As we know, boxing is a sport that writes its own stories.
If there had never been a fictional boxing film, it wouldn’t matter because the modern boxing calendar has enough narrative and intrigue to fill a million hours of filming. From the comedy turned triumph that is Tyson Fury to the unstoppable rise of Manny Pacquiao, there’s always a boxer waiting to write himself into history and create a story worth telling.
When We Were Kings, Manny and Raging Bull have all told stories of real fighters, their triumphs and their struggles. They’ve been delivered without the need for imagination because the source material was created by great fighters in a truly inspirational sport. Boxing is littered with tales of adversity, success, failure and deliverance.
That doesn’t mean boxing films and games, or fictional boxers are to be discounted as second-rate. Some truly great games and movies have featured characters we’d have loved to see in the ring for real. Hollywood films, and video games, run alongside the real-life narrative unfolding every week and can provide boxing fans with more enjoyment outside of the ring. Indeed, some of our best-loved boxers are not real fighters, but characters brought to life purely for our enjoyment.
These are three of our favorite fictional boxers of all time.
Surely, Rocky Balboa is everyone’s favorite fictional boxer, right? The Rocky franchise has become one of the best-loved film franchises of all time, and the fighter’s popularity remains today. Since 1976, Sylvester Stallone has played the New York-based southpaw eight times, most recently in Creed II in 2018.
He’s also featured in other digital media, including video games. Rocky Super Action Boxing was the first in 1983, with Rocky Legends on the PS 2 arguably the best boxing simulation. His likeness can still be found on games today; there’s an online slot from Gala Bingo simply titled Rocky, with Stallone’s likeness featured front and center. It seems his name and image are enough to carry any game: Rocky is also the title of an iOS and Android game title. That proves that Rocky, with 57 wins, and 50 by KO, is perhaps the most popular fictional boxer of all time.
Boxing fans love an underdog story: when Tyson Fury came back from the brink, he won a legion of fans because of that battle against adversity. In the film Million Dollar Baby, Maggie Fitzgerald had a battle, convincing the gruff Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) to coach her on her quest to become a world champion. Eventually, she gets her title fight, but the rest of the film is as heartbreaking as it is brilliant. The character of Maggie Fitzgerald, played to perfection by Hilary Swank, helped this film to four Oscars; Cinema Etcetera reveals it picked up Best Picture, with Swank also getting Best Actress. This is a brilliant Eastwood-directed film, but Swank’s portrayal of the ambitious Maggie has ensured she remains one of our favorite fictional boxers ever.
This might come a bit out of nowhere, like an uppercut from Juan Marquez, but our final favorite fictional boxer is Glass Joe, from the video game Punch-Out. Glass Joe was the first fighter you met on your journey to stardom, and he came at you with a 1-99 record. He first appeared in Nintendo’s 1984 arcade release but got a new lease of life (but no more wins) on the Wii. Glass Joe is endearing because he feels so much like the underdog we all love. He never wins, he often looks genuinely terrified to be in the ring, but he’s back the next time you turn the game on, ready to try his luck. That’s the spirit, Joe!