5 of the best Boxing documentaries from the last 20 years

We've gone through some of the greatest boxing documentaries of the past two decades and narrowed it down to 5 of our favourites

With most of us spending more time at home right now, we'll all find ourselves at some point or another staring down the abyss of streaming platforms wondering what to watch next. We've all been there - you click back and forth between Netflix and Now TV more times than you can remember and before you know it 45 minutes have passed and you're no closer to a decision.

Don't despair - you don't have to concede to watching another Netflix show that tells you why your diet is shit or start running Breaking Bad for the third time - we've come to the rescue with a list of fantastic boxing documentaries to save you from the agony.

What's the beauty of a good boxing documentary? Besides the part where it involves boxing, it's the chance to get a glimpse at the lives of the people we admire, and if done well, should leave you feeling inspired, or outraged, or perhaps both.

There are a ton of great boxing documentaries to choose from, but in this list, we've narrowed it down to 5 of our absolute favourites from the last 20 years.

1. Cradle of Champions (2017)

Cradle of Champions follows three amateur boxers on their respective journey's through the prestigious New York Golden Gloves tournament. It's an intimate look behind the scenes of amateur boxing that shows us a side to the sport that we rarely get to see.

A particular highlight is the story of Nisa Rodriguez who juggles raising a child as a single parent and working in a school alongside training to become one of only a handful of people to win 6 Golden Gloves titles.

What makes Cradle of Champions a great documentary?
We're used to seeing documentaries about stars of the pro game fighting for fame and money, but there's no glamour in Cradle of Champions. The documentary shows only the dedication and sacrifice that go into learning the craft long before there is any financial reward.
Unforgiveable blackness movie poster

2. Unforgivable Blackness (2004)

This three and a half hour epic truly is a must-see. Unforgivable Blackness takes an in-depth look at the life and career of one of Boxing's most important figures - the first black man in history to be allowed to fight for the heavyweight world title - Jack Johnson.

Johnson's story is in equal parts tragic and inspiring. It's the story of a man whose fight extended far beyond what took place in the ring. A man who - despite living in a time when people of colour had little rights - refused to be told what he was allowed to achieve.

What makes Unforgivable Blackness a great documentary?
It's an important history lesson, it's an underdog story like no other, and it's a boxing fan's dream. Just watch it.

Assualt in the ring movie poster

3.  Assault in the Ring (2008)

At the heart of this story rests the tragic tale of Billy Collins Jr., a rising star in boxing whose career was cut short after going ten rounds against an opponent with gloves and wraps that had been tampered with. No longer able to box due to a resulting eye injury, Collins fell into a depression that would ultimately see him lose his life in a drunken car accident.

Interestingly though, Assault in the Ring directs its focus on Collins' opponent Luis Resto and the downward spiral that his life took in the aftermath of the scandal. Resto's boyish nature and his evident inability to stand up for himself will leave you conflicted as to the extent of his accountability.

What makes Assault in the ring a great documentary?
It's an excellent piece of investigative film making that reveals the previously unknown scope of the assault committed against Collins and finally sees a confession after more than two decades of denial.

4. Tyson (2008)

Through a combination of the way he presented himself, media depiction, and a questionable rape charge, Tyson's career would see him take on the role of the villain. Tyson pulls back the curtain to reveal the man behind all of that. This intimate documentary unfolds almost as a stream of consciousness, allowing Mike to narrate the story by addressing his state of mind throughout the various stages of his life.

Regardless of how you feel about Tyson, hearing him speak so openly about his early life and the struggles he faced to find a place in society will at the very least give you some understanding of the motives behind some of his less commendable behaviour.

What makes Tyson a great documentary?

There are several documentaries about Mike Tyson, but none quite capture him in as true a light as does Tyson. The filmmakers manage to capture a vulnerability in the once-fearsome champion that is rarely seen in professional fighters.

Tapia movie poster

5. Tapia (2012)

Tapia chronicle's the life of Johnny Tapia - a multiple-time world champion hailing from Albuquerque, New Mexico. It is, to a degree, an inspirational story celebrating a man who fought his way to the top after a rough start in life - a tale as old as the sport itself, but for the most part, Tapia is a sombre watch.

The film details the multiple tragedies that occurred throughout Johnny's life while shedding light on the resulting drug use that in turn prompted more misfortune.

What makes Tapia a great documentary?
Despite the issues that Johnny had outside of the ring, it's fascinating to see him light up inside of it. For all that went wrong in his life, it's fair to assume that without boxing things could have turned out a whole lot worse for Tapia, and that right there is what makes boxing mean so much to so many.

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