Boxing Documentary ‘TitleShot’ A Compelling Time Capsule
It’s a time capsule, and a head trip if you know the faces that pop onto the screen. There’s Bobby Cassidy Sr, there’s Bobby Cassidy Jr, versions of them as they appeared to the world in 1995, when director Gaylen Ross got footage for a project focusing on Uganda native Godfrey Nyakana, a junior middleweight who had high hopes to keep on progressing to the point where he’d be in the mix for title shots and beefier purses. “TitleShot” illustrates vividly the rollercoaster ride of the prospect turned contender who grinds to receive an opportunity which will make the toil worthwhile.
The opening sequence shows Nyakana in a dressing room at the Music Fair in Westbury, Long Island, as he counted down to a junior middleweight clash against journeyman Darryl Lattimore. No spoiled alert needed—Nyakana scored a UD10 victory and at the time, film-maker Ross thought that momentum would continue. Those inevitable hurdles, Nyakana didn’t know what he’d face. His trainer Cassidy Sr had no way to know, but he'd been informed by his own ‘coaster ride of a career, which saw him rise to world class level, but unable to get over that hump to get a title crack. And that rollercoaster analogy fits for Ross, who kept collecting footage and didn’t get put off by the snail-slow process of getting the film into shape to present as a movie. To Ross’s immense credit, she didn’t accept that this project wasn’t to be, and kept hope alive that “TitleShot” would get to that promised land, completed and released.
Back in 2015, I edited TheSweetScience.com, a boxing website. We posted a release on the boxing documentary TitleShot in August of 2015, when Ross did a Kickstarter fund raising campaign to finish the process.
“For 20 years the film negative of this remarkable documentary TitleShot – probably the last to be shot entirely on 16mm film– has been in cold storage. Life and circumstances had interrupted its completion, and other award-winning documentaries were made in the meantime. Now a Kickstarter campaign is launched by filmmaker Gaylen Ross to finally finish this film. The good news is that the lapse of two decades has allowed for a unique time capsule: a window into a boxing era now gone. Much of TitleShot was filmed at New York’s world-famous Gleason’s Gym during a very exciting era when the place was filled with World Champions and contenders,” read the release, which touted appearances by notables like Shane Mosely, legendary cut man Al Gavin and Muhammad Ali trainer Angelo Dundee.
So, what ever did become of the former Commonwealth games gold-medal winner, Godfrey Nyakana, who travelled 3 hours on the subway from a basement apartment in the East Bronx to the famed and fabled Gleason’s? Before we get to that, more about Ross’s captures from back in the day.
On the Nyakana Come Up , The Mood Is Light and Bright
Nyakana is seen, after getting an intro from younger Cassidy Jr, at a RING 8 meeting, introducing himself to fight game lifers at a gathering of the NY social club which aids former fighters. “I’m so happy to see all these ex fighters,” says the Ugandan prospect. “You all look great, the pioneers of what we bring today.”
Cut to Nyakana vs Lattimore, shot on 16mm film, with the late Wayne Kelly inside as the third man in the ring. For sure, how you see the film will depend on the depth of your familiarity with the stars. Long Islanders steeped in the history of Cassidy Sr will feel, probably, a mix of sadness and fondness at seeing the trainer dispensing advice to Nyakana. Cassidy Sr passed away in December 2022. Kelly died in February 2012. And so on and so forth. Time capsules are meant to be soaked in, to inform people of bygone eras, and give physical examples of what life was like when that capsule got buried.
Me watching, every so often I’d be thrilled to see an acquaintance or a friend, like Bob Mladinich, onscreen. There’s Mladinich in the dressing room, notebook and pen in hand, asking Nyakana postfight how close he thinks he is to achieving “the American Dream.”
“I’ll make it,” Nyakana insists, as long as he maintains the focus he felt in the summer of 1995.
Poignancy is a pillar of the of this boxing documentary. Seeing footage of Agapito Sanchez looking trim and ready to rumble, juxtaposed with the knowledge that Sanchez got gunned down in 2005, at age 35, that’s impossible to shrug off.
But there are mini thrills to be felt. Yes, that’s Bruce Silverglade working the phone, then as now. “It all depends on what we’re talking about, who we’re talking about, McNeeley is very, very limited in ability, so he’s not gonna fight anybody unless he’s getting paid a lot of money,” he says, in reference to, maybe, a fight for Riddick Bowe. Silverglade offers advice, pertinent then and now, that all involved should be aware that boxing is a business. “Everybody has a dream, the kids on the street have a dream, if that happens to be in the sport of boxing, then that’s what their dream is. Whether they’ll realize that or not, for the most part, they won’t.”
True then, and now.
Silverglade then/now isn’t prone to reflexive optimism, he understands that sentiment shouldn’t inform business decisions. On the other side, Cassidy Sr allows himself barely restrained optimism, as he should, because he’s tasked with helping Nyakana get to a place of increased prominence.
How many of the kids with large dreams listened to the wise heads in this boxing documentary talking about the rough odds, about the need to sacrifice mightily to get high up that ladder? Well, most listened, probably, but they couldn’t know the depth of wisdom dispensed until they learned for themselves.
Ross had a choice, to stick to “then” or refresh, with newer footage. She opted to insert present day talent into this boxing documentary, so we see Tom Loeffler, handling Gennadiy Golovkin, who back in 1995 was overseeing Nyakana, weigh in.
Loeffler explains that it’s been hard to get fights for Nyakana, but it’s easier to get him work on the West Coast rather than the East Coast. “When you train at Gleason’s and you’re one of the best fighters at Gleason’s, word gets around real quick…They’re asking for way too much money. It’s like three times what the fight would be worth in order to fight someone of Godfrey’s caliber, because they know pretty much going into the fight, they’re going to lose the fight, and that’s how much they want in order to get a loss on their record.” And, probably, the further downside of getting whacked around.
A May 1996 step up fight against Jose ‘Shibata’ Flores is examined. Cassidy Sr, shot ringside at the hotel prior to the scrap, is upbeat about the team’s chances to get the W in Los Angeles, at the Forum. Prep work, including Nyakana’s session with a young Shane Mosley, then 25, is shown. His dad/trainer Jack Mosley is in full on optimism mode, telling the crew that his kid has been compared to greats like Sugar Ray Robinson. He warns that families can get fractured when folks try to split father and son, with money usually being the main motivator for treachery. The two teams part with Shane telling Nyakana that, “There’s no way Flores is as fast as me,” with a big grin.
We see a primer on the career of Cassidy Sr–click here to read an ultra solid piece by Mladinich explaining about Cassidy Sr–who was a more than fair light heavy in the 60s into the 70s. He never got a title crack, even though his talent would have afforded him that opportunity in future eras. “Back then there was only one champion, so your chances to fight a champion were slim,” Cassidy, then 52, explains. “It’s a lot easier (now),” he states, admitting that a Nyakana could get to a title shot without having to meet and beat any world beaters.
The Story Takes Turn, Nyakana Tastes Defeat, Can He Rebound?
Then, to fight night; it’s a Monday night, the Forum faithful are looking forward to a Hector Quiroz (20-1) v Ameth Aranda (12-2) super lightweight battle. Nyakana versus Flores is a support bout. In round one, Nyakana is the busier man, as the lefty Mexican Flores assesses what he has in front of him. The blow by blow man notes that Nyakana can be touched, he will go down, but history indicates he gets to his feet, and usually triumphs. “Don’t pull back, keep the hands up,” Cassidy tells Nyakana after the first. “Especially early in the fight…”
To round two—Flores makes Nyakana miss, and he lands clean with both hands to start things off. A clipping right hook from Flores sends Nyakana to the mat, face first. He gets up, at 8, and raises his hands, to fight on. Nyakana seeks to clinch, to buy time to regain his senses, but Flores is insistent. The Ugandan tries like hell to duck, and weave and get through the hellfire—but he hits the deck again, this time on his butt, with 1:05 left in the session. He tries to get aloft, but leans, and the ref sees that, and waves his hands, it’s over.
Ross in this boxing documentary captures the sad walk to the dressing room for Nyakana and company. Flores is surrounded by media asking him about his victory, and Nyakana is not surrounded. He sits on a metal chair in a listless dressing room, head buried in a towel. Loeffler takes a seat next to the losing boxer and asks about that first knockdown blow. “Didn’t see that right hook coming,” he asks. No answer from Nyakana, the answer is immaterial.
Cassidy and Loeffler process the match as we see slo mo replays of Flores’ well timed and chosen power punch. “Subconsciously, did he wanna be there,” Cassidy asks rhetorically of Nyakana. “Does he have the desire to come back?”
Loeffler says in the next 6-8 months, that title shot would probably have beckoned for Nyakana. Losing, like this, it hurts more than a breakup with a romantic partner, Cassidy continues. Now, the film switches, from a story of hope, with a mood informed by the probability of a payoff. Now it’s a study in how to live life for the rest of us, how to respond to a bitter blow. Cassidy has been there, he can’t not admit it, now he worries if Nyakana’s chin can hold up. Can Nayakana keep mentally right enough to try to get back to being on the cusp of big things…AND can his body/brain, now compromised, hold up under duress?
Ross captures the fighter processing the loss with the Cassidys, with Bobby remembering what it would be like when dad lost. The house would be quiet, he states. Senior is looking to get insight into Nyakana when he speculates that if he’d been able to get out of the round. He’s wanting to hear the boxers’ explanation about the finish, probably wanting to hear him say, “Never again.” The trainer says that it’s best if too much time didn’t pass before the Ugandan got back on the bronco.
He does get back on; Nyakana would go on to have six more bouts in total, as a pro.
There is a break, from 1998 to 2003, and the hitter has his final outing on Dec. 13, 2003. I will hold off on summarizing the final chapters of the Nyakana’s pro foray, so you can watch for yourself. To that end, I asked producer Ross about the status of her boxing documentary and when and where more of the masses could watch it: “TitleShot has yet to have its world premiere,” Ross said. “Our aim is to launch the feature-length documentary in film festivals, and hopefully to be available for sports audiences on streaming services/channels like DAZN, ESPN, Showtime or Fox. We feel that TitleShot unlike other boxing films is an everyman story – And that even non-boxing fans, can be drawn to Godfrey’s immigrant dream in America in his quest for a title. TitleShot is near completion with the final postproduction still to be done – color correct, final graphics, sound design and mixing, etc.”