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Talking Boxing

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Dangerous: A column by Ian Probert

I'm Not Duran

by Ian Probert

Early last week I awoke to find myself hand-cuffed to a radiator in the dilapidated remains of what might once have been a washroom. A recording of Beverley Craven's 'Promise Me' was endlessly looping at ear-splitting volume. A rusty razor blade had been crudely attached to the tip of my penis with cheese wire. Another had been forced up my rectum. On a flickering TV screen strapped to wall opposite me a man with a fake beard unconvincingly mumbled something in my general direction. It was at that point I realised that it was all a dream and prepared to produce a gulp of relief. However, the nightmare was about to escalate. 

For the third time in under an hour I had nodded off while grinding my way through the recently released Roberto Duran biopic, a movie apparently based on the Panamanian great's autobiography 'I Am Duran'. Rather than its designated title 'Hands Of Stone' I prefer to call it 'I'm Not Duran'.

Where do we begin? Well it might be prudent to start with the good news, which was that I hadn't paid to watch this atrocity. I was getting it for free on the Kodi and could not in all conscience contact the makers of the movie and ask for my money back. (I am, however, considering calling them and asking them to reimburse that particular segment of my life.) The bad news? Well how long have you got? 

I suppose the abiding question about this movie is who is it for? If it's for boxing fans then the makers really should have put a little more effort into casting somebody in the lead role who bears at least a passing resemblance to Duran as opposed to second cock in a gonzo porn flick. No matter how small a budget, false whiskers and a can of spray tan will never suffice. (Yes, I realise I'm being unfair to Edgar Ramírez, who does the best job he can given the material on offer.) Likewise the casting of the great Robert De Niro in the role of trainer Ray Arcel never quite hits the spot. It's not so much how he mumbles the words that have been artlessly concocted by the scriptwriting committee, rather it's the quality of those words, the story that they attempt to tell. Anybody who knows anything about boxing will not be taken in by this fairytale-by-numbers melodrama. But if it's not for boxing fans then who else? 

Perhaps I'm being unkind. It wouldn't be the first time. Because in all honesty I've never seen a good boxing movie. Not Rocky, not Raging Bull (blasphemy to say that, I know), not Gentleman Jim, not Abbott and Costello in Buck Privates. Not nothin'. In my opinion this particular genre remains the land of dial-a-cliché: troubled tearaway dons the gloves, gets taken under the wing of grizzled cigar-smoking trainer with a year to live, loses a few, wins a few, beats up a herd of cow carcasses, before eventually triumphing to become heavyweight champion of the world and getting the ex-hooker girl. Along the way there are grotesque comic book bruises and broken noses, fountains of blood, and, oh my dear God, the terrible noises those gloves make when they hit the target, each blow the sound of a small incendiary device. 

This is what I found myself saying to Boxing News editor Matt Christie, a mere day or so after flicking off 'I'm Not Duran' and spewing up over my Kodi. Matt had very kindly invited me to a London showing of the new Vinny Pazienza biopic 'Bleed For This' and I soon found myself slipping into moaning mode before actually bleeding for this. 'What about Fat City?' asked Matt's BN predecessor Tris Dixon. 'No!' said I firmly, even though I'd never seen that particular movie.

The screening was held in the sort of London hotel that charges £8 for half a lager. What made it special is that the Pazmanian Devil himself was also in attendance, shuffling into the small movie theatre and touchingly providing the sort of self-effacing introduction that gladdens the heart. Even to the untrained eye it was clear that Vinny Pazienza was actually pretty good at playing Vinny Pazienza. Accomplished even, with a remarkable sense of realism and a more than passable approximation of a Rhode Island accent. But what of the man playing him in the movie, one Miles Teller?

In actual fact, he turned out to be pretty good, too. Indeed, as movies go, the enterprise was well shot, well edited, all that kind of thing. However, that question crops up again. Who is this movie actually for? If it for boxing fans they will immediately understand that the story of a thin fighter who gets fat, breaks his neck in a car crash, mends his neck in the basement of his house, and – yippee – comes back to win the world title doesn't quite ring true. Even if you can forgive the generic nature of the characters and drama on offer the whole things to tends to fall apart when you learn that Pazienza's opponent in the incredible title-winning climax to the movie is none other than Roberto Duran, looking even less like Roberto Duran than in 'I'm Not Duran', who, at 43-years-of-age is fighting six weights above his lightweight prime for something called the IBC Super-Middleweight title. Even the makers of the movie seemed embarrassed by this fact, somehow contriving to have the 'IBC' bit of the title muffled by crowd noise at one point in the movie.

But listen, it's not my aim to diminish the achievements of Paz, which by anybody's standards are remarkable. And such is my hatred of critics that I'm ashamed to find myself playing that role. It's more a desperate plea to the people who put up the cash to make movies about boxing. Cut out the clichés boys. We've had our fill of clichés. How about an intelligent movie about boxing which doesn't patronise its viewers? Now that would be something.

Ian's latest book, 'Dangerous: An Intimate Journey into the Heart of Boxing' is now available online and in stores now!
www.ianprobert.com