Oscar De La Hoya: 'Bleed for This' as real as it gets
It's difficult to make a boxing movie that feels real to regular audiences, let alone to actual fighters themselves. In recent years, as many of these films have come to the big screen, far too many have focused on the spectacle of the megafight that very few boxers ever experience and a glossy version of fame and fortune enjoyed be even fewer.
With "Bleed for This" -- the life story of Vinny Paz who may well have achieved the greatest sports comeback of all time by winning a boxing world championship after breaking his neck in a car accident -- director Ben Younger has thankfully reversed this trend.
Everything that viewers see feels real, because it is real.
From the opening scene showing Paz with his body wrapped in saran wrap while furiously riding a stationary bike in his hotel room to make weight moments before his weigh-in, through the numerous training scenes in dusty, tired gyms and basements and even with the climactic victory over Roberto Duran, any fighter will tell you that all 116 minutes of the film were entirely authentic.
How do I know? I experienced almost everything you see in the film. Having fought in six different weight divisions, from junior lightweight to middleweight, weight issues are one of those things that most casual boxing fans don't see or understand. My career began in the worn down Resurrection Gym in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, and each time I won a big fight, the feeling was nothing short of heaven.
The fights themselves -- long a joke in the boxing community given that any fighter who absorbed the over-dramatic blows featured in most films would end up mangled beyond recognition -- also come off as legitimate. While watching the opening bout of the film between Vinny and Roger Mayweather, I could almost feel every punch that Vinny absorbed in defeat, and like Vinny, those shots only made me want to fight harder.
And then there's the other side of the big bombs that the fighters throw. Boxing is actually largely a sport of defense and all of the actors learned how to move, keep their hands up, bob and weave just like we all do it in the gym and on fight night. Oftentimes my best offense was indeed a good defense.
And then there are the actors. Miles Teller, known primarily for his role as a skinny drummer in "Whiplash," has incredibly transformed himself into a rock-solid brawler able to pull off a boxer, nicknamed "The Pazmanian Devil," who had a trademark of beating himself in the head mid-fight. And Aaron Eckhart, normally a traditional, clean-cut leading man, is a dead ringer for legendary trainer Kevin Rooney, right down to the beer gut, bald spot and Staten Island accent.
So how do you make a boxing movie that actually can appeal to boxers and general audiences? It's actually simple -- involve people who know the sport.
Legendary trainer Freddie Roach and longtime boxing writer Tim Struby served as consultants on the film, and then there was the decision to involve Paz himself. During Canelo Alvarez's last bout in Dallas this past September, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Vinny, who flew in to see the fight, and let me say, few boxers encapsulate a true fighter better than the five-time champ.
For all of Paz's big personality, the man knows the ins and outs of boxing cold and is able to explain the realities of the fight game in the way only a former fighter can.
Perhaps the best validation for the film comes from young fighters looking to become a champion like Paz. Six fighters from my Golden Boy Promotions stable attended the Los Angeles premier last week.
To a fighter, they said it was the most genuine boxing movie they'd ever seen. And I agree.
Oscar De La Hoya is a 10-time boxing world champion in six weight divisions. He is now chairman and CEO of Golden Boy Promotions.