What is it about made-for-TV movies about boxers? Maybe there’s something about the topic that lets the creatives behind the movies flex their artistic muscles: Way back in 1956 there was Requiem for a Heavyweight , Playhouse 50’s landmark production that established Rod Serling as a writer. In 1997, Ving Rhames snagged a Golden Globe for Don King: Only in America . Two years later, Jon Favreau took a drastic departure from his wannabe swinger persona and hit the gym to bulk up for his portrayal of the 200 lb. Rock from Brockton in Rocky Marciano on Showtime. Even more recently, John Leguizamo made his directorial debut with HBO’s Undefeated (2003).
An amateur boxer himself, Leguizamo’s biggest challenges were behind the camera, not in front of it. He described in an interview that as an actor, his only concern was to show up, whereas with the director’s cap on he had to play the roles of “father, patriarch, psychologist…you got to be everything to everybody all the time.” And boxing movies — be it a Rocky sequel or a movie of the week — all share common themes about an underdog’s path to redemption and/or glory. Leguizamo would agree: “It’s one of the most primal sporting events we have,” he says. “It’s kind of Darwinian, in a way, and I think that’s what appeals to
everybody. You have to win, or it’s over.”