In the movie “Real Steel” – available now on Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand – Hugh Jackman plays Charlie Kenton, an ex-boxer whose golden years in the ring went out with the sport itself. In a future world where gloves and flesh aren’t enough, robot boxing provides fans with the carnage and destruction they crave – and Charlie is more than happy to quench the thirst.
When Charlie is unexpectedly reunited with his preteen son, his nomadic life of robot boxing promotions is put in jeopardy. That is, until the two discover a robot that changes everything. Not only does this hunk of bolts bring Charlie closer to his son, but it reawakens the fighter within him.
To help prepare Jackman for his role as a seasoned ring general, DreamWorks enlisted the help of one of boxing’s all-time greats, former welterweight, light middleweight, super middleweight and light heavyweight champion Sugar Ray Leonard. And according to the 55-year-old legend, Jackman was eager to learn. So what surprised him the most about his star pupil?
“His ability to digest what I said to him – how I tried to walk him through how to be a fighter and look like a fighter,” Leonard told me. “It takes a little bit of humility for him to surrender – and that’s the key word, ‘surrender’ – to be the fighter. And he was. He became the fighter. It comes across the screen. His concern. His passion for the sport of boxing.”
In a special Blu-ray featurette called “Sugar Ray Leonard: Cornerman’s Champ,” Leonard is shown training Jackman, as well as choreographing the larger-than-life fight scenes between robots with names like Ambush, Black Thunder, Noisy Boy, Midas, Zeus and Atom. It comes as no surprise, then, that the former champ sees some of himself in the computer-generated warriors.
“There’s one move in particular where I throw a punch to the jewels,” he said, laughing. “It’s all about character and personality.”
Also in the vignette, Leonard discusses helping Jackman get inside the mind of a fighter, explaining that the scariest part of a fight is the walk from the dressing room to the ring. During the walk, he says, a fighter always knows whether it’s going to be his night … or a long night. Leonard remembered both from his career, first recalling a long night.
“Duran, 1980 in Montreal,” he said. “I just didn’t have that thing that’s always present, that commitment that’s always present. And walking to that ring, I knew I wasn’t on my A game. It’s the most frightening experience in the world, because it’s like going to the guillotine.”
As for “his nights,” Leonard cited his rematch against Roberto Duran in 1980, as well as bouts with Tommy Hearns in 1981 and Marvin Hagler in 1984.
“When you go back and watch a tape of my loss with Duran and my win with Duran, you will see a different facial expression on each fight,” he said.
Today, the sport of boxing is a world apart from what it was in the days of Ali and Frazier, where big personalities are sparse (save Floyd “Money” Mayweather) and fans have begun migrating to the more vicious sport of mixed martial arts. Will there ever be a day where even that won’t be enough to satisfy the blood lust? Is robot boxing on the horizon?
“You know, my heart and mind tells me no, no, no,” Leonard said thoughtfully. “But who knows. This world has changed, society has changed, generations have changed. People want more and more excitement. The fact that this could be plausible is because of reality TV. People love shock – ‘Oh my god, did he just get hit on the head with a hammer?’”
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.