On Documentaries and Rarities
By JD Camacho, DoghouseBoxing.com (April 10, 2009)  
On Saturday night, the Home Box Office will feature a spectacle rarely seen on its network. No, it’s not a rising American heavyweight prospect, although those are becoming fewer and fewer these days. No, it’s not Winky Wright, who hasn’t seen any action on any network in nearly two years. Rather, HBO will show a boxing-related sports documentary – this one entitled THRILLA IN MANILA, which chronicles the conclusion of the trilogy between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.

HBO produces exceptional documentaries on any sport and even on topics loosely related to sports – most notable being its long-running, award-winning REAL SPORTS WITH BRYANT GUMBEL series. But for a network known for its boxing programming, boxing-related sports documentaries are few and far between.

Only four previous times in the past fifteen years has a boxing documentary been offered by HBO. In 1998, SUGAR RAY ROBINSON: THE BRIGHT LIGHTS AND DARK SHADOWS OF A CHAMPION painted a humanistic yet realistic portrait of arguably boxing’s greatest champion. In 2000, ALI – FRAZIER I: ONE NATION…DIVISIBLE recounted the historical and cultural watershed of Muhammad Ali’s first encounter with his rival Joe Frazier. In 2003, LEGENDARY NIGHTS: THIRTY YEARS OF BOXING ON HBO detailed, in twelve parts, many of the most significant fights to have been featured on the network. And just last year, JOE LOUIS: AMERICA’S HERO…BETRAYED told a new generation about African-American icon Joe Louis’ prominent rise and financial fall.

Saturday marks the fifth occasion in fifteen years when HBO has cast its historical eye on boxing’s rich past.

Why is it so rare to see a boxing documentary on HBO? Fewer sports lend themselves to such human stories as boxing. Some of the best feature films based on sport showcase boxing – films like ROCKY and RAGING BULL. Even Marlon Brando’s famous line from ON THE WATERFRONT centers on how he “coulda been a [boxing] contender.” Figures like Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, and Mike Tyson were the biggest celebrities of their time – not just in sports, but also in the United States at large. Boxing’s history is deep enough to inspire as much or more interest and intrigue than any other sport. So, why does the HBO audience not see boxing documentaries more often?

Perhaps it’s because HBO prides itself on excellence of programming. The wishy-washy, up-and-down quality of its boxing schedule aside, HBO on a consistent basis features top programming in all other aspects of its network. Shows like THE SOPRANOS and SEX AND THE CITY influenced popular culture. Films such as BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE and RECOUNT won multiple awards. Miniseries like ANGLES IN AMERICA and WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE gave real world issues a wider audience.

Maybe when HBO chooses to do a boxing documentary, HBO wants to be sure it’s on a worthy subject. In any case, as the documentary on Saturday reminds you to cherish the rarity of the gallantry and savagery of Ali – Frazier III, cherish too that someone of HBO’s quality is there to tell the story.


As much as I love HBO’s 24/7 series (I have an unhealthy obsession for them), they’re not documentaries - they’re reality-infomercials. That doesn’t mean they’re not very, very entertaining, though. I anticipate the first episode of Pacquiao-Hatton 24/7 almost as much as the aforementioned Ali - Frazier documentary...

- Timothy Bradley is gutsier than I gave him credit for. Fitter, too. See what happens when the media overlooks someone?

- If Wladimir Klitschko is ever going to be considered a great heavyweight champion, he should dispose of upstart cruiserweight David Haye in quick, quick fashion. Anything less, and he’ll never receive the respect any heavyweight champion so richly wants...

- Consider me sold on Edwin Valero. He reminds me of a young, unrefined Manny Pacquiao. That guy was a monster, even though he only had fast hands, a big heart, a fierce straight left and little else. Imagine how good Valero could actually be with some fine-tuning...

- Welterweights be damned! Winky Wright, even a come-backing one, is a bigger potential threat to Paul Williams than Andre Berto, Joshua Clottey, Miguel Cotto, or even a resurgent Shane Mosley. None of those fighters possess Wright’s ability when he was at his best, which wasn’t too long ago. That plus Wright’s size over other welterweights makes this Saturday’s match-up very interesting indeed...

JD at: jdcamachorj@gmail.com

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