The film starts in a locker room as boxer Billy "The Great" Hope's (Jake Gyllenhaal) team gets him prepped for his match. He's blasting music to himself while his hands get wrapped up and gloved. Billy's wife Maureen, aka Mo (Rachel McAdams) comes in and sees Billy right before he goes up. Both of them grew up as orphans in Hell's Kitchen before meeting each other and have managed to hold each other up.
Billy fights against Darius Jones (Cedric D. Jones) at Madison Square Garden. Maureen gets scared for her husband as Billy takes some hits to the face, resulting in a lot of bleeding. Billy employs a brutal, fast-paced fighting style against Jones. Swiftly but surely, Billy knocks Jones down, winning the match and earning the Junior Middleweight title. Despite the victory, he has a nasty eye injury and he keeps bleeding. Afterwards, as the press surrounds Billy, a younger upstart boxer, Miguel "Magic" Escobar (Miguel Gomez), comes in and demands Billy to fight him in the ring, claiming Billy's never been hit by a real man.
Billy and Maureen go home to their daughter Leila (Oona Laurence). While she also doesn't like how much Billy gets hurt, she still supports him the same way her mom does, and she loves her dad as much as he loves her. Maureen expresses her fears for Billy's safety and thinks he should quit while he's ahead or he'll end up punch-drunk in two years, which he understands. They then make love.
We see the Hope family in their stylish home with Billy's friends while Maureen sunbathes and talks to Billy's manager Jordan Mains (50 Cent). He wants to get Billy more fights, even though Maureen doesn't.
Billy and Maureen go to a fundraiser ball where Billy gives a speech, acknowledging Jordan, his boys, Leila, and Maureen. Later, Miguel catches Billy and starts to taunt him. He tells him, "How 'bout I take your bitch and your belt?" Maureen tells him to ignore that, but Billy can't. He walks over to Miguel and socks him in the face, leading to a brawl between them and both their entourages. One of Billy's boys takes out a gun, but a shot rings out without him pulling the trigger. Billy looks over and sees that Maureen's been hit. Miguel is equally horrified and sees it was his brother Hector that fired the shot. He takes Hector's gun and hides it before fleeing. Billy holds Maureen and begs her to hold on, but she slowly succumbs to the wound.
Utterly devastated by Maureen's death, Billy screams into his bed with a gun sitting on it. He loads it and heads out to look for Miguel and Hector. Billy's friend Jon Jon (Beau Knapp) goes over and knows what he's going to do. When he tries to stop Billy, he holds Jon Jon at gunpoint and tells him to go away. Billy then drives to Hector's apartment to find his junkie wife Maria (Rita Ora). He asks for Hector and holds the gun at Maria until she brings her kids out. Billy walks away as she asks for a hit of something.
Billy meets with his accountant and Jordan because Billy is losing money and may need to sell the house. Jordan tries to help out by booking Billy a fight. During the fight, Billy gets knocked around badly. To make things worse, he punches the ref in the face out of anger, breaking the man's nose. This leads to his suspension from boxing.
Billy starts abusing drugs as he keeps looking for Hector. One night, he runs his car into the tree outside his home. The alarm wakes Leila up, and she goes downstairs to find Billy lying on the floor, bleeding. She cries for help and then calls 911. Billy wakes up in the hospital and is told that Leila is with Child Services.
The house gets repossessed, as do all of Billy's possessions. He goes to a court hearing where it is determined that due to his recent reckless behavior, he is unfit to be taking care of Leila, and for the time being, she will be placed into protective custody. Billy tries to hug Leila as she's being taken away, but the guards hold him back while Leila yells for her dad.
With nowhere left to go, a forgiving Jon Jon drives Billy to the Wills Gym where he meets former boxer Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker), who is blind in one eye after his last fight got him injured. Billy wants Tick to get him back on his feet, but Tick knows of what Billy's been through and what he's been doing, so he is hesitant to let him stick around. He offers Billy a janitorial job, but Billy refuses.
Billy goes to the Child Services building and meets with a social worker, Angela Rivera (Naomie Harris). He admits that he's a mess but he still wants to see Leila. He is allowed time to see her but she doesn't look happy to see him. She outright tells her dad "You fucked up", and lets him know it's his fault they're both in this situation.
Billy returns to the gym and accepts the job. While working there, he befriends a kid named Hoppy (Skylan Brooks), who is also an aspiring boxer. He learns that Hoppy has trouble at home with his father abusing his mother, which he reports to Tick. Billy continues bonding with Tick, despite the latter's grumpiness and Billy's temper.
As he continues to improve socially and personally, Billy tries to visit Leila. She doesn't want to see him one day, and other days she will have him help her with schoolwork and then coldly leave him alone.
Billy gets a visit from Jordan, who now manages Miguel. Jordan wants to put on the fight between the two men within six weeks, knowing what kind of business it could bring. Billy thinks it could be his shot back to the top and wants Tick to train him for a comeback, but Tick knows why he really wants to do it, and he refuses to train Billy.
Billy visits Leila again to tell her about the fight. She wants to see him fight but it's beyond his control to allow her to let her watch him. Angry, Leila starts slapping Billy, blaming him again for what he's put them through and telling him that it should've been him that died instead of Maureen.
Billy goes back to the gym to find Tick furiously going at a punching bag. He tells Billy that Hoppy is dead after trying to defend his mother from his father, and the man shot him. Tick breaks down and laments the fact that he couldn't save the boy. This inspires him to step up and help Billy train and get back into shape for the fight. The two go over the next few weeks with some intense training, but Billy never slows down.
The judge grants Billy the right to bring Leila over to his new apartment. She's still upset with him, until she asks him if they can visit Maureen's grave. There, Billy tells Leila he's going to fight, and he says he is able to bring her to watch him.
The night of the fight comes, with thousands of people ready to see Billy's return. Angela brings Leila into a room at the arena where they watch from the TV. Tick and the rest of Billy's crew stand by the ring to help Billy. The fight commences, and Miguel starts to rock Billy's face in. His eye gets really messed up but he's still able to see clearly. Miguel gets in Billy's head by bringing up Maureen and nearly getting Billy to go savage on him until Tick tells him not to let Miguel control him. Billy gets his head in the game and starts to improve his defense before getting in some good punches. Soon, he delivers a sweet punch to Miguel's face, bringing him down. Miguel gets back on his feet before the round is over. After a close decision, Billy is announced as the new champion. Tick, Leila, and countless others cheer the man on.
After the fight, Leila goes to Billy in the locker room, where they hug for the first time in a long time. Billy says Maureen would be proud of Leila. She tells him she loves him and they continue to embrace.
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