A brief history of boxing films

By Sam Cowan

Southpaw, the boxing drama starring a resurgent Jake Gyllenhaal, opened in theaters on Friday as the latest in a long line of wide release films about boxing.

While the film currently sits at a 53 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, it is likely to follow in the footsteps of recent boxing releases like The Fighter and Real Steel as a financial success.

Over the years, films about boxing have been among the most successful of all sports films, both critically and financially. In fact, six of the ten highest grossing sports films of all time are based around boxing.

Here is a look at some of the most important and successful boxing films in history.

The first film that popularized the boxing genre was the original Rocky, released in 1976. The story of the underdog Rocky Balboa rising to face the champion Apollo Creed wowed audiences and the movie would go on to be the first sports film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture.

The success of Rocky would spawn a franchise and the six films so far in the franchise have grossed over $1 billion worldwide with a spinoff, Creed, due out in 2015.

1980 would see the release of Raging Bull, a biopic about famed heavyweight champion Jake LaMotta with Robert De Niro in the leading role.

De Niro, who put on about 60 lbs. for the role, won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role. The film also received a Best Picture nomination and went on to be ranked fourth on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest American movies of all-time.

The next major boxing release would come in 2004 with the Clint Eastwood-directed Million Dollar Baby. With Hillary Swank and Eastwood in the lead roles and Morgan Freeman leading a strong supporting cast, Million Dollar Baby would receive critical acclaim and made over $100 million domestically during its run in theaters.

The film received seven Academy Award nominations with Swank and Freeman winning awards for their performances and Eastwood winning Best Director. Million Dollar Baby also became the second and most recent sports film to win the award for Best Picture.

The most recent success from the boxing genre is 2010’s The Fighter, starring Mark Wahlberg as light heavyweight pugilist Micky Ward and Christian Bale as Ward’s half-brother and trainer, Dicky Eklund.

Bale would win his first Academy Award for his role and the film made $85 million domestically on the way to seven Academy Award nominations including Best Picture.

These films have common themes which unite them and demonstrate why boxing films are so successful with mainstream audiences.

They all feature a protagonist from a rough, poverty-stricken background who uses boxing as a way to overcome life’s obstacles, though sometimes with tragic results. The main appeal of these films is seeing the underdog prevail against the odds and this speaks to audiences of all ages and backgrounds.

While boxing is arguably not as popular as it once was, these inherent themes of boxing films will keep this particular genre of film thriving well into the future.

Becky Hammon’s performance opens door for future head coaching job

By Sam Cowan

Becky Hammon’s recent stint as head coach of the San Antonio Spurs during the NBA’s annual Las Vegas Summer League might mean bright things for her future in the NBA.

The Spurs went 6-1 to win the Las Vegas Summer League championship and Hammon was front and center as the team’s head coach for the offseason event.

On Aug 5, 2014 Hammon was hired as an assistant coach by the Spurs, becoming the first woman to be hired as a full-time employee on an NBA coaching staff.

In the announcement of her hiring back in 2014, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was very complementary of Hammon’s abilities.

“I very much look forward to the addition of Becky Hammon to our staff,” said Popovich. “Having observed her working with our team this past season, I’m confident her basketball IQ, work ethic and interpersonal skills will be a great benefit to the Spurs.”

Hammon is no stranger to the game of basketball as she was a six-time All-Star in the WNBA and was also a member of the Russian national team that won a bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics.

After her work in the Summer League, the question now becomes if the Spurs or maybe another team will take a chance on Hammon and make her the first female head coach in NBA history.

It would be a risky and controversial move in what has historically been a male-dominated industry, but Hammon has thus far shown that she can hang with the other coaches.

Popovich’s contract runs through the end of the 2018-2019 season and it is likely the 66-year-old will retire once his contract expires. Until then, Hammon will likely remain as a Spurs assistant coach, learning under the veteran Popovich.

If she ends up getting a head coaching job in the NBA down the line, it would be a huge step forward for equality in sports and could open up the door for more female coaches and managers across all professional sports.

Bold Predictions for the 2015 MLB season

By Sam Cowan

Welcome to a new recurring feature on my blog, Bold Predictions, where I will predict the future of the sports landscape based on what I know and what I can guess. Expect to see more of these types of columns as the weeks and months roll along.

Today, I will be covering my predictions for the second half of the 2015 MLB season and looking at why I think these things will happen.

The Giants will make the playoffs

Over the previous five seasons, the San Francisco Giants have built a dynasty that has seen championships in 2010, 2012, and 2014. However, the years in-between have seen the Giants fail to even make the playoffs.

I think that streak will end this season as the Giants edge out the Dodgers for the NL West division title with the Dodgers settling for a wild-card spot.

The Giants have a great mix of hitting, pitching and experience to make another run in October.

However, I don’t think the Giants will repeat as champions this year- more on that at the end.

Mike Trout will win his second straight MVP and Bryce Harper will win his first MVP

As of Sunday, Trout is sixth in the American League in batting average, fourth in on-base percentage, first in home runs and tied for eighth in RBIs. Harper is third in the National League in batting average, first in OBP, tied for first in home runs, and fourth in RBIs.

Trout was a unanimous selection for AL MVP last year and I expect him to be a near-unanimous choice this year with Josh Donaldson or his teammate Albert Pujols stealing some votes.

Harper is the clear choice for MVP and I expect him to be the unanimous choice unless his numbers fall off dramatically in the second half. If so, Harper would be the fourth-youngest player ever to win the MVP award in either league.

At least one more no-hitter will be thrown this season

We’ve already seen two no-hitters this season, one by an established veteran and the other by a relatively-unknown rookie. It feels like every week a pitcher takes a no-no into the sixth or seventh inning.

I’m not brazen enough to declare when or where it will happen, but I do think it is bound to happen at least once before we head into the postseason.

Ichiro will retire after this season

Ichiro has had a remarkable career to this point. A career.316 hitter, Ichiro has recorded almost 3,000 hits in the majors and that doesn’t include the almost 1,300 hits that he got in Japan.

You would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t think Ichiro is a Hall of Famer and it is simply a matter of when he wants to retire from the game.

While it is possible Ichiro may try to reach an even 3,000 hits for his MLB career, I think this season will be the last in his storied career.

Your new world champions are…

In the AL, I have the Angels, Blue Jays and Royals as division winners with the Twins and Astros as wild-card teams. In the NL, I have the Cardinals, Nationals and Giants as winning their divisions with the Pirates and Dodgers claiming the last two playoff spots.

From that group, there is one team that I think stands out based on their combination of hitting and pitching and that team is the Pittsburgh Pirates.

24-year old Gerrit Cole has been impressive as the team’s ace and A.J. Burnett is having a career year at the age of 38. Francisco Liriano has also done well the last couple years and is a viable third-man in their postseason pitching rotation. The Pirate’s team ERA of 2.92 is second in the majors.

On offense, Andrew McCutchen leads a core of solid bats that, while not overwhelming, does well enough to keep the team winning.

I predict the Pirates to ride their pitching staff and some key offensive plays to the World Series to play the Angels. My final prediction is that the Pirates beat the Angels in six games for the team’s first championship since 1979.

Lessons learned from a hectic All-Star week

By Sam Cowan

The 2015 MLB All-Star week came to an end Tuesday as the people of Cincinnati now return to their normal lives after five straight days of celebrating baseball’s best.

It was a wild week that saw the players of the future get their time to shine, celebrities locking horn with legends and local heroes, a hometown guy getting his big win in front of an ecstatic crowd and Mike Trout making history yet again.

Here are just a few lessons learned from a wild week of action.

Lesson 1: Sometime the forecast being wrong is a good thing

It has been a rainy season for the Cincinnati Reds so far and that may be putting it lightly. Thus far, the Reds have seen a total of almost 30 hours of delays and multiple cancellations along the way.

Heading into the week, the forecast called for rain to hit during both the Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game and there was major concern that the events may have to be moved.

Then, nothing really happened. There were spurts of rain around the events, but the skies were clear when it mattered most and it allowed everything to go on without a hitch.

Lesson 2: The new Home Run Derby format needs to stay

On the heels of Todd Frazier’s emotional win in the derby, more on that in a moment, the response to how the competition played out was almost universally positive.

The new format combined the spectacle of watching men smash baseballs an incredible distance with the thrill of a single-elimination tournament and the urgency of a constant race against the clock.

Everything combined perfectly to create several memorable moments in what some are calling the best Home Run Derby ever.

This was a perfect shot in the arm for the yearly event and I am excited to see what futures derbies bring.

Lesson 3: Todd Frazier is the king of Cincinnati

The crowd at Great American Ballpark isn’t always the loudest. During some games, the stadium feels downright empty.

However, a full house showed up for the Home Run Derby and you could tell that almost all of them were there for one man: Todd Frazier.

Frazier rewarded them with an incredible performance that saw 39 homers over three rounds including 15 in the finals to beat young power hitter Joc Pederson.

It felt like the crowd got louder with every ball that Frazier hit. By the end, the crowd was as loud as I have ever heard it and the last homer by Frazier capped off a memorable night for everyone involved.

Lesson 4: Mike Trout is a special player

It’s hard to believe that Mike Trout is in his fourth full major league season already. Trout made his fourth straight ASG appearance on Tuesday and did something no one has ever done before.

Helped by his solo shot to leadoff the game, Trout won the ASG MVP for the second straight year and he continued to establish himself as one of the best baseball players in the modern era.

Trout has 4 All-Stars appearance at the age of 23 and seems to be getting better by the season.

Whatever happens in the coming years, we are in the midst of watching a truly great player rising to the top of his sport, one historic moment at a time.

Welcome

Hello and welcome to the debut of my new blog, The Cowan Corner. The main goal of this blog is to discuss news and provide opinions on what is happening in the world of sports, primarily focusing on Cincinnati sports.

I will also sometimes delve into video games, movies and television where appropriate.

Stay tuned later this week for coverage of the MLB All-Star break festivities live from Cincinnati.

For additional coverage and updates on articles before they’re posted, follow @TheCowanCorner on Twitter.