The Fighter – Boxer Micky Ward
The Fighter (2010) is about Lowell, Massachusetts boxer “Irish” Micky Ward and his tumultuous relationship with his older half-brother and former boxer, Dicky Eklund. During his boxing career, Dicky (Christian Bale) was a community hero in Lowell for facing Sugar Ray Leonard in 1978 and knocking down the then-undefeated fighter in a fight that went all ten rounds, even though the knockdown is generally disputed as Leonard tripping over his own feet. During the mid-1980s as his boxing career ended, Dicky became addicted to crack cocaine and fell into a life of crime.
In 1993, Eklund is being filmed by a crew for what he claims is a documentary about his comeback. In the meantime, Eklund has been patching roads with his younger half-brother Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), who is also a boxer but far less renown in the community than Dicky was. Dicky serves as Micky’s trainer and their mother, Alice (Melissa Leo), works as Micky’s manager. Though another trainer, Micky O’Keefe (playing himself), believes that he could help Micky become a better boxer, Alice refuses to let him help even as Mickey gains a reputation as a pushover.
Shortly before his next fight in Atlantic City, Micky meets bartender Charlene (Amy Adams) and asks her out on a date when he returns from the fight. Feeling good about himself and his chances for the upcoming fight, Micky visits his daughter Kasie at his ex-wife’s house and tells him that once he wins the fight in Atlantic City it will be a big break for his career and he’ll be able to get a bigger apartment and spend more time with her.
On the day of the Atlantic City fight, the limo with Micky and Alice is ready to leave but Dicky is not present. They end up finding Dicky at the crack house that he frequents, which angers his family. When the party arrives in Atlantic City, Micky is told that his scheduled opponent has the flu and that Micky will be fighting a replacement, Mike Mungin, who outweighs Micky by 19 pounds. Micky is hesitant to fight a much larger opponent, but Alice and Dicky pressure him into it when the promoter says that they won’t get paid otherwise. As Micky feared, Mungin destroys him in their match. As they leave the arena, the family runs into Sugar Ray Leonard (playing himself), who is cordial toward Dicky but does not want to be associated with Dicky’s documentary. Shortly afterward, a promoter named Mike Toma approaches Micky about training in Las Vegas and paying him a salary to do so, but Alice and Dicky dismiss the idea by insisting that they know what’s best for his career.
Embarrassed by his loss and feeling betrayed by his family, Micky starts a relationship with Charlene and increasingly avoids his family, infuriating Alice and Micky’s sisters, especially after Micky shows ambivalence toward the next match Alice set up for him at Foxwoods for $17,500. Micky says he would rather take the Las Vegas offer, so Dicky claims he will match the offer in order to keep Micky in Lowell but instead, spends the money on drugs. When his friends at the crack house refuse to give him money, he decides to pose his girlfriend as a prostitute and impersonate a police officer to shake down the clients she picks up. However, Dicky’s plan falls apart when the actual cops catch him setting up the scheme, and he is arrested. Micky is also arrested when he comes to help Dicky, and during his arrest, a police officer severely injures Micky’s hand to prevent him from fighting back.
Micky is released, but Dicky is sent to prison because of his lengthy list of prior convictions. Micky decides that he is done with trying to help his brother and with boxing. While in prison, Dicky begins to withdraw from his addiction. On the day that his “comeback” documentary airs, Dicky and his family are horrified to discover that all along it was a documentary about Dicky’s crack addiction and not about his comeback. Humbled by the documentary, Dicky begins to train in prison while Micky decides to return to boxing at the urging of his father, George (Jack McGee). Micky receives new management, including O’Keefe, but it comes with the condition that Alice and Dicky will no longer be involved with Micky’s boxing career. Alice and Micky’s sisters blame Charlene for pushing Micky away from them. Nonetheless, Micky visits Dicky in prison shortly before his next fight, which will be in Las Vegas against Alfonso Sanchez. Dicky, who is hurt by Micky’s decision to train without him, dismisses Micky’s chances but still offers advice on how to fight Sanchez.
When the fight starts, Micky has difficulty with Sanchez until he starts to follow what Dicky told him to do and eventually triumphs. The victory gives Micky a title shot against WBU Light Welterweight Champion Shea Neary in London. While Micky trains for his next fight, Dicky is released from prison and he and Alice go the gym where Micky is training. Micky greets them warmly, but once their sisters arrive with a “Welcome Home” cake for Dicky, O’Keefe and Charlene demand that they all leave. When they do not, O’Keefe and Charlene leave instead and Dicky begins sparring with Micky. However, Micky hits him hard and yells at Alice for always favoring Dicky despite his countless screw-ups. Dicky leaves with his cake and goes to the crack house, but instead of going inside he gives his former friends the cake and walks to Charlene’s house. He points out to her that Micky will only be at his best if they all work together. Dicky is then brought in to assist with his brother’s training.
Though Neary is heavily favored in his home country, Micky goes into the fight with confidence. He appears overmatched in the initial rounds and gets knocked down in the 7th round. When the round ends, an emotional Dicky grabs Micky and motivates him by saying,
“You gotta do more in there. You gotta win a title. For you, for me, for Lowell. This is your time, all right? You take it. I had my time and I blew it. You don’t have to. All right?
In the next round, a reinvigorated Micky stands toe-to-toe with Neary and brings the fight to his opponent. He knocks Neary down twice and is awarded a TKO, winning the fight and becoming champion. Micky and his family celebrate, and title cards reveal that Micky Ward boxed until 2003 and retired after three celebrated fights against Arturo Gatti. He married Charlene in 2005 and lives with her and his daughter. Meanwhile another title card reveals that Dicky “maintains his status as a local legend. He trains boxers at his brother’s gym.”
Contributing author: Chris McKittrick
The Fighter – Real Life, Reel Differences
- Overall, the boxing scenes in The Fighter have been hailed for their accuracy and feature the actual fight commentary from the actual fights. However, The Fighter compresses the real-life timeline of events. The film depicts events that happened from 1988 to 2000 despite the movie making it appear that they occurred over a much shorter period of time.
- The film condenses Ward’s career and also alters his win/loss record for dramatic effect. According to the film, Ward’s 1988 loss against Mike Mungin was his fourth loss in a row. However, in real life, the loss to Mungin came when Ward had an 18-1 record and had won his four previous fights. Ward’s actual four-fight losing streak came later during 1990 to 1991. The movie also depicts Ward as being grossly overmatched in the fight, when in reality Ward went the distance and Mungin won by a very close decision, though Ward did sustain numerous injuries in the fight.
- From a physical standpoint, Micky Ward was a right-handed boxer, but since Mark Wahlberg is left-handed he portrayed Ward as a southpaw.
- Throughout his career, the real-life Eklund was billed as “Dickie Eklund.” However, he felt that the brotherly connection between the two characters in the movie would be strengthened by spelling his first name like his brother’s. In a life-imitates-art situation, the real-life Eklund has since started spelling his name as “Dicky.”
- During a montage, Ward fights three fighters named Manetti, Collins, and Hernandez. In real life Ward never fought any opponents with those particular names.
- Later in the movie, Ward’s April 1997 victory against Alfonso Sanchez is depicted as the precursor to Ward’s fight against Shea Neary. However, in real life, Ward did not fight Neary until March 2000, with Ward fighting six other times between (with a record of 4-2). In addition, during the Sanchez fight, Ward’s entrance music is the Dropkick Murphy’s song The Warrior’s Code. Though the song was indeed written by the band about Ward, it was not released until 2005.
- Many of the particulars of the Neary fight were altered for dramatic effect in the movie. The movie depicts Neary’s WBU Light Welterweight title as being more prestigious than it actually was. It was not considered by any boxing analysts to be a legitimate championship. The film incorrectly portrays Ward’s record before the Neary fight. The real life Ward was 34-9 with 25 KOs going into the fight, but the movie changes this to 30-7 with 20 KOs. The film also incorrectly announces them both as weighing “10 stones 6 pounds” each, which at 146 pounds would be too heavy for the Light Welterweight class (Neary actually weighed 139 pounds and Ward 140 pounds). In addition, in the actual fight, Ward was not knocked down during the Neary fight. Lastly, Neary is depicted with an Irish accent even though in real-life he is of Irish descent but was born and raised in England and has an English accent.
- The film’s most significant change actually involved Ward’s relationship with Carlene. In the movie, they meet shortly before the Mungin fight (which was in 1988). However, the two actually didn’t meet until 2000.
- In the movie, Dicky is arrested and charged with extortion. He was actually imprisoned due to drug possession. In that same scene, Micky has his broken hand from a police officer as he was trying to prevent his brother from being beaten up. Ward actually got the broken hand from his fights. It was eventually fixed when some bones from his pelvis were used to strengthen and fuse the bones of his hands.
- The movie shows Micky’s dad as the person who encourages him to return to fighting, but in reality, it was Dicky who convinced him to go back to fighting after Dicky was released from jail.
Where Are They Now?
Micky Ward fought seven more times with a record of 3-4 after the March 2000 Neary fight, where the movie ended. His 2001 victory against Emanuel Augustus was named Fight of the Year by Ring Magazine. His final three fights were highly-praised matches against Arturo Gatti, with the first fight (which Ward won) being declared the 2002 Fight of the Year by both Ring Magazine and the Boxing Writers Association of America and the third fight (which Gatti won) being declared the 2003 Fight of the Year by Ring Magazine. Ward retired after the third Gatti fight, with Gatti winning the trilogy 2-1.
Ward remains a community hero in Lowell, where he is part owner of a boxing gym called Micky’s Corner and an outdoor hockey rink called The Greater Lowell Deck Hockey Center. He also works as a truck driver for the Teamsters Union Local 25 in Boston. In 2011 he was awarded the Boxing Writers Association of America’s James A. Farley Award for “Honesty and Integrity in Boxing” for 2010.
Micky Ward has a website but it is infrequently updated. He also has a Facebook page. In 2012, Ward released an autobiography titled A Warrior’s Heart: The True Story of Life Before and Beyond The Fighter and he has made many public appearances at colleges to speak about his life.
Dicky Eklund was not able to remain clean from drugs after his brother won the Neary fight. In 2005, Dicky returned to using crack and was arrested for possession of crack cocaine on July 2, 2006. In a profile about Dicky in the March 2011 issue of Men’s Journal, Dicky revealed that he struggled with drinking, suffered from severe back pain, and had been arrested more than sixty-six times, including several times in the years since the Neary fight. In addition to the July 2006 possession arrest, Dicky had been arrested several times for assault (including a charge of attempted murder and several times for domestic abuse).
In the Men’s Journal article, Dicky also mentioned that he isn’t always on the best terms with his much more well-off brother even though he trains people at Ward’s gym. For example, several years before The Fighter was made Dicky had signed away the movie rights to Micky’s life story for $1000, which complicated production of The Fighter and added strain to the brothers’ relationship. Paramount later paid Dicky $193,000 for the movie rights to his life story for The Fighter, but Dicky claims his son spent all the money.
When asked about his portrayal in The Fighter, Dicky was quoted as saying “I hated it. But it was what it was,” and added, “Micky looks like a million bucks, and I look like a two-dollar bill”. He was also unhappy with the negative portrayal of his mother and sisters.
As for the other members of the family, Alice Ward passed away on June 22, 2011. Earlier in that year in January, she had gone into cardiac arrest and nearly died. Sean Eklund, the nephew of Micky and Dicky, has since become a professional boxer and had his first professional match in Lowell on May 2012. Sean was trained by Dicky.