You might think that watching a boxing movie a few days after watching a real title fight would offer obvious contrasts. Colorfully harmless Hollywood fiction vs. brutish black-and-blue reality for starters. The pretense of athletic violence vs. the bloody real deal. Choreography vs. instinct.
But you might be surprised at the number of similarities.
For example: Wonderful names.
In “Creed,” the current installment in the 39-year-old “Rocky” franchise that refuses to be knocked out despite taking more punches than a speed bag at a seedy Philly gym, the main character is named Adonis Creed. It’s one of the better names you’ll ever come across for a make-believe boxer. And of course “Rocky” fans will recall Apollo Creed, the original champion of the series who went from Rocky’s Ali-like opponent to his arch rival to bosom buddy, and then from veritable brother to forever sentimentalized in death. Well, Adonis Creed is Apollo’s son, his illegitimate son — just to fuel the character’s motivation with requisite seething anger.
In the most recent bout for the real heavyweight championship, a title with 123 years of lineage and beginning to show its age, and perhaps its irrelevance, the challenger to longtime champion Wladimir Klitschko was Tyson Fury. It sounds like a made-up name belonging to a pro wrestler or video game character. But it’s his born name, perhaps the best real name you’ll ever see attached to an authentic professional pugilist.
Another similarity between the real and the imagined: HBO.
The Klitschko-Fury fight was televised by that cable network, with Jim Lampley describing the blow-by-blow inaction, and Max Kellerman providing commentary. They seemed to have convinced themselves that the fight unfolded with dramatic significance, and they were enthusiastic and professional in communicating that belief.
The climactic fight in “Creed,” between the eponymous challenger and “Pretty” Ricky Conlan, is also televised by HBO and, although it’s only a movie and therefore it’s a pretend broadcast, there’s Jim Lampley describing the action and Max Kellerman providing commentary. They’re awfully convincing, exuding enthusiasm and professionalism and dramatic gravitas. Kellerman even interviews Creed’s trainer in the ring after the fight, the one-and-only Rocky Balboa. And although it’s all scripted, and it’s really the now 69-year-old Sylvester Stallone inhabiting the character he created four decades ago, you’d swear Kellerman is interviewing a real legendary former champion.
An additional similarity between Hollywood and Duesseldorf, Germany, site of the Klitschko-Fury fight: Trash talk.
The movie gives us “Pretty” Ricky Conlan calling Creed a punk, a spoiled rich kid who’s never had to fight for survival. As trash talking goes, it’s G-rated. But it counts.
The real fight gave us Tyson Fury who, like his namesake used to do often (his father named him after then-champion Mike Tyson), spews ignorance and hatred in rants against gays and women. The BBC quoted Fury as saying “a woman’s place is in the kitchen or on her back.” About his own wife he was quoted: “She knows her place. I know her place.” He’s publicly equated homosexuality with pedophilia. He once used a gay epithet in calling fellow fighters David Price and Tony Bellew lovers. The old Iron Mike would approve.
The intriguing (if somewhat confusing) blending of the real and unreal between Klitschko-Fury and Creed-Conlan continues. For example:
The aforementioned Bellew, a real fighter, and a highly skilled one, with no previous acting experience, played the part of Conlan. This wasn’t the case of an athlete sleep-walking or mugging his way through a role. Bellew showed some dramatic chops. It might even be said he was more convincing than either Fury or Klitschko were in their real fight.
Creed is portrayed in absolutely convincing fashion by Michael B. Jordan, an actor with no previous boxing experience.
Klitschko-Fury, the real fight in which Fury won the heavyweight title with a desultory 12-round decision, was so yawn-inducing, so deadly dull that its theme music could have been “Strangers In The Night” with the lyrics changed to “Stumblebums In The Night.” It was so lacking in significant dramatic action that it was difficult to believe it was a real fight.
Creed-Conlan, the movie fight in which the terribly inexperienced but gutsy Creed loses a close decision but wins reams of respect, is so dramatically over-the-top with punch-counterpunch fireworks, it makes the Thrilla in Manila look like “The Peanuts Movie.” It’s impossible to believe it’s a real fight, that it’s anything other than staged scenes in a movie.
The real and unreal. And the surreal. As boxing continues to sink deeper into niche status, boxing movies continue to score knockouts at the box office.
Robert Rubino can be reached at RobertoRubino@comcast.net