'Bleed For This' Is A True Story Of The Ultimate Boxing Underdog
If you think every great boxing story has already been told on film, think again. In cinema there is a beautiful history of iconic boxing films with iconic starring performances: Will Smith in Ali, Russell Crowe in Cinderella Man, the so-classic-it-might-as-well-be-a-true-story tale of Sylvester Stallone's Rocky, and of course the ultimate one: Robert de Niro's incredible turn as Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull. But there's another great boxing tale out there that de Niro himself has called the "greatest story never told," according to the L.A. Times, and it's coming to theaters on Nov. 18. That film, starring Miles Teller and executive produced by de Niro, is Bleed For This , a true story about the remarkable and inspiring comeback of boxer Vinny Pazienza, a.k.a. Vinny Paz. (He legally changed his last name to Paz in 2001.)
Vinny Pazienza, known as "The Pazmanian Devil" in the ring, had two boxing world championship titles to his name and seemed poised for a long and successful career until, in 1991, he was in a serious car crash that broke his neck. According to the Boston Globe , he had two cracked vertebrae and a third that was centimeters from his spinal column, and he was fitted with a metal halo device around his head — screws drilled into his forehead and all — to keep his body steady as it healed.
Doctors said Paz would never fight again, but he told the Boston Globe that within a week of returning home from the hospital, he was lifting weights again and preparing to get back in the ring: "I said, 'I gotta do something. I just can’t stay like this.'" In true underdog fashion and defying doctors orders, Paz trained throughout his recovery period and after his halo was removed, he won nine fights in a row. In the ring, Paz regularly freaked out opponents and onlookers (and perhaps inspired the name of the film) with how much blood he lost because he was taking anti-inflammatory medications that made even small cuts bleed heavily. Ultimately, Paz went on to win three more world titles after his near-death accident. (You can see a shot of Paz in action below.)
Bleed For This was filmed in Paz's real-life hometown of Cranston, Rhode Island, and according to an L.A. Times interview, director Ben Younger took joy in dedicating himself to the tiny realistic details of the time and place during which Paz's story was told. In committing himself to getting things like the clothes and accents right, Younger said, "I feel more like a journalist than a straight-up fiction writer." And Teller, for his part, did plenty of homework and took an unusual approach to making sure his turn Paz feel complete and genuine. He told Southern California Public Radio's The Frame that "I just listened to hours and hours of interviews. I didn't want to watch him... I didn't want to feel like I was just imitating this person."
And it looks like all that hard work paid off. After telling the Boston Globe before filming began that he was excited for the project — "how cool is that?" he said of being a boxing inspiration to others — Paz recently told Investorideas.com after filming that "I am so proud to be a part of this film" and "Miles Teller did a better job of playing me than I think I could myself."
So what's Paz up to now? An article on Rhode Island news and community site East Greenwich Patch reports that Paz has actually signed on to train one of the boxers he met on the set for Bleed For This. Producer Chad Verdi told East Greenwich Patch that boxer Jean Pierre Augustin, who plays a role as Paz's opponent in the film, made a "lasting impression on the cast and crew," and that Paz is "100 percent committed to training JP and making him a world champion.”
With Paz on his side, Augustin may have a bright future ahead of him, perhaps one day becoming the subject of a film himself. For now, though, viewers have the underdog joy of Bleed For This.
Images: Open Road Films