I’m in Cape Cod on vacation with family and friends, but made some time tonight to watch Assault In The Ring, the HBO documentary about a subject very close to my heartâ€”the 1983 Luis Resto-Billy Collins fight (read here for more details).
My post-fight reaction: Ugh.
Rarely will one see a more manipulative, dishonest piece of work than the film pieced together by Eric Drath, the well-intentioned-yet-overmatched producer, director and a former boxing agent.
On the bright side, the documentary did shed much light on that horrible night 26 years ago, when the padding was removed from Resto’s gloves shortly before he pummeled the heavily favored Collins into tomato paste. Resto’s trainer, Panama Lewis, comes off as the fraud con that he is, and we finally learn that Resto cheated in three ways: The removed padding, plastered hands beneath the empty gloves and drugged water between rounds. Those are all essential details that I never uncovered in my Sports Illustrated piece of a decade back. So big props for that.
This film was, again, heavily flawed. To begin with, the two primary characters, Resto and Lewis, were both paid for their cooperation (Drath lets us know Lewis received money; however, he never mentions that Resto also was compensated for his participation). Secondly, I loatheâ€”really, really loatheâ€”how Drath dragged Resto around the country to confront his demons. It felt very slimy and contrivedâ€”not by Resto, who clearly hurts. But by Drath, who all but yanks the ex-fighter’s arm in 100 different directions. Did Resto truly feel the need to visit the cemetary where Billy Collins, Jr. is buried, or was it just good film? Did Resto have to go to Massachusetts to tell his mom, or was it merely an irresistible moment? I’m all for drama. Heck, I love it. But not when it’s forced and emotionally manipulativeâ€”which this was. I also take great exception to Drath continually placing himself in the film. Shots of him watching Resto. Shots of him hugging Resto. I kept thinking, “It’s not about you! It’s not about you!”
What really got me, however, was Drath’s treatment of Billy Collins, Srâ€”the deceased fighter’s dad.
Early on in the film, we learn that Collins wants nothing to do with the project, Drath or Resto. So what does Drath do? He flies to Nashville with Resto, leaving unreturned messages at Collins’ house. Then he plops Resto down at Collins’ front door. In other wordsâ€”just to make the impact clear: A man’s son is killed. The man makes it clear the pain is unbearable, and he wants to move on. So you, in the name of movie making, not only ignore that request, but bring the killer (so to speak) to the house. What?
Then, to make matters worse, near the end of the film, Drath returns to Nashville to bang on Collins’ front door because he wants to feed him new information. When nobody answers the door, Drath stands there, screaming so someone … anyone will hear him. It’s the absolute worst of Michael Moore: 101 (and I actually like Moore), and it made me very uncomfortable.
In short, I saw this as a missed opportunityâ€”a great story that was never allowed to tell itself.