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Unanimous Decision: Shadow Box Film Festival Was A Winner

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The panel of L-R: Ron Scott Stevens, Leon Gast, and Barbara Kopple spoke about how and why boxing works in cinema at the first annual Shadow Box Film Festival in NYC.

From the classic lines, “I could have been a contender,” to “Yo Adrian, we did it,” the sport of boxing and the world of film have been devoted partners for decades.

The stirring themes and characters boxing provides to celluloid came together last weekend at The Shadow Box Film Festival, the first and only film festival to devote its entire program to films about the sweet science.

Held over two days (11/30 & 12/1) at The School of Visual Arts Theater in Manhattan, the festival showcased thirty films shot in eight different countries. The SVA’s two theaters screened an interesting collection of short and feature films. Each day culminated with a panel discussion.

A labor of love from festival director David Schuster (Winner Take All Productions) and an advisory board that included former world champions, award winning film makers, acclaimed writers/producers, as well as prominent members of the broadcast media world, The Shadow Box Film Festival is a brilliant idea long overdue.

The festival kicked off on Friday afternoon with the feature “A Fighting Chance,” by noted journalist and author Bobby Cassidy Jr.

The story of Cuban boxing before and after the revolution, “A Fighting Chance” spanned several decades as it told of the triumphs and disappointments of Cuba’s legendary boxers. The lives of Cuban heroes such as Kid Chocolate, Kid Gavilan, Florentino Fernandez, Teofilio Stevenson, and Joel Casamayor were all recounted in rich detail. Most moving perhaps was the tale of “Puppy” Garcia, a celebrated and idolized boxer who decided to remain on the island in spite of the revolution. Identified as part of the resistance movement against Castro, Garcia was imprisoned and tortured for nine years. A smashed ankle delivered at the hands of his captors prevented him from ever boxing again.

A collection of twelve short films from various countries (Canada, Spain, Germany, England, and the U.S.) followed.

Standouts from the dozen included “Jeffery,” the emotional tale of former fighter Jeff Leggett, directed by Nathanial Hansen, “Shadow Boxers,” portraits of boxers Seamus McDonagh, Maureen Shea, and John Duddy, by Sandi Bachom, and “Tiger,” the story of affable “Tiger” Ted Lowry directed by Chris Cassidy.

“Joe Frazier: When the Smoke Clears,” written and directed by Mike Todd, provided an intimate look at the life of the heavyweight legend and his son Marvis. The two were captured as they struggled to keep Joe Frazier’s gym open and the great fighter’s legacy alive.

Prior to the evening’s final screening (“The Good Son”), Showtime’s Steve Farhood moderated a  panel discussion on why boxing makes great drama. Panelists included 15-time Emmy winning writer/producer Aaron Cohen, former WBO heavyweight champion and current actor Michael Bentt, director Chris Kenneally of the well received film “Side by Side,” former world-ranked junior middleweight contender (and honorary festival chairman) Mark McPherson, director Jesse James Miller (“The Good Son”), and former WBA lightweight champion Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, himself the subject of the evening’s final film.

A lively and interesting discussion followed as panel members recounted their favorite boxing films (On the Waterfront, Body & Soul, Rocky), what drew them to boxing, and why the fight game makes for great drama.

Among the common themes mentioned were fathers and sons in boxing, with Mancini fighting to please his father, while Bentt fought out of resentment towards his.

The first day of the festival concluded with a screening of “The Good Son,” about the life and career of Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, based on the book of the same name by Mark Kreigel, and directed by Jesse James Miller.

The powerful film told the story of Mancini’s childhood in Youngstown, Ohio through his rise to the top of the boxing game and the world championship belt that eluded his father (the original “Boom Boom”). That quest inspired and motivated Mancini’s desire to be the best.

The film built up to the fateful night in 1982 when Mancini stepped into the ring with Deuk – Koo Kim, but along the way details real life events such as his father’s excessive drinking, and the shooting death of beloved older brother Lenny Jr. Mancini even states that Lenny Jr. was the more talented boxer of the two, but he could not stay in the gym and drifted towards the call of the wild.

The events of the Kim fight have been well chronicled, but Mancini’s mature insights into the fight itself, as well as its aftermath, remain riveting.

The film concluded on a highly emotional note as Mancini, now a father himself, meets Kim’s widow and the son she was pregnant with at the time of the bout.

The exceptional grace and humanity of Mancini shines through as he welcomes mother and son into his home and later hosts them at a dinner attended by his children.

Day two of the festival started off with “Bobby Cassidy: Counterpuncher,” directed by Bruno De Almedia, and chronicling the life and times of charismatic “Irish” Bobby Cassidy.

A former No.1 light heavyweight contender from Levittown, NY, the colorful Cassidy lived just as exciting a life outside the ring as he did in it.

Gravitating to loan sharking and bookmaking during idle periods in his long boxing career, Cassidy captivates in the film with wild tales of dust ups with rival loan shark crews, and a subsequent conviction and prison term for his nefarious activities.

Not lost in the narrative of his life is the story of a talented, courageous boxer who would fight anyone, anywhere, anytime. Unfortunately he never managed to secure the title shot that every fighter dreams of.

A scene near the close of the film in which Cassidy, who credits an acting class with redirecting his life, recites a monologue from “Requiem for a Heavyweight” is devastating.

“Shadow Boxers,” a feature film directed by Katya Bankowsky, offered an inside look at the world of women’s professional boxing.

Detailing some of the barriers faced by women boxer’s, the film featured several talented New York Golden Glove’s finalists, as well as focusing on pro boxer Lucia Rijker. Once dubbed “the most dangerous woman in the world,” director Bankowsky’s cameras follow Rijker as she begins the climb toward a world championship.

The collection of short films was screened again on Saturday afternoon, this time with a jury panel in place to pick the winner for best short film.

The honor went to Sandi Bachom’s “Shadow Boxers,” which featured an emotional reading of the lyrics to Paul Simon’s “The Boxer” by former heavyweight contender Seamus McDonagh.

Other winners included: “The Good Son” directed by Jesse James Miller for Best Feature, and “Buffalo Girls” directed by Todd Kellstein for Best Cinematography.

Throughout the weekend a variety of actors, fighters, and media bigwigs were at the screenings and seen conversing between films. Some included John Slattery (Mad Men), Holt McCallany (Light’s Out), welterweight champion Paulie Malignaggi, DeMarcus “Chop Chop” Corley, Seamus McDonagh, and Showtime’s Steve Farhood, Brian Kenny, Jim Gray, and Mauro Ranallo.

Festival Director David Schuster stated, “We are very pleased with the quality of films screened at our inaugural festival. We wish these filmmakers the best of luck. Their work was an inspiration to us and those who attended over the weekend.”

The festival concluded with a panel discussion featuring Oscar winners Leon Gast (When We Were Kings) and Barbara Kopple (Fallen Champ: The Untold Story of Mike Tyson). The panel was moderated by former New York State Athletic Chairman Ron Scott Stevens.

Both directors detailed the trials and tribulations of getting their films made and released, as well as the joy they experienced when recognition and accolades poured in.

In a Q&A with audience members that followed the panel discussion and a highlight reel from each, both Gast and Kopple were extremely supportive towards the film makers in attendance. They both essentially stated the same message of “Get your film made and worry about the rest later.” Recounting their own early experiences, Gast and Kopple urged the neophyte directors to never give up.

That was a fitting theme for a festival focused on life in the squared circle.

 

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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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