Is “The Fighter” The Best In Its Class?

Fans who appreciate movies concerning the “sweet science” of boxing have an embarrassment of riches at their disposal.

When you put the words “boxing” and “movies” together, the first thing that usually pops into the mind of anyone familiar with the two would be the Rocky franchise. I’ve already posted about my admiration for actor-director Sylvester Stallone, and an early obsession with the original Rocky. And the subsequent inspiration it fed me to take on the challenge of losing weight and getting fit in my younger years.

That movie was a definite turning point in the life of this “Average Joe”. It still resonates with me now.

The entire list of franchise sequels (Rocky II-V, Rocky Balboa) that followed were good cinema in their own right, but never really approached the excellence of the original film. As the Best Picture winner at the Oscars in 1976, it propelled Stallone into the stratosphere of Hollywood heavyweight.

Of course, Rocky isn’t the only heavy hitter in the boxing movie genre. Robert DeNiro’s tour de force performance as champion turned loser Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull is a movie I’ve watched repeatedly through the years. DeNiro became Jake LaMotta, training hard to get into fighting shape, then later in the film bloating with excessive weight to display the sad twilight of the fighter’s career.

Ron Howard’s depiction of James J. Braddock in Depression era America in Cinderella Man would have been an inspiring film even without the boxing backdrop. And the cream of the crop might arguably be Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby, a formidable film which swept through all the major Academy Award categories.

These movies are not just about the sport of boxing, but about the sport of life and the triumph of the human will.

If I had to rank these films in order of their importance, the list would look like this:

  • Rocky
  • Cinderella Man
  • Raging Bull
  • Million Dollar Baby
  • Rocky Balboa

I knew a couple of weeks ago, when The Fighter was released on DVD right after its post-Oscar buzz, I would watch it immediately to see where it would stack up against the movie greats listed above. A true depiction of real life boxer Irish Mickey Ward, I didn’t expect it to measure up to Stallone and DeNiro. Even with the star power of Mark Wahlberg.

I was blown away instead. A staggering movie loaded with once-in-a-lifetime acting performances (see Christian Bale), The Fighter delivered, and then some. Mickey Ward was involved in several of the greatest welterweight matches ever. Even without the boxing and training footage here, this movie would have done him justice.

The is the ultimate against all odds triumph on film, paying homage to films like Rocky.

Sports Illustrated called the film the best sports movie of the decade, and “one of the best since Martin Scorsese backlit Robert DeNiro’s Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull“.

Most interesting to me is the back story to The Fighter. Like Million Dollar Baby before it, the film was rejected by movie studios, even with Mark Wahlberg backing it at the height of his career. But Wahlberg believed in the inevitable outcome that it would be made, and he prepared himself daily for that outcome.

Like Stallone decades before him, Wahlberg refused to give up his dream of making a movie about a once in a lifetime title shot. And I’m glad he did. The Fighter is a movie that compares with Rocky and Raging Bull on an impressive scale…and should inspire viewers with its message of chasing hope and dreams for years to come.

ItalianAmerican: Sylvester Stallone

88th Annual Academy Awards -Arrivals
The 88th Annual Academy Awards Arrivals Featuring: Sylvester Stallone, Jennifer Flavin Where: Los Angeles, California, United States When: 28 Feb 2016 Credit: Apega/

Since the mid 1970’s, Sylvester Stallone has been my definition of the term American Idol.  As writer, actor, and director of some of the most famous franchises in the film industry, he has been nothing less than an Italian American inspiration.

He has inspired me for many years. In a previous post, I wrote how the original Rocky, the movie that was his breakthrough project, was also important in the life of  a particular socially awkward pre-teen.

With this inspirational movie as my training catalyst, I went from an overweight introvert destined for a life of sloth and obesity, to a young man that could do miles of running with ease, and, if needed,  physically eject uncooperative patrons from my family’s bar/restaurant.

Stallone kicked ass, and he showed me how to do it, too.

Again…thank you Mr. Stallone.

“I think everyone has a certain kind of formula in their life. When you deviate from that formula, you’re going to fail big or you’re gonna win big.”

“I believe there’s an inner power that makes winners or losers. And the winners are the ones who really listen to the truth of their hearts.”

“I have great expectations for the future, because the past was highly overrated.”

“Once in one’s life, for one mortal moment, one must make a grab for immortality; if not, one has not lived.”

“Success is usually the culmination of controlling failure.”

The “Stallone Effect:” A Rocky Road to Weight Loss

I can imagine in this modern day, it is not easy to be the fat kid in class.

Stallone with my favorite exercise equipment: the heavy bag

I remember it well, as I was that kid. It was years ago, in elementary and middle school, but I was once the fat guy. Chunky. Overweight, whatever you prefer to call it.

I empathize with today’s modern kid because even if you want to lose weight, there is temptation everywhere. Fatty foods, high carbs, sweets, sugar in everything…it seems worse now than when I was young.

It’s challenging to be overweight when you grow up Italian American as well. Although I’ve mentioned before that my grandmother cooked me a lot of great meals that were heavy on the vegetables, I also ate a lot of things that could potentially put on some weight.

I’m talking meats, rich sauces, sweets and pastries galore.

As much as I loved my veggies, meatballs and manicotti were likely to be on any menu as well.

If there was a cannoli in the room, chances are I would eat it.

Things were also made a little more difficult attending middle school at a military academy.  With the extra weight, I obviously did not look the part of a polished cadet. Among the sharp creases, perfect shoes, and shiny belt buckles, you stand out from the crowd when your stomach flops over that belt buckle.

I have to admit, when I finally decided to make some changes to take weight off, it wasn’t  for any health reasons. I was too young to think that way. I just wanted to get those rotten kids in school off of my back.

Although I wanted to make some strides in taking off some weight, I wasn’t exactly sure what to do. I had little knowledge about health and fitness, and even less inspiration and motivation.

Then my inspiration hit me, square in the face, while sitting in a movie theater.


For anyone unfamiliar with this mid 70’s classic, Rocky is the not so improbable story of a boxer with slightly less than average fighting talent, living in near poverty, who is randomly chosen in a 4th of July marketing ploy to fight the world heavyweight champion.

In the movie, the fight scenes are dramatic, the acting crisp, and the training montages, where Rocky prepares for his big night, are inspirational. For me, very inspirational.

Can you picture the face of a young kid, watching Star Wars for the first time, or some great animation, staring at a movie screen with eyes wide, his mouth agape? That was me while I was watching Rocky, as he trained by climbing the summit of the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, or pounding a side of beef posing as a heavy bag in a desolate freezer.

He transformed himself from a washed up, out of shape fighter, to a lean physical specimen that was a whisper from calling himself champion. I had my answers.

After seeing the movie, I ran circles around my neighborhood. Running became a top priority in my life. I learned to use a heavy bag, worked around my awkward attempts at jumping rope, and although I never aspired to do the one handed push-up that Rocky did in the movie, I became pretty good at the two handed version.

Rocky was Sylvester Stallone’s baby. He wrote the script and played the lead in what was to be the breakthrough moment of his life. And I can’t thank him enough for it. It also wound up being a breakthrough moment in my life.

Fueled by the motivation I had gotten from the movie, I worked for months to shed pounds and get fit, and it was a success. I don’t know exactly how much weight I came off, as I lost track after the first 20-25 pounds.

By the time I was 15-16 years old, I was in pretty good shape. And I stayed that way. When I met my wife years later (I was 30), I was 6’1″ and 170 pounds, with a 32 inch waist.

I’m not in that kind of shape now, I confess I am a little heavier. But as far as I can see, Stallone still looks fantastic physically, now in his 70s!! Knowing that, maybe it’s time for me to recommit to the roadwork, the heavy bag, and the sit ups.

Yo Rocky…how ’bout a rematch?