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Sneak Peek: HBO's "Assault in the Ring"

The HBO documentary,

The HBO documentary, "Assault in the Ring" Photo Credit: Courtesy HBO

On Saturday, August 1, HBO will air the boxing documentary, "Assault in the Ring."

Do yourself a favor, don't miss it.
 
This the story of what happened between Billy Collins Jr., Luis Resto and Panama Lewis inside Madison Square Garden's ring on June 16, 1983. The Collins-Resto fight was the main support to the Roberto Duran-Davey Moore title fight. It was a tremendous opportunity for Resto, his trainer Lewis and for Collins, a star on the rise.
 
Early on in the film, Resto says, "That was the best year and worst night."
 
At that point of his career, Resto was the type of fighter used to test the skill of up-and-comers like Collins. I wouldn't call him a contender nor would I say he was an opponent, but if you wanted to earn a world rating, getting by Resto was a good start.
 
As many know, the padding was removed from Resto's gloves and he administered a terrible beating upon Collins. After suffering his first defeat as a pro, Collins lost control of his life he subsequently died about nine months later, after driving a car into a ravine near his home in Tennessee. Resto and Lewis both served jail time and were banned from boxing for life. At the start of the film, both proclaim their innocence.

This film is the pursuit of what took place inside Resto's dressing room that night. I will not divulge what happens in the film, but the journey to the truth is well worth the roughly 82 minutes director and writer Eric Drath takes to tell the story.
 
Here are a few things that struck me. Panama Lewis has suffered the least. Aside from Billy Jr, Billy Collins Sr. has suffered the most. Collins Sr. was a welterweight contender in the 1960s and fought guys like Curtis Cokes, Pete Toro and Duilio Loi. Yet, some things come out in the film about the behavior of Collins Sr. that are worth watching.
 
The star though -- if that's the appropriate term -- is Resto. He is a lost soul struggling with the events of that fateful night at the Garden. He is largely without family, direction and purpose. He clearly has remorse, while Panama Lewis comes off as a man always on the hustle, always on the con. Perhaps him showing remorse would signify guilt, something he has denied all along. But when he starts talking about the chain of evidence being broken, well, you can judge for yourself. By the way -- semi spoiler alert -- it is alleged that Lewis also tampered with Resto's hand wraps that night.
 
At one point, Drath beautifully sums up Resto by saying his actions are, "an exercise in blind courage by a fighter who truly didn't know what was hitting him."
 
One scene that struck me was when Resto, the fighter, confronted Lewis, the trainer, seeking answers about that night. He comes to Lewis' gym in Florida, head down, barely audible. Panama hugs his former fighter, compares him to a son and says he will take care of him. For his part, Resto, sobs, barely speaks above a whisper and barely looks his trainer in the eyes. The scene reminded of the late, great Jack Newfield's saying, "Boxing is the only jungle in the world in which the lions are afraid of the rats."
 
I am not here to sympathize with Lewis, but he has a point when he makes the argument that he has paid his debt to society and that he should be allowed to pursue his trainer's license again. Michael Vick will return to the NFL, and it's likely that Donte Stallworth will too.
 
Which brings me to the voicover segment at the start of the film. Bob Arum, who promoted Collins, can be heard saying that Resto (and I guess Lewis) should be banned forever. Funny, Bob wasn't as righteous when Antonio Margarito and his trainer were caught by the California Athletic Commission using elements of plaster of paris with their hand wraps. In fact, Arum vigorously defended Margarito. 
   
In the end, the theme of this film is about forgiveness and peace and the hope that Resto finds it. And, perhaps, whether or not he deserves it. I think he does -- find it and deserve it -- but you should really watch for yourself.

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