In the world of sports, there are underdog stories, and there are underdog stories. The story of boxer Dewey Bozella is one of those stories that fits into the latter of the two categories. And his story will be told tonight on ESPN at 8:30.
“26 Years: The Dewey Bozella Story” tells the story of a man who was wrongly convicted of a crime that he didn’t commit. He spent twenty-six years behind bars as a result of this conviction, until his case was taken back up. When his case was taken back up, it was revealed that some testimony in the case didn’t match up with other information, ultimately ending Bozella’s incarceration. It’s impossible for even the strongest person to not tear up at least a little bit, watching as the shackles that binded him are removed on order of the prosecutor in the case. The look of joy on Bozella’s face, the tears that begin streaming from his eyes show so many emotions all packed into one man. It’s one of the film’s most touching moments.
Even in ending his incarceration, Bozella’s determination hadn’t died. Having been a boxer while being in prison, he made it a personal goal to earn his professional boxing license and step into the ring for at least one professional match. The film documents his personal fight to earn his license, too. One can’t help but be amazed at Bozella’s drive to try and earn his license, and feel sympathy for him when he’s given his first evaluation. His anger is fully justified. When he does finally earn his license, it only serves to make his earlier frustrations that much more justified and powerful. The support offered by Bozella’s wife through everything proves the old adage true: Next to every great man is an even greater woman. That she stuck by him through everything shows the power of her love, and the impact that that support had on his journey.
Bozella’s determination obviously had quite the impact on not just those close to him, but to those nationwide, including even the President of The United States himself, Barack Obama. Director Jose Morales includes a segment in the film that documents the call that Bozella received from the President when his story had gained national attention. The look on his face and on that of his wife tells the whole story of how they both felt. Again, it’s proof of this underdog overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds. But that wasn’t the ultimate moment in this underdog story. That moment comes when he finally earns his license, and is cleared to box in the one match that he had dreamed of fighting during all those years boxing in prison. Watching Bozella and his friends walk into the arena, lightbulbs flashing, ring lights shining, was like something out of a major motion picture. It was one more of the truly moving moments in this work.
Ultimately, it’s revealed that Bozella retired after his one fight, undefeated. He even went on to start a foundation for children. If this isn’t the ultimate culmination to one of the most powerful underdog stories in sports history, then it’s anyone’s guess as to what is. After having lost so much years ago, here is a man in his 50’s who has gained back everything that he lost, and perhaps even then some. All told, “26 Years: The Dewey Bozella Story” is both heartwrenching and heartwarming. It’s a story about hope. It’s a story about determination. And it’s a story of second chances. It’s one of those stories that sports fan or not, will touch audiences of all ages for all time.