Sheer determination, brute strength and an unwavering spirit led Lowell native Micky Ward to two WBU (World Boxing Union) welterweight titles and a trilogy of memorable fights against the late Arturo Gatti. These qualities and Ward’s hardscrabble life caught the eye of Hollywood and have now put his story on the silver screen.
On Dec. 10, 2010, Paramount Pictures will release “The Fighter,” starring Mark Wahlberg as Micky Ward and Christian Bale as Dickie Eklund, Ward’s troubled half-brother and trainer. Though he hasn’t lived a glamorous life, Ward’s compelling, underdog story will be told as a major motion picture. It is a surreal reality in which Ward and his faithful followers can revel.
Producers David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman of Mandeville Films in Burbank, Calif., were first introduced to “The Fighter” when original writers Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson showed them a 35-minute DVD that combined fight footage and clips from the controversial 1995 HBO documentary “High on Crack Street.” The DVD tracked the story of Ward and the tumultuous Eklund leading up to Ward’s championship win.
A long-term boxing enthusiast, Lieberman was immediately taken by the story, not necessarily because it takes place in the world of boxing, but because it chronicles the lives and journeys of two amazing characters. “It is about brothers and family,” Lieberman says, “and that is what drew us to what it is.” The fruition of this project is particularly sweet, as it has taken six years to complete. According to Hoberman, “It is one of those films that people make because they are passionate about it, and those seem to be the most complex and complicated to put together.” While the movie –making process can be long and pain-staking, Hoberman and Lieberman are confident, however, that the final product will be a gripping love story of sorts, depicting two half-brothers who needed each other to succeed. “We are happy that it is finally going to see the light of day,” Hoberman says. Despite bumps in the road and changes in writers, directors and actors, Lieberman says, “We ended up with the movie we were meant to have.”
Many people in Lowell, especially those in the local boxing scene and others involved in the making of the film, take great pride not only in having produced the subject of this film, but also in having all but a few training scenes filmed throughout the city. This kind of authenticity simply cannot be replicated. Lieberman suggests that there is an indescribable feeling of being in the actual place.
One man who can attest to that is Arthur (Art) Ramalho, owner of Lowell’s West End Gym. Ramalho has known Ward and Eklund since they were kids. He trained both; Ward beginning at the age of 7. Ramalho shut down his facility for 10 days to shoot training and fight scenes, and recruited several of his long-standing boxers to participate. James Perry Lucas, an experienced regular at the gym, can be clearly seen in the movie’s trailer as the corner man opposite Wahlberg in the role of Ward.
“I thought it was quite an experience,” Ramalho says. And what about the
big-name celebrities gracing his ring? “They were all down-to-earth people,” he says. “Nobody had their head stuck up in the air.”
Though the excitement is undeniable, Ramalho admits there are reservations about how Eklund’s side of the story will be told and whether it might cast an unfavorable shadow on the city of Lowell. “I know the boxing will be great,” Ramalho says, “but I don’t know about the rest.” Ramalho believes Ward will remain unfazed by the attention. “Micky is the same no matter what,” he says. “He is a nice kid.” Interestingly, Hoberman isn’t as certain Ward and Eklund will be able to elude the hype when the film is released. Though both consulted on set and treated their commitment much like a job, Hoberman thinks the nationwide publicity campaign and the film’s anticipated release will inevitably be a very different experience. “They might not be so unfazed,” he says.
Ward has come a long way from boxing his way to the top to having a feature film made about his life. He credits much of his success to Lowell police sergeant and former boxing trainer Mickey O’Keefe, who played so significant a role that he was asked to play himself in the movie. According to O’Keefe, it was Wahlberg who requested his participation in the film. Having read “Irish Thunder: The Hard Life and Times of Micky Ward” by Bob Halloran, Wahlberg told O’Keefe that he was the hero of the book. O’Keefe adamantly denies that and says, “I am not the hero; Micky would be successful anyway.” Beyond Ward’s skill in the boxing ring, O’Keefe believes his character and charisma make him special. “He has something about him,” O’Keefe says. “People like being with Micky, everybody loves him.” In a sentimental moment, O’Keefe recalls a hot summer day years ago when he and Ward were alone, training in the gym, while it seemed everyone else was at the beach. “Look around Micky,” O’Keefe told Ward. “There is nobody here — you know that movie “Rocky”? That ain’t real, but you’re real.” O’Keefe spent seven weeks on the set and loved every minute. He marveled at Wahlberg’s ability to truly become Ward. They are a lot alike, O’Keefe says. “They both dig down deep and go.”
“The Fighter” has a lot going for it: some heavy-hitting star power, a great tale of one boxer’s difficult rise to fame and the potential to be a box office hit. Micky Ward has made his mark on the sport of boxing, and now Hollywood will share his biopic with the world. Ward pays it forward by working with underprivileged children through Team Micky Ward Charities.
The Fighter, by Paramount Pictures, starring Mark Wahlberg & Christian Bale – released December 10th. The latest news, reviews and event details as they become available will be listed on www.mvmag.net