Top of the Docs #7 – ‘Losers’ (2019) Puts Sport on the Sideline and Shines a Spotlight on Humanity

TW: Suicide

On the whole, sports documentaries are made for sports fans. The ‘behind the curtain’ trope can often shed a new light on the stuff you don’t see on TV, but it can also leave audiences alienated if they don’t know the sport that well. Directed by Mickey Duzyj, Losers is a Netflix produced docuseries that focuses on the human side of sport, making it extremely accessible to everyone, regardless of previous sporting knowledge.

The eight-part series looks at a different sport each episode: boxing, football (soccer), figure skating, curling, ultra-marathon running, dog sled racing, basketball, and golf. The average viewer will probably have a passable knowledge of three of those sports at most, more likely just one or two. But Losers breaks down the barrier of inaccessibility by putting the sport on the side-line, so to speak, and letting the human story be the main event. It’s not about sport; it’s about people.

There is always an individual at the centre of the episode, and it is their story that the documentary revolves around. Each individual has experienced the highs – and more importantly, the lows – in their respective sports. Losers masters the art of pulling the rug from underneath the viewer’s feet, painting a rosy picture through first person narration and fitting animation, before violently dragging you back down to earth.

Does the name Michael Bentt ring a bell? Probably not. It will after you watch ‘The Miscast Champion’, the first episode of Losers. The sport – boxing – has barely been mentioned in the episode before we get to see the emotion that drives the story. Bentt recalls the abuse he received as a child from his father to force him into boxing.

“Boxing’s not a sport. It’s an act of survival.”

The background of the story is laid out through emotional interviews. Then, the ‘high point’ that comes with sport arrives in the story. Bentt was a four-time NYC Golden Glove Champion, and a five-time national champion. He turned pro; he was on his way to the top. Then, he was knocked out in the first round by Jerry Jones. His world flipped upside down. Heavy drinking, self-loathing, and suicidal thoughts followed.

Losers follows Bentt’s rise from his rock bottom – from spending an evening with a gun in his mouth to sparring with Evander Holyfield. Ten professional victories arrive during his comeback, capped off with a surprise victory over Tommy Morrison – heavyweight champion of the world. Bentt was back on top.

Out of nowhere, he hit rock bottom again. A shock defeat to virtual nobody Herbie Hide left Bentt in a coma. Luckily, he woke up. Two years later, he was cast as Sonny Liston opposite Will Smith in Ali (2001). From his first taste in Hollywood, he went on to train people in the entertainment industry, eventually directing his own show ‘Kid Shamrock’ on Broadway.

The raw emotion of the docuseries drives each episode home, forcing you to invest something into the person at the heart of the story. No lack of sports knowledge is going to stop you from engaging in the incredible stories. You don’t need to know sport to know human emotion, and Losers perfectly captures the rise-and-fall nature of life, complete with the ‘rise again’ tying up the end of each episode, like with Michael Bentt’s story.

It isn’t about how many times we get knocked down, its about how many times we get back up; that’s the sentiment in the soul of Losers. Anyone from any background can look at these eight stories and see a bit of themselves in there. Losers sits in the darkness of humanity, bides its time, and rushes out with blinding light.

The problems confronted in Losers are ones that we all come across in our daily lives. The questions it ponders are those that we constantly plague ourselves with: Where do I go from my lowest point? Is there a place for me here? Is this really all that life has to give? What if I’m not good enough? It holds up a mirror – albeit an extreme one – to the issues we all face.

Mickey Duzyj’s incredible way of storytelling through animation and illustration of anecdotes, combined with empathetic interviews, compels you to watch more, wanting to know more about the episode’s stories and how each person overcame their darkest days.

Losers isn’t the first docuseries of its kind, but it is certainly the best example of it. Never before has the niche of sport been opened to a wider audience on such as scale and made so perfectly accessible to everyone.

Image credit: Netflix, Mickey Duzyj