyson used as his entrance music in his big 1995 return bout against Peter McNeely.

You can probably guess what happens next. After being mercilessly pounded by Tatum for several rounds, Homer decides to start fighting back, although his striking efficiency is only slightly better than that of UFC-washup Jake Shields. When it looks like Homer is about to get flatlined, Moe steals the Fan Man's iconic paraglider and carries him away to safety, with a Don King analogue stating that he is deeply disappointed in the fight outcome, before paying Moe an insane amount of money. It's a three ring circus of the absurd that, in many ways, serves as the greatest description -- and deconstruction -- of contemporary professional boxing in any kind of media. It may not be the most reverential depiction of the sport, but it's hard to deny that it isn't one of the most painfully authentic, either.

1 comment:

  1. OT: Is it still possible? I don't care if it takes a year or two, but will there be a MayweatherVsPacquiao 2 ?


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