News January 2018

Batman in Boxing when Superhero and Prizefighting collide


By Michael J Jones

THE COMIC-BOOK HERO Batman is arguably the most popular he has ever been since his creation by Bob Kane and Bill Finger some eighty-one years ago. Following the mind-blowing Christopher Nolan trilogy of movies super-hero fans have been treated to the blockbuster ‘Batman vs Superman’ movie as well as the Batman spin-off series ‘Gotham’ which chronicles the characters in the Batman saga in prequel format.

While The Dark Knight is one of the most successful super-hero franchises of all time, boxing is one of the most history enriched sports of all time. As bizarre as it sounds, Batman and boxing have history together…more than many will realise as Livefight explains…

1. The Penguin in the 60’s Batman series was actually Rocky Balboa’s trainer
The incredibly talented Burgess Meredith portrayed the top-hat wearing, cigarette-chomping villain for twenty one episodes of the original TV series between 1966 and 1968. The hugely-successful series was cut prematurely because of the increased costs of making the show but it still enjoyed world-wide success and made household names of the stars including Batman himself Adam West.

Meredith was 59-years-old when he landed the role of Penguin and played the character wearing a fat-suite and a prosthetic nose to give the fictitious crime-lord his distinctive appearance. The long-time television and movie actor gave the role his creative best and developed his own memorable ‘Penguin’ sounds and mannerisms.

In one episode, involving a mass-brawl between Batman, Robin (played by Burt Ward) and a host of goons, ‘The Penguin’ produces a trademark umbrella sporting a boxing glove on the end which he uses to beat back his foes. Few could have predicted the irony that, years later, the actor would be forever known in boxing circles for another iconic role.

After his run in the TV show and also starring role in the 1966 feature film ‘Batman the Movie’, Meredith would land the role of Mickey Goldmill eight years later at the age of 69. The Sylvester Stallone boxing movie famously featured an aging club fighter who lands a surprising shot at the heavyweight champion of the world Apollo Creed.

As the grizzled and grumpy former fighter, Meredith gave an acting master-class to give solid support to the rest of the cast which included Stallone, Talia Shire and Burt Young. The original movie of 76’ won three Oscars including for ‘Best Picture’ and produced several sequels.

Meredith reprised his role in Rocky for ‘Rocky 2’ which was released in 1979 and also the third instalment ‘Rocky 3’ in 1982. In the latter sequel, Mickey sadly dies moments after his charge is savagely knocked out by the fearsome Clubber Lang though “Buzz” did appear in a further sequel years later.

In Rocky Five, Mickey Goldmill appeared in flashback form, firstly to show him conversing with the younger Rocky before the first Apollo Creed fight and, later, to motivate the aging pugilist in a street fight with Tommy Gunn (played by real-life fighter Tommy Morrison).

In 1992, Burgess Meredith was approached by director Tim Burton to guest star in a cameo in the Batman sequel ‘Batman Returns’. While Batman was portrayed by former stand-up comic Michael Keaton, the new ‘Penguin’ would be played by another comedian in Danny DeVito. Meredith was asked to film a short cameo as Oswald Cobblepot’s father but declined due to flailing health.

The brilliant Meredith passed away aged 89 in 1997.

2. One of the villains in 60’s series was a former top-rated heavyweight boxer

Also featured in the original 60’s TV series was none other than former top-rated heavyweight contender Roland LaStarza. The former fighter played a henchman named ‘Cappy’ and was only in two episodes in the first series.

LaStarza was a talented heavyweight who, in 1950 came ever-so-close to being the only man to ever beat the legendary Rocky Marciano. The two men fought over ten rounds at Madison Square Garden and, after a close fight, spoils went to Rocky on a split decision.

The two men would meet three years later with the world heavyweight title on the line. Marciano had huge respect for LaStarza from their first fight and also struggled to subdue the Bronx fighter in the rematch. The match was close on the cards after six rounds but Marciano cranked up the pressure to beat the resistance out of his challenger.

The marauding “Brockton Blockbuster” hammered poor LaStarza until the fight was finally over in the eleventh. Although he continued to box off-and-on for another eight years, LaStarza never reached the same heights again and ended up doing a spot of acting.

Usually playing gangsters, hitmen or bodyguards, the six-foot LaStarza continued his acting career until 1973.

The fighter who retired with a record of 57-9 (27) died in 2009 aged 82.

3. The Adam West Batman actually had a “boxing match” on the show

Yes it actually happened though, as boxing matches go, it was pretty tame. In the 1967 episode “Ring Around the Riddler”, the Riddler is out to control all of the prize-fighting in Gotham City. He begins by kidnapping and brainwashing top prize-fighters with the aid of the Siren.

Then, under the guise of Mushi Nebuchadnezzar, supposed boxing champion of Southwest Asia, he challenges Batman to a fight in the ring. But when it becomes clear that the Riddler has no plans to play fair, it's up to Batgirl to help her crime fighting companions.

The match starts with Batman getting the upper-hand against the smaller Riddler (played by Frank Gorshin). The comical, and slightly camp, scene plays out that The Riddler has planted a special magnet under the ring which renders Batman static and unable to move.

Batgirl saves the day by intercepting the female stooge controlling the magnet and, with the “Caped Crusader” able to fight again, the Riddler and his cronies flee the venue.

4. The 1989 Batman movie features a former pro boxer

Opening the 1989, Tim Burton-directed movie, the story begins with an aging gangster, Carl Grissom, looking to gain revenge over his right-hand man Jack Napier who has been seeing Grissom’s glamorous wife behind his back.

The trap is set at an old chemical warehouse but doesn’t go to plan when the sting is gate-crashed by Batman, played by Michael Keaton. During the fighting between the wise-guys, Batman and the police, Napier is plunged into a vat of chemicals which transforms him into ‘The Joker’.

While many were suitably impressed by not only Keaton’s Batman but Jack Nicholson’s unforgettable Joker, veteran actor Jack Palance also gave a terrific turn as Grissom.
Best known for his towering frame and deep, authoritive voice, Palance was a star of stage and screen for over sixty years; yet few know he was also a pro heavyweight in the early 40’s who compiled a decent 15-1 (12) record under his ring-name “Jack Brazzo”.

A son of a coal-miner and of Ukrainian descent, Palance was an athletic youth who competed in several sports before giving boxing a try. At 6’4” and around 200lbs, Jack certainly had the frame to be a decent-sized heavyweight for that era. Boxing mostly around Pennsylvania, Jack won all of his bouts bar a four-round decision loss to future top contender Joe Baksi in New York.

The outbreak of World War II delayed the acting aspirations of the former fighter, who enlisted in the US Air force. The trainee pilot saw little action in his time and, in a routine patrol in 1943, was lucky to survive a crash in his B-52 bomber. The plane lost an engine and nose-dived to the ground in flames. Jack was badly burned in the crash, resulting in the leathery-features that he’d become famous for years later.

Palance featured as brooding, intimidating villains in many movies of the 50’s and 60’s, his gritty features and distinctive voice making him an ideal bad-guy; most famously in the 1953 movie “Shane” opposite Alan Ladd. Making his feature debut in 1950, Palance had to wait 41 years before gaining his one (and only) Oscar for his memorable turn as “Curly” in the 1991 comedy film “City Slickers”.

Presented with his best supporting actor Oscar, Jack, still in tremendous physical shape at age 73, duly hit the deck to perform one-arm push-ups during his acceptance speech to the crowd’s astonishment.

Palance starred in Batman aged 70 and was reported to have clashed with director Burton who was said not to have known the rugged actor was partially deaf and prone to missing takes on occasion.

Once Nicholson’s Joker had escaped his brush with death, he visited his former employer and promptly filled him with bullets. The scene having ‘The Joker’ dancing around and laughing hysterically while shooting his pistol.

Later in the movie, Nicholson (as the Joker) does an amusing impersonation of Palance which was, allegedly, completely improvised by Nicholson who later commentated he enjoyed filming the movie for the creative freedom it allowed him.

The legendary Jack Palance died in 2006 aged 87.

5. A Batman character in the original comic books was a boxing champion

The character of ‘Wildcat’ first appeared in the Batman comic-books in 1942. Although not as famed as other characters and super-villains, the character is still distinct with a gripping back story.

As an orphan, Ted Grant took up a position as a heavyweight boxer, and eventually became tangled in his sinister managers' plans. As a result, his mentor "Socker" Smith was killed by a boxing glove loaded with a poison needle by Grant's managers Flint and Skinner. The dose was only intended to slow Smith, but the duo misjudged the potency.

When Grant was arrested for the crime, Flint and Skinner, afraid he might know what had happened, arranged a hit on the young fighter. Ted Grant survived, but the policemen with him were dead. He became a fugitive and came upon a kid who was robbed of his Green Lantern comic.

The kid, describing the mystery-man Green Lantern, inspired Ted to create a costume of a large black cat. He took the name of ‘Wildcat’ and vowed to clear his name. He brought Flint and Skinner to justice, as the villains were forced to confess and Grant's name was cleared. Wildcat continued to fight against crime.

Ted later joined the re-formed Justice Society of America as they entered a limbo state to save the world from an oncoming onslaught initiated by Hitler decades before.

Later he and his teammates were released from this dimension, and regained prominence as the forefathers of the heroic community. He recently claimed to have magically acquired "nine lives" early in his career, and has in fact survived several otherwise fatal or seemingly crippling injuries. For example, during the 'Final Night' incident, he had a wall collapse on him.

Wildcat was also one of the many combat instructors sought out by a young Bruce Wayne on the path towards becoming Batman. The crime-fighter also tutored Superman in the noble art as well as many others.

One comic book had Ted Grant preparing to defend his world heavyweight title against a fellow by the name of Cassius Clay…

6. The Bad Guy in ‘Batman Begins’ was a former amateur boxing star

The 2005 movie, the first in the Christopher Nolan trilogy, sees young Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) travel to the Far East where he's trained in the martial arts by Henri Ducard, played by Ireland’s Liam Neeson, who is a member of the mysterious League of Shadows. When Ducard reveals the League's true purpose (the complete destruction of Gotham City), Wayne returns to Gotham intent on cleaning up the city without resorting to murder.

Born in Ballymena, Northern Ireland on June 7th 1952, Liam Neeson was a highly-talented amateur fighter after making his first ring appearance at just 11-years-old. The strapping youngster would become a three-time Northern Ireland champion with many tipping him to go on to pro glory but it wasn’t to be for the Irishman.

At age 15 Neeson featured in a three-round bout with an English opponent and proceeded to take a beating. Bravely he managed to last the distance but suffered a black-out moments after leaving the ring. It convinced the teenager that his boxing days were numbered and he never laced up his gloves again.

The 6’4”, Neeson at first tried to make his name as a teacher but by the mid 70’s had caught the acting bug. The Irishman worked tirelessly through the late 70’s and 80’s and, though he had some solid success, it was his unforgettable role in the Spielberg epic ‘Schindler’s List’ in 1993 that cemented him as a star on the world stage.

Since then, Neeson’s resume has gone from strength to strength both on the big screen and in the theatre. A versatile performer, the softly-spoken Irish star has made a habit in recent years for taking on mostly action roles such as in thrillers ‘Taken’ and ‘The A-Team’.

The former boxer was made an OBE in 2000 and still works at a frenetic pace even today at the age of 66. In 2009, Natasha Richardson was fatally injured in a skiing accident leaving Neeson a widow following their 15-year marriage.

Back in 1990, Neeson starred as a bare-knuckle boxer in ‘The Big Man’ opposite Scottish former pro Rab Affleck. Unknown to most viewers was the fact that both were very good fighters in their younger years. Affleck being a top-rated light-heavyweight contender in the 70’s who once fought Bunny Johnson for the British title.

In ‘Batman Begins’ Neeson’s Ducard, revealed as villain Ra’s al Ghul, at first befriends the troubled Bruce Wayne and trains him to become a formidable warrior but the two eventually become sworn enemies and do battle in Gotham City where, unsurprisingly, Batman conquers his former mentor.

7. Ducard’s crony was a pro boxer too!

The tough-looking Spencer Wilding portrayed a member of the League of Shadows in ‘Batman Begins’. Although clearly looking like he could handle himself, the 6’7” giant wounds up getting knocked out by Michael Caine’s Alfred, who whacks him from behind with a piece of wood as Wayne mansion burns.

While Alfred rescues Bruce Wayne from the blaze, the LOS member is never seen in the movie again.

In real life, Spencer Wilding was a kick-boxing champion who went undefeated in four pro boxing bouts which all took place in 2002. However, the Rhyl puncher found he couldn’t secure a major contest so cast his eye on the acting world.

With several bit-parts in TV, movies and advertisements, Wilding got his big break in 2016 when portraying the physical version of Darth Vader in Starwars: Rogue One. The film was set just before the 1977 original Starwars movie and, while James Earl Jones reprised vocal duties, Wilding was menacingly perfect as Vader, particularly in a final scene cutting through the rebel soldiers with breath-taking efficiency.

The 45 year old Wilding has also featured in TV shows Doctor Who and Game of Thrones where he played a White walker. The North Wales man is still involved in his Welsh roots and often does work for charity and makes guest appearances for movie and sci-fi fans.

8. ‘The Fighter’ movie has two links to Batman

The 2010 boxing biopic of “Irish” Micky Ward sees Mark Wahlberg in the role of Ward while Christian Bale plays his eccentric brother Dicky Eklund. While many know full well that Bale played Batman in the 2005-2012 trilogy, few realise that Wahlberg was also close to being a Batman actor.

The 1995 movie ‘Batman Forever’ was the first of the big-screen movies to feature Robin as Batman’s sidekick. While the part eventually went to Chris O’ Donnell, Wahlberg auditioned for the role and was said to have narrowly missed out.

While O’ Donnell played Dick Grayson/Robin for Batman Forever and also the heavily derided ‘Batman and Robin’ two years later, former rap star Wahlberg’s career went a different path.

Wahlberg is now one of the biggest acting stars in the world and continues to feature in box office hits every year while O’ Donnell is the long-time star of TV series NCIS Los Angeles.

9. An active professional boxer is actually nicknamed ‘Batman’

New Zealand bruiser James Langton boxes under the ring moniker of ‘Batman’, to this writer’s knowledge he is the only fighter who has ever tried to pull off the famous nickname.

Langton was a long-time Rugby player before turning to boxing shortly before his 40th birthday. Fighting as a cruiserweight, he lost his first two fights before winning nine straight and winning a NZ title.

Now 44-years-old and 11-6 (5) in his pro boxing career, Langton is still active and away from boxing runs a cattle farm in Opunake.

The story behind the ‘Batman’ ring name comes from his childhood when, as a boy at school, he always had Batman stationery. Somehow the name stuck for over thirty years and he still uses it to this very day.

10. THAT Batman press conference stunt by Tyson Fury

September 2015 and a press conference is arranged for the upcoming match between world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko and challenger Tyson Fury. Klitschko is waiting patiently when a familiar figure bursts into the room and starts wrestling with ‘The Joker’.

Tyson Fury’s stunt went viral as the Manchester star once more found a way to put himself on the map. Many believe not even Fury knows what he is going to do next most days and Klitschko was openly bemused at the prank.

The original fight date of October was put back following a calf injury suffered by Klitschko. At the time, Fury was quoted as saying the Batman prank had cost him £30 million but the fight still got hastily rescheduled.

“The prank was OK but am I really that intimidating to (Klitschko)?” Fury moaned as he clearly thought the fight would be scrapped.

Two months after Batman had seen off the Joker, Fury would unanimously out-point the long-time champion by scores of 116-111 and 115-112 (twice) to become the unified world heavyweight champion.

Alas, the story didn’t continue well as Fury, amid fierce criticism from the media, drugs allegations and admitted mental health issues, relinquished all belts to take a break from boxing. After his finest win over Klitschko, Fury hasn’t boxed in over two years since.

Still undefeated at 25-0 (18), Fury is currently in intense training for a comeback this year and is planning to box on four occasions after his extended hiatus from boxing.

Thanks to the now-famous youtube footage, Fury will forever be remembered for his short, but amusing, stint as the ‘Caped Crusader’.

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