On a summer night in 1983, two welterweight boxers met at center ring in front of a large Madison Square Garden crowd. The boxers were on different levels, with Billy Collins having been pegged for stardom and Luis Resto considered by most to be a tune-up fighter, though one with a solid reputation. The battle lasted ten rounds before Resto was named the winner. What should have been a career-making victory for Resto turned out to be short lived as almost immediately it was discovered that Resto's gloves had been tampered with. The padding had been removed from the gloves, essentially allowing Resto to pummel Collins with bare knuckles (see the photo below). For Resto, this meant the end of his boxing career, a stint in jail, and a haunted past. The fight was even more harmful for Collins, who never fully recovered from the beating which, combined with his already dark disposition, led him down a rough path toward a tragic death. 25 years later director Eric Drath follows Resto as he attempts to come to grips with the results of the fight.
Considering the damage he inflicted on Collins (and his family), Resto is an exceedingly sympathetic figure. A poor immigrant from Puerto Rico, Resto found not only a livelihood but also significance when he showed some talent in the ring. He had a chance to better his life and the lives of his family members and he worked extremely hard to make that happen. He learned early on, however, that you never question the men in your corner and that would ultimately lead to his undoing. He didn't remove the padding from the gloves himself but as he reluctantly admits about halfway through the film, he knew something wasn't right. Resto buried himself under a mountain of guilt not only because of the impact the fight had on Collins but because of the way he had disrespected his sport. His grief is written all over his face. By all accounts, this fight ended two lives with Resto holding on as a shell of a man, estranged from friends and family and unable to find redemption.
Drath offers just that, redemption, with a whirl-wind tour to the homes of all those affected by the fight. Resto is given the opportunity to confront his former trainer, Mario Costa, the man ultimately responsible for the customized gloves. While Resto spent two years in prison, Costa was simply stripped of his trainer's license due to a chain of custody issue that resulted in his court case being thrown out. Upon their first on-screen meeting, I was immediately struck by how much power Costa still held over Resto. Here stood the man responsible for Resto's troubles and yet he could not even look him in the eye. When questioned about the events of that night, Costa denies and feigns offense but in later footage he makes it abundantly clear that he would never admit his wrongdoing. It is abundantly clear that while Resto may have known something wasn't right when he stepped into the ring, Costa knew exactly what the game plan was. Drath also sheds a little light on the New York Athletic Commission, leading one to wonder what kind of shady business was conducted behind closed doors and under grimy tables on the way to that night's infamous events. In this sense, Drath allows "Assault" to illustrate what a shady business professional boxing truly is.
If Resto's confrontation with Costa is somewhat unsatisfying, his other meetings pick up the slack. He finally confesses his (limited) knowledge of the tampered gloves with his ex-wife and grown sons and you can see the relief wash over him. He weeps quietly when receiving forgiveness from Collins' widow and is even reunited with his mother and sister. It isn't a picture perfect ending, of course. Collins' father refused Resto's apologies and Costa provides no comfort for his former protege. Still, Drath's simple and understated film finds a poignant groove and stays within in, capturing the essence of a man who has paid for his mistakes a thousand times over without hope of reprieve, almost as much a victim as the man he sparred with on that fateful night.