Words cannot express how sensational parts one and two of the four part Showtime documentary The Kings on Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran are. The archival footage, the expert commentators and the actual four fighters this groundbreaking piece of art focuses on, speaking both back then and today, make this just a plain perfect documentary so far. As a boxing historian who lived vicariously through these four men’s careers, I am thoroughly impressed with the accurate telling of each fighter’s career. Part one, Ghetto to Glory to Gold, sets the table of the entire series immaculately.
Part one of the docuseries focuses on the early days of each of the their careers. Just like the George Kimball authored landmark book Four Kings in which undoubtedly this series used as a huge resource, part one gives even the non-boxing fan a detailed background of each fighter’s beginnings in boxing. Sugar Ray Leonard is undoubtedly the Golden Child of the four fighters because of ABC’s coverage of his journey to Olympic gold at the 1976 Montreal games. Part one paints a description that legendary sportscaster Howard Cosell and trainer Angelo Dundee both were integral keys in making Leonard the heir apparent to the man they both were tied to as the face of boxing, Muhammad Ali. Ali had set the blueprint on becoming a worldwide mega boxing star. Leonard was the perfect fighter to follow in the iconic Ali’s footsteps.
The less than humble beginnings of Hagler, Hearns and Duran were brilliantly detailed in part one. All three possessed a hunger because of their less-than-stellar conditions growing up as children that is vital for fighters to become great. Archival footage of Hagler with a short Afro as a young pro showed an articulate young boxer who presented himself as a confident future superstar. Hearns’ early footage was that of a young, shy teenager who relied heavily on not only his incredible natural ability, but also on the mentorship of legendary Kronk gym founder and trainer Emanuel Steward. Finally, Duran’s early childhood is explored channeling his hatred of the United States as he lived near the Panama Canal, a United States territory that often had the U.S. military chase away Duran several times as a youth. Using Duran’s hatred of the United States coupled with the 1977 Panama Canal Treaty was a masterful stroke of flawless filmmaking as it perfectly segued into Duran’s Montreal June 20, 1980 fight with Leonard.
Part two of the docuseries began with a perfect marriage of 1980s Detroit and how Hearns became a local legend with his second round destruction of Pipino Cuevas. Once again, the documentary brilliantly portrayed the plight of Detroit’s dying automobile industry with Ronald Reagan’s rise to power as the Republican Presidential candidate. The fact that the July, 1980 Republican National Convention took place at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena two weeks before Hearns became WBA welterweight champion in the same venue was irony at the highest level.
Hagler’s destruction of world middleweight champion Alan Minter chronicled the cerebral savagery that was inside Hagler. After Minter claimed “that no Black man can take my title,” Hagler, already incensed by years of being ducked by every single middleweight champion, gave Minter a savage, bloody beating and as soon as the fight was stopped, the London fans started throwing bottles and debris at Hagler while shouting several racial epithets at the new champion. Even after becoming champion, Hagler’s hunger stayed strong as footage of him training inside a prison like setting while away from his wife and kids were highlighted. Hagler used every conceivable method to maintain his hunger and drive to be the best he could be inside the ring.
Part two’s chronicled details of Leonard’s rematch with Duran and iconic September 16, 1981 welterweight unification title fight with Hearns were superbly presented. The episode detailed how Leonard’s wins in both fights proved that he was more than just a Madison Avenue poster boy. It proved that he was indeed one of the greatest fighters who ever lived. This episode also may have finally answered the over 40-year-old question of why Duran suddenly quit during their November, 1980 rematch. The episode also once again married the 1980 Presidential election with the rematch, as Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter just a few weeks before Duran seceded to Leonard. Finally, the amazing come from behind victory by Leonard over Hearns is detailed in full. You see the damage to Leonard’s left eye that Hearns inflicted before being stopped in the 14th round while way ahead on the judges scorecards. That left eye will undoubtedly be a huge part of episodes three and four.
I cannot state enough how fantastic the first two parts of The Kings documentary are. Kudos to director Matt Whitecross for presenting such a piece of art that captures the late 70s and early 80s both superbly and shockingly. The talking heads used in the documentary are highlighted by former Kronk publicist Jackie Kallen and longtime trainer Teddy Atlas. Both commentators are outstanding in their recollections of the beginning of all four fighters. The absolute stars of the documentary, however, are the Kings themselves. Their comments, both then and during the filming of the docuseries, brings an authenticity to this piece of art that was necessary. Just plain perfect filmmaking.