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Fake “Creed”

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Escaping the shadow of one’s father is never as easy as slipping a punch, but time and again, many a young man thinks it can be done. He laces on those gloves to gain value from without instead of within and more often than not finds himself in a world of hurt.

When I was a kid, right around this time of year, somewhere between the donning of costumes and the gorging of turkey, a time before HULU, DVR, Netflix, channel 11 or some other basic television affiliate would put on a Rocky marathon, movies 1-4, as Rocky 5, 6, and now 7 (Creed) had not yet been made. By the end of the saga I had seen countless times, I could not tell whether the tears that stained my face were from joy or from sorrow, or a combination, as any powerful story, any passion, will allow.

Last night I saw the latest installment of the Rocky franchise, Creed, directed by Ryan Coogler, but unlike the Rocky’s of my childhood, Creed will not be included in any movie marathon.

Creed locks in immediately on Adonis Johnson/Creed, played by Michael B. Jordan (also in Coogler’s 2013 Fruitvale Station) and his too-earnest ambitions to be a professional boxer. We soon find out in a rushed, painfully spelled out message that Jordan’s character is on a vision quest to free himself of the shadow of his father—a man whom he never met. Of course his father turns out to be the now deceased Apollo Creed, probably the greatest fictitious boxer ever, next to Rocky himself.

The bastard son of Apollo Creed (Apollo had Adonis via an extramarital affair), Adonis quits his job, leaves his home, and seeks out (again, of course) Rocky Balboa, the very man who didn’t “throw the damn towel,” to rescue him from his shadow.

And if you thought such myth-making comes easy, after fighting Ivan Drago and, with him, the former U.S.S.R. in Rocky IV, the Italian Stallion once again finds his way to the ring—this time thankfully only as a corner-man.

You see there is a real logic going on here and some good old-fashioned quid pro quo but not much else. Just as Apollo trained Rocky for his re-match with the pain-predicting Mr. T in Rocky III, Rocky, still guilty even after toppling the Russian and communism itself, agrees to train young Creed.

This pairing is supposed to echo the relationship between Rocky, once a forgiving thumb-breaker and down-and-out pug, and the cantankerous, riddling-wise, half-deaf, Mickey—the father figure and trainer to Rocky, only that in Creed Stallone offers none of the zest of Mickey and Jordan, none of the emotional depth of Rocky. The result—not much chemistry. If it were not for Stallone’s affable humility and good-guy-ness despite a general lassitude, Jordan’s forced mean-mugging and stifled emotions would have had me make for the exit long before the credits rolled.

Marlon Brando’s acting teacher Stella Adler once said that in order to play ordinary men, an actor must have size. That is to say, it is easier to play a science-fiction hero that has a lot of bells and whistles to grab onto (although Fantastic Four didn’t turn out so hot for Michael B. Jordan) than it is to portray a flesh-and-blood man, perhaps doing extraordinary things, like a boxer. Michael B. Jordan may have the body and pugilistic skill to convince an audience he is a professional boxer, but he has little of the size an actor needs to play such a role.

Partly this is because the Creed character has no real adversary to act as a metaphor for his real opponent—himself. No Apollo, no Mr. T, no Ivan Drago. Just some pseudo-British champ with a paint-by-numbers anger problem named “Pretty” Ricky Conlan, played by real-life British cruiserweight Tony Bellew.

Coogler is too plain here—too forward, and even has Rocky mouth to the son of Apollo that he is really only fighting himself, no one else. That’s all fine and well but not very gripping. Telling stories should not be message for message’s sake alone: there needs to be pacing, subtlety, tension, and character development to successfully deliver that message.

If Mr. Coogler, a director all of 29 years old, continues making box office features, he would do better telling stories closer to home as I think he does in Fruitvale Station. Otherwise, he will just be a son lost in his father’s shadows.

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2015 Fight of the Year – Francisco Vargas vs Takashi Miura

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The WBC World Super Featherweight title bout between Francisco Vargas and Takashi Miura came on one of the biggest boxing stages of 2015, as the bout served as the HBO pay-per-view’s co-main event on November 21st, in support of Miguel Cotto vs Saul Alvarez.

Miura entered the fight with a (29-2-2) record and he was making the fifth defense of his world title, while Vargas entered the fight with an undefeated mark of (22-0-1) in what was his first world title fight. Both men had a reputation for all-out fighting, with Miura especially earning high praise for his title defense in Mexico where he defeated Sergio Thompson in a fiercely contested battle.

The fight started out hotly contested, and the intensity never let up. Vargas seemed to win the first two rounds, but by the fourth round, Miura seemed to pull ahead, scoring a knock-down and fighting with a lot of confidence. After brawling the first four rounds, Miura appeared to settle into a more technical approach. Rounds 5 and 6 saw the pendulum swing back towards Vargas, as he withstood Miura’s rush to open the fifth round and the sixth round saw both men exchanging hard punches.

The big swinging continued, and though Vargas likely edged Miura in rounds 5 and 6, Vargas’ face was cut in at least two spots and Miura started to assert himself again in rounds 7 and 8. Miura was beginning to grow in confidence while it appeared that Vargas was beginning to slow down, and Miura appeared to hurt Vargas at the end of the 8th round.

Vargas turned the tide again at the start of the ninth round, scoring a knock down with an uppercut and a straight right hand that took Miura’s legs and sent him to the canvas. Purely on instinct, Miura got back up and continued to fight, but Vargas was landing frequently and with force. Referee Tony Weeks stepped in to stop the fight at the halfway point of round 9 as Miura was sustaining a barrage of punches.

Miura still had a minute and a half to survive if he was going to get out of the round, and it was clear that he was not going to stop fighting.

A back and forth battle of wills between two world championship level fighters, Takashi Miura versus “El Bandido” Vargas wins the 2015 Fight of the Year.

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Jan 9 in Germany – Feigenbutz and De Carolis To Settle Score

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This coming Saturday, January 9th, the stage is set at the Baden Arena in Offenburg, Germany for a re-match between Vincent Feigenbutz and Giovanni De Carolis. The highly anticipated re-match is set to air on SAT.1 in Germany, and Feigenbutz will once again be defending his GBU and interim WBA World titles at Super Middleweight.

The first meeting between the two was less than three months ago, on October 17th and that meeting saw Feigenbutz controversially edge De Carolis on the judge’s cards by scores of (115-113, 114-113 and 115-113). De Carolis scored a flash knock down in the opening round, and he appeared to outbox Feigenbutz in the early going, but the 20 year old German champion came on in the later rounds.

The first bout is described as one of the most crowd-pleasing bouts of the year in Germany, and De Carolis and many observers felt that the Italian had done enough to win.

De Carolis told German language website RAN.DE that he was more prepared for the re-match, and that due to the arrogance Feigenbutz displayed in the aftermath of the first fight, he was confident that he had won over some of the audience. Though De Carolis fell short of predicting victory, he promised a re-vamped strategy tailored to what he has learned about Feigenbutz, whom he termed immature and inexperienced.

The stage is set for Feigenbutz vs De Carolis 2, this Saturday January 9th in Offenburg, Germany. If you can get to the live event do it, if not you have SAT.1 in Germany airing the fights, and The Boxing Channel right back here for full results.

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2015 Knock Out of the Year – Saul Alvarez KO’s James Kirkland

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On May 9th of 2015, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez delivered a resonant knock-out of James Kirkland on HBO that wins the 2015 KO of the Year.

The knock-out itself came in the third round, after slightly more than two minutes of action. The end came when Alvarez delivered a single, big right hand that caught Kirkland on the jaw and left him flat on his back after spinning to the canvas.Alvarez was clearly the big star heading into the fight. The fight was telecast by HBO for free just one week after the controversial and disappointing Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao fight, and Alvarez was under pressure to deliver the type of finish that people were going to talk about. Kirkland was happy to oblige Alvarez, taking it right to Alvarez from the start. Kirkland’s aggression saw him appear to land blows that troubled the young Mexican in the early going. Alvarez played good defense, and he floored Kirkland in the first round, displaying his power and his technique in knocking down an aggressive opponent.

However, Kirkland kept coming at Alvarez and the fight entered the third round with both men working hard and the feeling that the fight would not go the distance. Kirkland continued to move forward, keeping “Canelo” against the ropes and scoring points with a barrage of punches while looking for an opening.

At around the two minute mark, Alvarez landed an uppercut that sent Kirkland to the canvas again. Kirkland got up, but it was clear that he did not have his legs under him. Kirkland was going to try to survive the round, but Alvarez had an opportunity to close out the fight. The question was would he take it?

Alvarez closed in on Kirkland, putting his opponent’s back to the ropes. Kirkland was hurt, but he was still dangerous, pawing with punches and loading up for one big shot.

But it was the big shot “Canelo” threw that ended the night. Kirkland never saw it coming, as he was loading up with a huge right hand of his own. The right Alvarez threw cracked Kirkland in the jaw, and his eyes went blank. His big right hand whizzed harmlessly over the head of a ducking Alvarez, providing the momentum for the spin that left Kirkland prone on the canvas.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez went on to defeat Miguel Cotto in his second fight of 2015 and he is clearly one of boxing’s biggest stars heading into 2016. On May 9th Alvarez added another reel to his highlight film when he knocked out James Kirkland with the 2015 “Knock Out of the Year”.

Photo by naoki fukuda

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