June 8, 2021 — The 1980s was one of the wildest decades in United States history; cell phones were hitting the streets for the first time, women were climbing the corporate ladder with shoulder pads tucked into their power suits, and boxing was looking for the next Mohamed Ali.
“The Greatest” boxers in the world had some big shoes to fill, and the 80s was a new decade for heroes. The Kings is a four-part docuseries about the most famous boxers that reigned supreme in the 1980s, picking up the mantle from Muhammad Ali. The series provides a fascinating look at these larger-than-life personalities whose reputations benefited from competing with each other.
The fighters have different levels of fame depending on your geographic location and familiarity with boxing. The most famous is sure “Sugar” Ray Leonard, who was the heir apparent to Mohamad Ali and changed, not only boxing but sports in general during his title runs. Every hero needs a villain, and Leonard’s was Roberto “Manos de Piedra” Duran — a Panamanian boxer who handed Leonard his first professional career loss. Waiting in the wings to challenge these two legends were Detroit’s son Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns and the perpetual underdog “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler.
The mini-series explores the four athletes’ lives and is brim-filled with nostalgia — for a good reason. Ray Leonard changed how athletes interacted with brands and basically paved the way for today’s stars to have the record-breaking endorsement deals that bank them more money outside of the game than they would ever make in their sport. The use of commercials in the series showed how these guys were making money and their level of popularity, so it was not so much I Love the Eighties as it was a narrative tool, but it was still fun to revisit commercials from the early 80s.
Politics have a funny way of finding their way into even the most mundane of conversations, but they play a significant role in this documentary because they played an essential role at the time. Duran came from Panama when the U.S. and Panama had tensions over the Panama Canal, and the Leonard V. Duran fight was similar to the fictional Balboa V. Drago fight in Rocky IV, where the fights were meant to be metaphors for the countries going to war.
“The Kings finds a balance between what happened in the ring and the trials and tribulations these men fought in their personal lives.”
Time is spent exploring the tumultuous political environment of the time and the rise of Reaganism — though the series does not dive into the boxers’ political ideology, they quickly gloss over Leonard’s relationship with President Ronald Reagan and how he embodied Reagan’s idea for America. They also touch on the (largely unknown) fact the only reason Marvin Hagler got a shot at the title is that Senator Ted Kennedy stepped in and threatened an investigation if he was not given a title match.
Series like this are often skipped over by people who are not fans of boxing because they don’t think it will be exciting, but The Kings finds a balance between what happened in the ring and the trials and tribulations these men fought in their personal lives. Even though everyone came from a different location and background, they still found themselves in the same rings battling it out for money, fame, and respect.
Since Ray Leonard is the most recognized name of the group, one might think The Kings would feel like the Leonard show with a supporting cast of the other three boxers, but that is not always true. While the show starts and ends with Leonard, many segments make you think that it is the Marvin Hagler show — and there are two possible reasons for that. Unfortunately, the first is that viewers come to find out through the dedication at the end of the series Hagler is the only one of the four kings to have passed. However, the real reason may be that Hagler never got his due as one of the four kings.
Unlike Leonard and Duran, who were seen as their Countries’ heroes, and Hearns, the golden boy of Detroit, Hagler had to fight tooth and nail for all the recognition he earned and never had a hometown following. If anyone got short-changed in this documentary, it is Thomas Hearns who is portrayed like a stepping stone for the other three more than an equal.
OUT OF 10
THE GOOD STUFF
- Captivating four-part series that never loses momentum.
- Has tons of the 80s nostalgia we all love.
- Instills an appreciation for the art of boxing.
- Unbalanced at times with too little screen for Hearns.
The Kings goes beyond the world of boxing and explores the give and take of the sport in one of its renaissance eras. Even those without interest in boxing will care about the human side of the story, and the inadvertent nostalgia viewers get a glimpse of along the way. Some may even find a new appreciation for the sport, and walk away wanting to learn more about these modern-day gladiators. While their boxing careers are long-finished, these four legendary kings of their sport will live on indefinitely, especially now that The Kings has immortalized them on the screen.