Shadow Boxers

On March 19, 1996, Mike Tyson fought a forgettable heavyweight match whose undercard made history: Viewers who thought of women's boxing in the same category as midget wrestling saw professional pugilist Christy Martin beat the bejesus out of Deirdre Gogarty over six bloody rounds. Five years ago, Katya Bankowsky's documentary about Dutch-born boxer Lucia...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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On March 19, 1996, Mike Tyson fought a forgettable heavyweight match whose undercard made history: Viewers who thought of women's boxing in the same category as midget wrestling saw professional pugilist Christy Martin beat the bejesus out of Deirdre

Gogarty over six bloody rounds. Five years ago, Katya Bankowsky's documentary about Dutch-born boxer Lucia Rijker, widely considered the best female fighter in the world, couldn't have been made. It's an intermittently fascinating look at a world-class athlete (she fights like a man, her admirers

marvel) who's as thoughtful as she is physically disciplined. But it's undermined by what appears to be the filmmaker's divided intentions; by trying to be both a portrait of Rijker and an introduction to women's boxing, it shortchanges both subjects. Rijker is a charismatic trailblazer who

comes complete with requisite dramatic contrasts — soft voice vs. killer moves in the ring, bruiser's build tempered by devotion to Buddhist chanting. And her uphill battle to conquer a macho sport is evident in large ways and small; promoter Bob Arum, for example, admits that he didn't want

to handle a female boxer, then says — apparently without ironic intent — that after Rijker came by his office in a sexy dress his mind was changed by her great personality. Bankowsky (herself a 1995 Golden Gloves competitor) also interviewed a wide range of women who box and scored some

compelling material, both spoken and evident between the lines. You can see why Bankowsky didn't want to waste footage like bantamweight champ Christine Bruno-Sangello recounting that her husband was so unsupportive of her training that she shut herself in the bathroom to shadowbox. But whenever

the movie gets away from Rijker it loses focus; you come away knowing neither as much as you'd like about her, nor about the sport at which she's excelled.

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