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The best boxing documentaries to watch this year

From Muhammad Ali to Joe Frazier, the docs on this list cover some of the most prominent fighters in boxing history.

Muhammad Ali in the boxing ring in black and white.
HBO

Boxing is having a moment right now. From highly-anticipated heavyweight bouts to exhibitions of old rivals to insanely hyped celeb boxing, boxing fans new and old alike are turning their eyes to the sport’s latest renaissance. Notice how we say “latest,” for boxing already features many great moments of glory in its rich history. If you’re not someone who wants to get in boxing shape yourself, there are still plenty of ways to engage with the sport.

One of those ways to engage with the great, inspiring stories that delve into the history of boxing and its present. It would take all day to find the best boxing documentaries on streaming platforms, but this list should be a good starting point. By watching these eye-opening docs, you’ll learn more about the most historic fights, the biggest fighters, and the global reach the sport has had since it first emerged.

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CounterPunch

Counterpunch (2017)

Counterpunch
91m
Genre Documentary
Directed by Jay Bulger
Set against a moment when the popularity of boxing in the US was waning, CounterPunch follows three fighters at different points in their careers who are determined to make an impact on the sport. Released on Netflix in 2017, the documentary is rife with insight into not just boxing, but the industry that surrounds it, and how those forces have shaped the sport into what it is today. It may not be the most inspiring movie on this list, but CounterPunch is deeply insightful into not just boxing’s present moment, but also what the sport means to the many people who love it.
CounterPunch | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix

Read more: The 14 best Netflix documentaries to stream right now

When We Were Kings (1996)

When We Were Kings
83 %
8/10
89m
Genre Documentary
Stars Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Don King
Directed by Leon Gast
Winner of the 1996 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, When We Were Kings is a retelling of the iconic Rumble in the Jungle heavyweight bout between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali in 1974. It was one of the best boxing matches in history. Director Leon Gast worked for 22 years to secure enough funding to finish the documentary, and when it was finally done, it received much critical acclaim. There’s original footage, analysis of the fight itself, as well as a detailed backdrop of the rise of Ali and the political implications of how the fight was held in Zaire — a country ruled by dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

I Am Durán (2019)

I Am Durán
7.2/10
84m
Genre Documentary
Stars Roberto Durán, Oscar de la Hoya, Robert De Niro
Directed by Mat Hodgson
Roberto Durán is one of the most entertaining, trailblazing fighters of all time. The Panamanian’s story spans decades, with the height of his success coming as he became one of the instigators of Panama’s revolution. The documentary features interviews from Mike Tyson, Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro, Sugar Ray Leonard, and many others.
I Am Duran | Official Trailer

Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson (2004)

Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson
8.3/10
214m
Genre Documentary
Stars Keith David, Samuel L. Jackson, Jack Johnson
Directed by Ken Burns
Episode 10 in the legendary American Lives collection by Ken Burns, Unforgivable Blackness tells about the rise and fall of Jack Johnson, the first Black heavyweight boxing champion. Johnson was born to former slaves, and the height of his career coincided with the Jim Crow period. It’s a story about a man’s success and his relationship with some of America’s darkest history.

Read more: The 15 best fighting movies of all time

What's My Name | Muhammad Ali (2019)

What's My Name | Muhammad Ali
8.4/10
tv-14 1 Season
Genre Documentary
Cast Muhammad Ali, Dick Cavett, Ernie Terrell
Created by Antoine Fuqua
Winner of the 2019 Sports Emmy Winner for Outstanding Long Documentary, What’s My Name is a tale of the long life of Muhammad Ali. Director Antoine Fuqua and executive producers LeBron James and Maverick Carter focus on Ali’s legacy in boxing and as a global citizen. The two-part documentary can be found on HBO, and it features previously never-before-seen footage and audio of the late heavyweight champion.
What's My Name | Muhammad Ali (2019) | Official Trailer | HBO

T-Rex (2016)

T-Rex
69 %
7.3/10
86m
Genre Documentary
Stars Claressa Shields
Directed by Zackary Canepari, Drea Cooper
While Flint, Michigan, has been known for its water crisis more recently, there’s another reason to turn attention to the city. T-Rex follows a star female boxer, Claressa Shields, in her attempt to achieve gold again in the 2016 Rio Olympics — she won gold at the 2012 Olympics at the age of 17. The documentary tells the story of Claressa’s upbringing and touches on themes of race, class, and gender bias.

Cradle of Champions (2018)

Cradle of Champions
68 %
6.5/10
100m
Genre Documentary
Stars Nisa Rodriguez, Titus Williams, James Wilkins
Directed by Bartle Bull
Cradle of Champions follows three young aspiring boxers — Titus Williams, James Wilkins, and Nisa Rodriguez — on a three-month journey through the New York Daily News Golden Gloves, the most iconic amateur boxing tournament in the world. The documentary shines a light on the innocence of amateur boxing before it was infested by big money and glamour, as well as what the sport represents for individuals who are looking for a way out of their difficult upbringing.

Editors' Recommendations

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John Thompson
Former Digital Trends Contributor
John Thompson is a copywriter and content creator specializing in men’s lifestyle and sports. He’s often on the ground…
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