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Round 2: The 5 Best Boxing Documentaries

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Having counted down the ten best boxing movies, Volta takes a look at five of the best boxing documentaries of all time.

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5) Knuckle

Ian Palmer’s hard-hitting Knuckle is the result of a twelve year investigation into the culture of illegal bare-knuckle boxing among two families of Irish Travellers. Raw, bloody and above all, real, Palmer’s film chronicles a feud between the Quinn-McDonagh and Joyce clans that began back in 1992 for reasons that nobody really remembers despite the intense rivalry and violent rage that remains between the two families.

4) Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson

Ken Burns' documentary about black boxer Jack Johnson is an intimate portrait of one of sport’s most charismatic champions and a close analysis of race relations in America in the early 20th century. Outside the ring, Johnson fought bigotry and hatred to become an early civil rights activist and hero to millions, regardless of race.

3) Southpaw: The Frances Barrett Story

Three years in the making, Liam McGrath’s film about Galway-born Traveller Frances Barrett tells the story of the boxer’s early career with trainer Chick Gillen, overcoming disadvantages and discrimination as he progresses up the amateur ranks to eventually, at the age of 19, box for Ireland at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. A charismatic and eloquent fighter, Barrett carried the Irish flag at the opening ceremony.

2) Tyson

James Toback’s 2008 documentary about Mike Tyson combines archive footage and talking-heads interviews to tell the story of how the young boxer was rescued from a life of crime by trainer Cus D'Amato and won his first 19 professional bouts to become the youngest ever heavyweight champion of the world. After such a rapid rise, his descent was achingly slow. Marriage, divorce, controversy and imprisonment for rape followed, before he returned to the ring in contentious circumstances against Evander Holyfield.

1) When We Were Kings

Leon Gast’s Oscar-winning film tells the story of one of the most famous fights in boxing history: The Rumble in the Jungle between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in 1974. Ali was 32 years old and thought to be over the hill. Foreman was ten years younger and the reigning heavyweight champion. Promoter Don King staged the fight in Zaire, bringing the world’s celebrities and sporting press to the middle of the jungle to witness history. Boxing fan or not, this is an unforgettable film.

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