Amateur Boxing Documentary Cradle of Champions Chronicles the Journey to the New York Golden Gloves Tournament
What drives an athlete to want boxing glory? Cradle of Champions has a glimpse into the answer.
Even as someone who doesn’t follow boxing – or any sport, really, aside from catching the occasional basketball game – I’m a sucker for films about sports. Admittedly, I enjoy all of the Rocky movies – yep, even Rocky V. So, with me being naturally drawn toward these types of stories, even a documentary as predictable and by-the-book as Cradle of Champions has just enough to latch onto.
Centered on three young fighters – James Wilkins, Nisa Rodriguez, and Titus Williams – Cradle of Champions chronicles their three-month journey through the New York Daily News Golden Gloves tournament. Founded in 1927, this boxing gauntlet has reportedly produced more professional world champions than the Olympics.
What drives each of these go-getters is a motivation often found in boxing stories: To establish a legacy or to be the first in their family to “make something” of themselves. Despite being the same song and dance I’ve seen in a dozen other films, it gets the job done.
Cradle of Champions Is More Than a Ring Side Seat to Amateur Boxing
What tends to draw me into sports movies, and boxing, in particular, is far more than the clashes themselves then the memorable personalities that populate the world outside of the ring. Although Cradle of Champions doesn’t boast an abundance of that, there’s – again – just enough of that energy to keep me invested. Coach Joe Higgins is the clear standout, serving as a mentor with the occasional bouts of tough love.
It’s the smaller moments with the cast that stick with me, and will undoubtedly with others, in Cradle of Champions. Whether it’s hearing Higgins describe how to properly cook meatballs or listening to Wilkins do an impression of his mom, there’s a decent number of inconsequential, yet endearing moments that bring the proceedings down to earth.
Cradle of Champions briefly ventures outside of its conventional narrative tropes to make the case for why boxing is not only beneficial but also necessary for some kids. With numerous gyms across New York closing, the sport is described as a “medicine – preventive maintenance – for kids who are going the wrong way.” This amateur boxing documentary doesn’t spend a ton of time on this issue, but it is refreshing to see that topic explored.
Now, Cradle of Champions does spread itself a bit too thin with its cast. Rodriguez’s quest to become a six-time champion is compelling on its own, but considering that the movie ultimately boils down to Wilkins’ and Williams’ showdown, I would’ve made some changes in the editing room, like foregoing her tale altogether and dedicating more time to the other two. As the documentary is, though, I wasn’t fully invested in any one storyline.
Even so, Cradle of Champions is a compelling enough glimpse at the world of amateur boxing. It’s about as safe as boxing stories get, but like certain comfort foods, there are times when the mood calls for such things.