“The Contender” is a story of a girl named Patty Sullivan. She is the victim of domestic violence. The movie opens with her on again, off again boyfriend shows up to repo her car in an attempt to make her come back to him. She is still showing signs of his handiwork when he shows up and tells her if she comes back she can have her SUV. June, a boxing ring girl sees this and it’s the only reason, Jack doesn’t do more than take the truck. When June’s boss shows up he sees Patty and feels sorry for her. He offers her the opportunity to eat a good meal. Patty ends up working a boxing match that night with June. She meets the boxer, who loses, Tommy Moran because he is also a limo driver who drives as a way to help run his boxing gym in a bad part of town. It’s the only home some of the kids who use the gym know and it keeps them off the street.
He coaches the boys and one little girl the rules of boxing and the honor in being a competitor rather than a gangster. The little girl used to have a bad stutter and was often tortured by the other kids at her school. Once she started to train to box, her self-esteem grew when she was able to defend herself against some bigger girls, and the stutter disappeared. This was a major selling point for Patty when she decided she wanted to learn to defend herself against Jack when she, like most battered women let the psychological torture Jack put her through to move back in with him. She believed him when he said that she couldn’t do any better and it was his love that made him want her to learn better but still be under his thumb.
Tommy is street smart enough to know she’s running from someone but since she won’t tell him what the problem is so he gets his student trainer, Pasquale to put her through his last two training circuits for the day. She can barely keep up physically but her heart and desire to not be a victim makes her force her way through it until the last set of pushups when she gets up and starts working the heavy bag. Tommy freaks out, not knowing the situation, and yells at the two of them for letting her on the heavy bag without gloves. Patty almost breaks her hand the way she wails on the bag and this further increases Tommy’s belief there is something besides fitness or fun inspiring her wanting to learn to box. When he sees the way she turns inward but gets mad at his yelling he has a good feeling of what she’s running from and apologizes for yelling. He tapes her hand and gives her some Epsom salt to soak her hand in. He then explains his temper was because she could have broken every bone in her hand.
Tommy has his own troubles. The boxing promoter who has been paying the mortgage on the gym decides he wants to turn the club into a strip club. Tommy fights for his kids and tells him that they have a tournament in two weeks and gets more time. He tells him that he has some real competitors shaping up, including Pasquale who really has the desire to do better than his parents who often mistreat him and kick him out because he doesn’t want to follow in his father’s footsteps. It is implied that his father is something less than a hard working blue collar dad like some of the other students. Patty decides she wants to see what it’s like to compete and even though she doesn’t even weigh a fourth of what her opponent does she is in pure rage after getting hit. Her opponent is a heavyweight and her trainer lied to Tommy and claimed that they had a girl closer to Patty’s feather weight size. She ends up winning on points and the sleazy promoter decides he could make some serious money on a boxer who is also pretty. Of course this was the days before Bridget “Baby Doll” Riley, Rhonda Rousey, and Gina Carano were major names in previously male dominated sports.
Tommy is worried about Patty’s anger problem and tells the promoter she’s not ready so he puts her into heavy training with Pasquale as they are his two most promising students, not realizing yet that he’s developing feelings for her.
She starts winning amateur fights and then when Jack follows her, they have a big fight. When he goes to hit her she puts her hands up like Tommy taught her and defends herself. He makes fun of her and she tries to run to June. June has a small apartment and has a guy over. She doesn’t know why June is putting herself through all of this. She is worried how Patty will look when she is old and her career is over. (Just for the record Google Bridget Riley & Gina Carano, nothing wrong with them. Bridgett was an inspiration & good mentor when I started bjj)
So she ends up with Tommy. He says nothing can happen between a trainer and his fighter. They need to trust each other because a trainer has to protect his fighter. She doesn’t believe it and they sleep together. It helps her work ethic until Jack shows up with her trophy. He glued most of it back together and it gets her head out of the game. Tommy is upset about it and it throws her off in her pro fight too.
He is able to keep his feelings for her as his girlfriend separate from that of his boxer until her first pro fight when she has to fight a retired State Trooper turned Golden Gloves amateur champion, Red Lennox. Tommy swears she’s not ready and they have a little bit of an argument. In the second round with both of them, Patty and Red Lennox tied for points, Patty stops listening to Tommy. When Patty’s eyebrow is split and she’s not listening he throws in the towel startling everyone. Patty stopped listening of course when Jack shows up with a date. She asks Jack if he likes to fight and he’s like no, just supporting a friend. He’s lying of course. Abusive jerks never change.
Patty dumps him, moves out, and says she’s done fighting with him and in the ring. The promoter gets the bank to foreclose on the gym since Patty quit. Tommy declares he’s going to fight him and he will not sign the mortgage to the bank. So the promoter decides he’s going to burn the gym down. Tommy is angry and upset about the gym both because now he’s kids have nowhere to go and because this was the place that taught him to be a man rather than a bum. He makes the comment that the promoter will get his insurance.
Patty shows up after hearing about the gym and tells him that they can fix the place up. He doesn’t know how when Pasquale is to young and she, as his only pro quit. She smirks and says “quit fighting, not boxing. There is a difference right?”
Tommy wants to know where they stand and are they getting back together. She smiles and tells him they discuss that after the rematch before disappearing into the gym to start cleaning up. He follows her laughing, knowing she’s taking him back.
The best part in the whole movie happens the night the gym is burnt down. June takes Patty out to try and help her get her mind off of everything. Only Jack shows up and tells her thanks for losing he made some money off of betting against her. He tries to provoke her and she smirks at him. “Now that I know what I could do to you, I realize you’re not worth it.” She and June then spin on their heels and saunter out of the bar.