Now that Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is globally ascendant, boxing often gets maligned as a boringly limited form of combat. Don’t tell Donnie Yen this. He may be a major proponent of MMA, but the man is a fan of the sweet science. In an interview with RogerEbert.com, “John Wick: Chapter 4” director Chad Stahelski was asked about a showy wind-up punch Yen throws during the film’s first bravura action sequence. The filmmaker gave Yen full credit for the move, which was an homage to one of the performer’s favorite pugilists.
“[T]hat’s all Donnie, a Sugar Ray Leonard reference,” Stahelski said. “He’s a huge Sugar Ray Leonard fan; he’s put that in ‘Flashpoint,’ and he’s put that in a lot of his films. Funny thing, I had lunch with Donnie yesterday. We brought that up a lot. A lot of his hometown audiences don’t really know who Sugar Ray Leonard was in China, so they don’t get that cool reference.”
Having grown up during the ’70s and ’80s heyday of middleweight boxing, this gladdens my heart. Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Tommy Hearns, and Roberto Duran were the epitome of the phrase “styles make fights.” Hagler and Hearns wedded superb technique with devastating power, while Duran got into the body and inflicted tremendous damage with his granite hands. These men had no clear advantage over each other. It was just a question of desire.
And no one could weather the punishment of a 15-round title fight like Leonard.