Bernard Hopkins. Evander Holyfield. Mike Tyson. Three men who came from similar backgrounds and who eventually became three very different heavyweight champions. Bernard Hopkins was the ex-con who transformed himself through boxing. Mike Tyson was the ferocious and self-destructive fighter whose legendary career eventually became a cautionary tale. Evander Holyfield was the underrated fighter, whose discipline and self-control made him a champ but also ensured that he would never get as much attention as the other boxers of the era.
Featuring extensive interviews with these three fighters, Champs is a documentary that not only follows their careers but also tries to place boxing within a greater sociological framework. As several people in the film state, rich kids do not grow up to become professional boxers. Instead, they are the ones who grow up to charge people $100 to watch Mayweather vs McGregor on Pay-Per-View. Boxing has always been a sport that has been dominated by men who grew up poor and marginalized. That was certainly true for Hopkins, Tyson, and Holyfield. For all three of them, boxing provided an escape but it also provided temptation. Unlike players in other sports, boxers rarely have anyone looking out for their best interests. Tyson’s career was derailed by a prison sentence and he has struggled with both financial and mental issues. Holyfield made millions for promoters but still ended up declaring bankruptcy. Champs does not shy away from examining the physical and metal toll of boxing.
As a documentary, Champs is sometimes too slick. There are too many interview with celebrity boxing fans. Ron Howard may be a good director but he does not have much to add to a discussion about the correlation between poverty and boxing. Champs works best when it allow Hopkins, Holyfield, and Tyson to tell their own stories. Hopkins speaks movingly about how the experience of being in prison not only changed him but ultimately made him a better person. Mike Tyson is candid about his own demons. Meanwhile, Holyfield talks about what it was like to always be underestimated and underrated by the boxing world. All three of them are compelling in their own different way. For fight fans, Champs has much to offer.