DALLAS -- It's easy to make a boxing documentary in which all the characters look bad. It's not as easy to make one that is artful and compelling. HBO's "Assault in the Ring," which debuted on Saturday night, is a masterpiece of storytelling with plot twists worthy of Alfred Hitchcock.
"Assault" is the sorry tale of a 1983 undercard bout at Madison Square Garden between up-and-comer Billy Collins Jr. and Luis Resto, battling not to fall into the abyss known in boxing as "opponent."
Resto battered Collins to a pulp in their 10-round junior middleweight bout with the help of "loaded" hand wraps and gloves whose shock-absorbing padding had been removed.
The culpability of Resto and his trainer, the much-maligned Panama Lewis, in the cheating are examined by producer/director Eric Drath, who was well into the project before he joined forces with HBO.
Resto and Lewis, who always have maintained their innocence, served jail time for tampering with the gloves.
Collins never fought again. He died in a car accident near his Tennessee home nine months after the bout.
Resto, who also never fought again, has been haunted by that June night in 1983. His life became a mess.
"You know, I think about that fight almost every day," he says. "When I work in the gym, I work with the other guys. I don't see your face, I see Collins' face."
Drath entered the project sympathetic for Resto.
"When I first met Luis Resto, I believed him when he told me he was innocent, and I wanted to make a film that proved him right," Drath says in his documentary. But as the 83-minute "Assault" ultimately shows, filmmakers have to come to grips with reality.