Bleed for This

 

            It sounds like a bad plot for a “B” movie: a chamption boxer is in a car wreck that nearly severs his spinal cord, and is told he may never walk again, much less box.  The doctor advises a spinal fusion, but the boxer refuses to comply.  Again against doctor's orders, he starts to work out again, even with the “halo” still on (a metal neck brace inserted with screws into his skull).  Eventually, he not only returns to the ring, he becomes a champion in a higher weight class.  The thing is, it's a true story.  His name is Vinny Pazienza. 

            In the movie “Bleed for This,” Miles Teller plays Vinny, who's portrayed in the 1980's as a guy we would now call a slacker Millenialist:  still living at home with his parents.  Works out in his basement with old-school barbells. His Dad is his sponsor, and also finances the nearby boxing gym in Providence, Rhode Island.  Vinny's trained by his buddy Kevin (Aaron Eckhart), a polite drunk who mostly manages to sober up while he's training Vinny, but has also turned into a family friend who shares in all the holiday events:  big, boisterous, loud gatherings with some colorful language sprinkled in, but obviously they're all close.  Vinny also, at times, will indulge in some gambling at an Atlantic City casino, or even frequent topless bars, but really, he doesn't seem to have any hobbies or interests other than fighting.  That's why the car wreck (he was a passenger in the front seat) was so devastating.  They kept telling him to let it go, find something else to do with his life, but he wasn't ready for that.  He wanted to get back in the ring.  And he was determined to do that, with or without his buddy's help.  Kevin tells him he doesn't know how to quit.  Vinny replies, “Yeah, I do.  And it's easy. That's why I don't want to do it.”  Finally, Kevin agrees to help train him again, but only if he'll move up to a weight class that's more his natural size. 

            Actually, in “real life,” Vinny had already made the decision to move up a weight class before the wreck, when he was hospitalized for dehydration following a fight. But he lost several times  (including to Mayweather and Camacho) in the junior welterweight division, before finally moving up again, to middleweight, defeating Gilbert Dele (the movie has this fight after the wreck).  Finding he had more punching power at higher weight, Vinny moved up yet again to super middleweight, winning that championship, and twice defeating Roberto Duran.  The movie has one of those Duran fights as the climactic conclusion to the story.  In fact, Vinny fought for a decade after that, finally retiring after two decades in the ring with a 50-10 record, and with championships in three different weight classes.

            As in the recent movie about Roberto Duran (“Hands of Stone,” starring Edgar Ramirez, with Robert DeNiro playing his trainer), I think it would have been more interesting to cover Vinny Pazienza's whole career, rather than just cherry-picking a couple of highlights.  (The movie also completely glosses over his criminal record, and his own struggles with alcoholism.) It would have given the viewer more insight as to the “real” inner motivation, which appeared to be that he simply loved boxing, and really didn't want to do anything else.  At the end of this movie, Vinny is being interviewed, and asked what's the biggest lie he's been told, and he replies, “It's not that simple.”  That was the lie.  In his experience, it was always that simple:  do what you love.  Even when everybody around you is telling you it's a bad idea.  That's the real legacy of Vinny Pazienza. 

 

Questions for Discussion:

1)                  Have you been able to do what you love?

2)                  When have you done something against the advice of those around you?

3)                  Do you think boxing should be considered a sport?

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association