When Frank Bruno finally won a world title strap at his fourth attempt he defeated the deeply troubled Oliver McCall a man who would go on to have a nervous breakdown in the ring in losing his rematch to Lennox Lewis. Unlike his earlier triumphs on terrestrial TV his win over McCall wasn’t widely celebrated – outside of the boxing hardcore nobody was watching. 6 months later in his first defence he received the second of two heroic shallackings from Mike Tyson to end both his brief reign and his career. Boredom, withdrawal, divorce and insanity followed. McCall for his part would do several stints in rehab. Boxing may have saved the lives of some of its participants but it also has a habit of drowning them in shit.
In Rachel Bruno: My Dad and Me his daughter Rachel tries to make some sense out of it all. She doesn’t quite get there. Bruno’s bipolar disorder has him on powerful mood stabilisers – a regime he’s not comfortable on. “I don’t want to be like a zombie for the rest of my life” he tells Rachel and while she can sympathise she saw him at his worst. The oft-quoted story of Bruno sleeping in a boxing ring in the garden is true and it took police 9 hours to get him in the ambulance when he was first sectioned. It took the biggest toll on older sister Nicola who had to sign the papers for his sectioning. It was 8 years before he could talk to Nicola again. For nice guy he knows how to bear a grudge.
Bruno is not a great subject. The carefully cultivated persona of scripted ad-libs and baritone chuckles only get you so far when describing something this complex, personal and painful.
And here’s the problem with the documentary: Bruno is not a great subject. The carefully cultivated persona of scripted ad-libs and baritone chuckles only get you so far when describing something this complex, personal and painful. Rachel asks Frank what his manic phase is like and he can’t articulate it. Stephen Fry could but he articulates for a living. Let’s see him go 7 rounds with young Lennox Lewis. If we’re talking boxers with mental health issues Ricky Hatton – more voluble, more open – would be a better bet.
And it’s a big enough subject. A boxing and mental health discussion could cover Edwin Valero, Johnny Tapia, Randolph Turpin, Najai Turpin, Alexis Arguello and many others.
Bruno and his daughter together is a nice idea. It just doesn’t quite come off.
The verdict: No decision.
Marks out of 10: 6