Boxing’s lost some of its popularity in recent years, but it hasn’t lost all of its legends. Champs, a new Showtime documentary, reintroduces three immortals, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, and Bernard Hopkins, tracing their origins, triumphs, and travails and examining the impact boxing has had on society as a whole.
The film highlights boxing’s last golden age, the 1980s and ’90s, when Tyson, Holyfield, and Hopkins ruled the ring, exploring their career paths from poverty to ubiquity (and sometimes back again). But as inspiring as the rags-to-riches tales are—especially that of Hopkins, who discovered the sport while serving time in prison—it’s after each boxer hoists the belt for a prime-time crowd that things get interesting. The film’s second half delves into each fighters’ post-career troubles, whether drugs, crime, or money. (In the case of Tyson, all three.) Using their stories, the film looks into boxing’s larger impact on poverty and, as with Hopkins, the prison system.
With cameos by boxing enthusiasts like Mark (The Fighter) Wahlberg and Denzel (The Hurricane) Washington, Champs asks big questions about the sport’s role as a cultural institution, one in which who’s winner and who’s loser isn’t always clear.
Yes, the devastating health effects of receiving countless head blows are undeniable—but just ask Tyson, Holyfield, and Hopkins about all those kids who, like them, can thank a local boxing gym for keeping them off the streets. View it in another light and you may hope boxing thrives again.