“Ring of Faith” film focuses on link between boxing and religion

Boxing and religion meet in the center of the ring in the new film “Ring of Faith,” a documentary that powerfully portrays the link between the sport of boxing and the practice of religion.

The documentary from Virgil Films opened on Tuesday, July 23 according to DeSales Media Group, the communications arm of the Catholic Diocese.

Craig Tubiolo, programming and production director at DeSales Media and host of NET TV’s “Walk in Faith,” produced “Ring of Faith.”

Tubiolo was born and raised in Bensonhurst, went to Bishop Ford High School and graduated from St. Francis College. He was nominated for an Emmy Award in the Sports Documentary Category this past May. The film was recognized at the Catholic Press Association Conference last month.

The film features actor Mario Lopez, former professional boxer Paulie Malignaggi, two-time welterweight world champion boxer Shawn Porter, Vatican officials, Showtime Sports President Stephen Espinoza and Brooklyn’s own Msgr. David Cassato, pastor of St. Athanasius Church in Bensonhurst, among others.

Tubiolo calls “Ring of Faith” an impactful movie connecting the power of God with the strength of boxing professionals. “This film showcases boxers who have been gifted by God, and have used their talent to steer others to a successful path,” said Tubiolo.

Tubiolo took the time to talk to the Home Reporter about his career, his faith and his new film.

Home Reporter: How did you come up with the theme for your film comparing boxing and religion? I know you said that you had a vision about producing a film on this topic 10 years ago. Please explain the road it took to finally get it done.

Tubiolo: Ten years ago, I had the vision to produce a film that’s centered on what happens inside of a boxing ring, from the viewpoint of it being life’s stage. At the moment a boxer steps into the ring, they only see red and black colors in the corners. Everything else is left ringside. With the release of this film, it is my hope that this message will reach across religion and culture.

Home Reporter: You were able to get some major celebrities like Mario Lopez, and noted clergy to express their thoughts on the subject. How were you able to that?

Tubiolo: Well, it’s all God. When I had the idea and started telling people about it the doors just started opening. It was all just God intervening from the beginning. Somebody would tell somebody else about it and then Stephen Espinoza at Showtime found out and the doors kept on opening. My wife showed me a picture of Pope Francis holding a boxing belt and Mario Lopez posted it. So I thought that was interesting and it kind of affirmed it. About a year later, I wound up interviewing Mario Lopez and I told him the story, and then we got to go to the Vatican. So all of these things lined up and the whole time I could see God’s hand was there.

Home Reporter: You don’t always initially think of boxers or other sports figures as being purveyors of faith but then you realize even legends like Muhammad Ali, who you mention in the film, were very faith-oriented individuals.

“Ring of Faith” producer Craig Tubiolo with Showtime Sports President Stephen Espinoza.

Tubiolo: You know, I don’t have an agenda. The whole purpose of this film is to unite people through sports and show boxers and fighters and not the usual stereotypes. We also show that boxing is a violent sport and we talk about that a lot, but we highlight it in a different way. Everyone helped in their own way. Floyd Mayweather is in the film, Mario Lopez, the Pope, Vatican officials, Rabbi (Joseph) Potasnik, and the list goes on and on. Everyone had the same thing to say. They believe it all came from God and it was their job to fulfill that purpose.

Home Reporter: Did you find any boxers or commentators averse to your thesis? Did anyone feel that there was a breakdown between a sport that encourages violence and faith that encourages peace?

Tubiolo: Yes, there were some that said they struggled with it. Some said that it was difficult and they would go in the ring and pray that they wouldn’t hurt their opponent; that they couldn’t live with themselves if they really hurt somebody. But also if they’re following the rules of the game, it’s not a thing. It’s when you take it and go beyond the rules of the game that it becomes a problem.

You see in the film that I don’t take a side. But after doing the film, I realized they do get hurt and sometimes it does bother me, but I don’t take a side and say, ‘Oh, boxing is a sin’ for example. I think it’s all about the intentions of the fighter, but I do hope that one day it’s a little bit safer because there are long-term effects, and you can die in the ring, and maybe this film can help that and make people stop and think after seeing what happens. We show exactly what happens. We’re very honest in the film. We talk about what happens to the brain and we talk to doctors who treat the fighters and do the autopsies.

Home Reporter: What do you hope audiences take away from the film?

Tubiolo: I want people to see past the average differences that some of us struggle with. You know boxers believe that everyone’s a brother. They don’t care what religion you are, what ethnicity or background or demographic; they’re all brothers. So, we can learn a lot from boxers about how to get along. Let’s use boxing or sports as way of communicating. What it does is create a conversation and help us see past our differences through this interesting thing that we share which is boxing.

Home Reporter: How does being from Brooklyn factor into the film and your other works?

Tubiolo: Being from Brooklyn definitely taught me a lot about ambition and drive and entrepreneurship. I’ve been working since I was a little kid, picking up cans with my grandfather and selling newspapers. I had a strong work ethic. My parents didn’t have much but they tried to give us everything they could. My grandfather and grandmother helped instill my faith. We had to go to church every Sunday. All those values and that foundation is what I use now. Growing up in Brooklyn taught me a great deal, and my foundation was definitely formed there.

Filmmaker Craig Tubiolo with two-time welterweight world champion boxer Shawn Porter.

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