Weekend watch: Cornered

The best loser in town?

Ever heard of a job or a sport where you’re not required to give your absolute best, plus you’d still get paid even though you’re not expected to be successful? Well, within the world of boxing, this scenario actually plays out. Jeez, even I “could’ve been a contender…” .

Cornered is a documentary on BT Sports that shines a light on that very scenario within the UK – the so-called ‘journeymen boxers’ who are called at any given moment to go and have a fight anywhere in the country. It’s a fascinating prospect because it raises the question: who would pursue that line if work?

Our focus here is on Johnny Greaves, a painter and decorator from East London whom balances work and home life with a career as a professional boxer. He’s been inside a ring for over a decade but his record doesn’t make great reading: Won 3 Lost 94 Drawn 0.

Those numbers are however perfect for his sporting career because Greaves isn’t expected nor required to win his bouts. He typically tangles with young or up-and-coming fighters whose trainers are simply wanting to boost their confidence, ego and win columnĀ  (a sweet moment near the start of the film shows Greaves wearing a hoodie emblazoned with ‘Stamina For Sale’).

The documentary details Greaves’ desire to reach 100 professional bouts despite both his body and mental health being called into question.

Details of historic bouts of depression and a tough upbringing are revealed throughout – Greaves strikes a forlorn figure at times, pitched as a “glass half empty” type, while one story concerning childhood boxing bouts in the living room, refereed by an under-the-influence father, is equal parts funny and heart-breaking.

Friends and family doubt whether he’ll hang up his gloves once his goal has been achieved however – even at this level the cheers and the lights are shown as both intoxicating and as an antidote to his moroseness. He also admits the money he earns on the canvas comes in handy, with Greaves’ love for his two children coming across during their limited screen time.
I guess my question earlier is a bit redundant – nobody really goes into boxing wanting to be a journeyman, it is a position generally either thrust upon or fallen into. It is strange to think that any kind of winning streak would’ve seen Greaves’ demand dry up, but the fact is his career is viewed as mediocre by only those outside looking in and this documentary keeps you guessing as to Graves’ final decision.

Cornered is streaming now on BT Sports.

Written by James Barrett-Sterling (Twitter: @jimothyshondell).