With this generation’s new “megafight” between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather coming in May, boxing is at a pivotal point in time where the future of the sport can return to the same heights it once experienced many years ago. Champs is a documentary that not only revisits the ’90s heights of the sport in which heavyweight champions like Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, and Bernard Hopkins were three of the sport’s most storied fighters… for both good and bad reasons.

Rather than follow the typical fare of most documentaries, writer/director Bert Marcus frames the documentary around the three boxers to examine the pratfalls of financial success for athletes who may not be the best equipped to handle the limelight, racism and poverty that pervaded the sport, and the very fact that boxing still goes unregulated with no true safety parameters set for its athletes. However, was Marcus successful in crafting a documentary that aims for bigger goals? Read on and find out.

Director: Bert Marcus
Rating: N/A
Release Date: March 13, 2015 (in theaters, On Demand, and iTunes)

As previously stated, Champs contextualizes the career trajectories of Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, and Bernard Hopkins with the socioeconomic issues that plagued them. While backgrounds of each boxer are examined in Champs, they aren’t the focal point, but instead reference points to support the film’s main goal of illustrating how the sport helped them escape the trouble they grew up with, just to face some of the same issues within their chosen fields.

Marcus focuses on this irony, but rather than be condescending, he illuminates the problems and issues that were present in hopes of bringing awareness. Furthermore, he compares the problems that plagued boxers with the same issues that are present right now in regards to boxer safety, sport regulation, etc. By taking this route for the film, Champs becomes not just a documentary set on a specific time, but one that compares and contrasts the past with the present through a sport that was once the country’s largest.

Champs film still

The increased focus in direction and tonality is matched by feature film-levels of production quality, heightening the bar for the typical sports documentary, let alone documentaries in general. The documentary is also helped by direct assistance from Tyson, whom also produced and helped get in touch with some of the insiders interviewed. The way the film is presented, the majority of its audience will predictably come from boxing fans, but will also benefit those interested in modern social issues, which is a well-balanced product for a documentary that transcends the typical sports doc.

While I’m unfamiliar with Marcus’ previous documentaries, Teenage Paparazzo and How to Make Money Selling Drugs, I’m confident if the rest of his filmography, both past and future, is anything like Champs, audiences will be drawn to them. His focus on telling captivating narrative to bring positive change to social issues matched with a high level of production quality is certainly Marcus’ strongest skill with Champs, and even those unfamiliar with boxing and/or the modern climate of American sociology will be drawn to it.

Geoff Henao

Geoff Henao is a writer/kinda photographer affiliated with the Chicago collective LOD. His interests include film, punk rock, cute girls, graphic novels, video games, and the Chicago Bulls. He's funny sometimes.

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