Dreams and sacrifices: 'Fighting For A City' review
Andrew Harrison reviews the revealing Josh Warrington documentary 'Fighting For A City', which is released today...
From Jean-Christophe Rosé’s 'Kings Of The Ring' (1995) to 'When We Were King' (1996), 'Ring Of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story' (2005), 'Assault In The Ring' (2009) and 'Golden Girl' (2016), boxing has provided rich pickings for contemporary documentarists.
Individual subjects usually have a sensational tale to tell. 'Kassim The Dream' (2009) focussed on the lost childhood of a Ugandan child soldier who fought his way to a crack at the world middleweight crown. 'Tyson' (2008) meanwhile required little more than a point-and-shoot approach to secure an entrancing feature on the former heavyweight king (Mike that is, rather than Mr. Fury).
The subject of 'Fighting For A City' is altogether more modest. Over the course of two years, directors Greg Hardes and Jacob Proud trailed IBF featherweight champion Josh Warrington - the latest in a growing line of British boxers to have captured a world title. Warrington’s USP is his popularity and affinity with his home city of Leeds, in northern England.
After HBO’s ground-breaking 24/7 series, small feature documentaries have become a staple of boxing’s promotional cycle ahead of major fights. Often these are done very well, which makes FFAC something of a tough sell.
Thankfully, though, this compelling film does more than just lurk in the gym’s shadows or blow smoke under the main subject.
Instead, it shines a spotlight on the Herculean task fighters undertake in the slim hope they’ll reach the sport’s upper echelons.
Social media has to an extent dehumanised public figures. Here, we’re reminded that boxers are skin and bone, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters – with the majority scraping a living chasing a childhood dream.
The vicissitudes of boxing are laid bare. A sub-par performance leaves long-term target Lee Selby licking his lips. Warrington attends a medical. He’s informed that any changes in his soft tissue scan could end his career on the spot. There are business wrangles. Former promoter Eddie Hearn insinuates Warrington’s team are holding him back. We see tensions between Warrington and his father/trainer Sean O’Hagan after a switch to Frank Warren brings about an opponent Warrington deems a step back.
Yet Warrington’s obsession with fulfilling his dream on his own terms propels them on.
There are sacrifices, though. Warrington has to juggle his roles of husband and father with the all-consuming nature of his work. He laments missing training camp-sized chunks of his twin daughters growing up.
An engaging character, O’Hagan provides many of the best lines. “We’ve re-mortgaged houses to do this,” he says, as they leave the dressing room to face Hisashi Amagasa. “Seriously. He’s not coming here to fucking take that away. Not a prayer.”
Later, when Warrington strays off track mid-fight O’Hagan holds up a water bottle in the corner and growls: “If I see you doing that again I’ll bounce this off your ‘ed.”
It is this type of earthy exchange that keeps the pair grounded as the pressure mounts. And though they bicker like friends rather than kin, Warrington shines a light on the relationship (and indeed his own motivation) in harking back to his amateur career: “If he said: ‘Well done, son’ then I felt like a God,” he says about his father.
The best drama takes place around Warrington as he heads towards the climactic finale. Tension is etched across the faces of his team and his wife, Natasha. Rarely has a seat at ringside looked such an ordeal.
The only minor criticism here is that there’s nothing to learn about Leeds itself, a city the promotional material seductively describes as: “Half aspirational professionals and students, half austerity ravaged estates, Leeds is a schizophrenic metaphor for UK 2018.” Aside from the accents, we could be anywhere in the UK, which feels like a missed opportunity.
Not that it detracts from a thoroughly entertaining film. As anyone who watches boxing can attest, being aware of a fight’s result prior to watching it, rinses it of its excitement. It is some feat then, knowing how the Selby fight played out, that we’re still biting our fingernails at the end of 12 rounds as Warrington awaits the decision. This comes highly recommended.
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Josh Warrington: Fighting for a City is available on DVD and digital download from today.
Warrington will be featured in the December issue of Boxing Monthly (in shops Thursday).
Click on the image below to access our special three issues for £5 offer