Dickey Ekland (Christian Bale) and Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) are two blue collar workers being followed by an HBO documentary team. Dickey was a prominent boxer known all around as the Pride of Lowell for a famous boxing match which was the highlight of his career. Actively claiming to be training for his comeback, he also helps train his brother Micky for his boxing matches.
Micky is determined to win his next match sponsored by HBO. His mother and manager, Alice Ekland, takes the family out to a bar where Micky spends his time admiring the bartender, Charlene (Amy Adams). His father, George, tells him to go over and talk to her and Micky asks her for a date. Initially, Charlene is hesitant, assuming that he is a married man looking to find something on the side. Micky tells her that he’s not married but has a young daughter with an ex. He tells her that he’s going to win his next match and asks for a date for that Saturday. Charlene agrees and gives him her phone number.
The next morning, Micky prepares to fly out to Atlantic City for his match but Alice is unable to find Dickey. Micky and the family go visit a house that Dickey has been known to frequent. Dickey is inside taking hits of crack from a bottle and when he hears his family outside, he jumps out of a window into a pile of trash. He tells Micky to drive by the house in 10 minutes but George arrives and tries to punch Dickey for being stupid. Dickey punches George in the face but Micky and Alice drag him to the limo.
In Atlantic City, Micky finds out that the opponent he’s been training to fight has gotten the flu and cannot fight. Instead, Micky is told to fight a different fighter who is “fresh off the couch.” Instead, Micky is put up against a boxer 20-30 lbs bigger and is thoroughly beaten. After the bout, Micky is approached by a manager who is willing to pay him to train and fight in his corner. Micky turns him down because he loves his family, but has reservations about doing so.
Saturday comes and goes and Micky stands up Charlene out of shame. She goes over to his house and demands an explanation. He asks how she knows where he lives and then tells her the truth: He was ashamed. He wanted to win the fight and told everyone he would. He was disappointed that he let his daughter down since he told her he was going to use the money he won to buy a bigger apartment so that he could have her over more. Charlene changes his bandages and the two go out on a date. Micky takes her to a Lexington theater which specialize in art house movies but he falls asleep and Charlene doesn’t know what the hell he took her to. He apologizes saying that he didn’t feel like showing his face around Lowell. She kisses him out of compassion and they go back to his place.
Alice and Micky’s sisters talk about Charlene, a college drop-out, which makes them feel like she thinks she’s better than them. Micky brings her over but she doesn’t get along with his sisters and Alice. She suggests that Micky go and take the offer to get paid and train but Alice gets offended, claiming that any other manager would try to screw him over. Dickie comes over and tells Micky that if he needs to be paid to train, Dickie will find a way to make it happen. Dickie begins a prostitution scam where his Cambodian girlfriend would solicit costumers and Dickie would impersonate a cop to shake down the clients. An angry victim calls the police and Dickie is chased around Lowell. After punching several officers they decide to bring him down with force. Micky hears about the commotion and abandons Charlene with George and his sisters to go and see what is happening to his brother. The cops quickly push him against a car and break his hand, claiming that he was being disorderly.
At the arraignment, Micky is pissed that his hand is broken and let go on bond. Dickie is incarcerated and sentenced to several months in jail. He says goodbye to his young son and is sent to away to do his time. Once Micky’s hand heals he debates quitting. He visits Charlene but she doesn’t want to see him, upset that she was abandoned for Dickie. She tells him from the intercom of her apartment that he’s fooling himself if he thinks he can just quit. The two eventually reconcile and with George’s help, Micky is able to find a new manager, which upsets Alice. Micky begins training for his next match with a former boxer who agrees to train him on the condition that Dickie not be brought back.
Prior to the match, Micky visits Dickie in prison. Dickie has been sober for several months, haunted by the fact that the documentary that aired on him was about crack use and showed his young son crying for him at the arraignment. Having realized that crack was messing up his life, Dickie has avoided it. He tells Micky that the only way to win is to wear out his opponent and take the punishment for a few rounds before finishing him off using his new coach’s strategy. Micky refuses to listen at first and leaves.
During the fight however, Micky uses his brother’s advice to obtain a victory. He goes on to win several more fights which eventually land him a chance at the world heavyweight championship in England.
Dickie is released from prison and asks Micky to spar. The two spar and Micky decimates him quickly by hitting Dickie in his bad back. Dickie wants to help Micky prepare but it wasn’t part of the deal and Micky says he can’t. When Dickie asks if Micky would have won without his advice, Micky doesn’t deny it which pisses off Charlene and his coach, both of whom leave him. Dickie gets pissed that Micky won’t let him continue training him and punches a locker. He takes his welcome back cake and leaves, heading toward the crack house. But when he reaches the house, he has a change of heart, leaving the cake with the junkies and instead going to Charlene’s house. He tells her that Micky needs them both and that he just wants to help his brother get the shot that he never got to have. They reconcile and go to get Micky’s coach.
At the championship match, Micky is treated rudely by his opponent who claims that Micky is not a real fighter. The two engage in a brutal match, with Micky almost calling it in but after several brutal rounds, Micky is able to launch a comeback strike which helps him overpower his opponent and win the title fight.
Charlene and Micky eventually get married and when he retired from boxing, he and Dickie began running the local gym training aspiring boxers.
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