Boxing, as last weekend’s Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao showdown reminded us, is a brutal sport, and perhaps not the most logical obsession for a man born and raised on the Upper West Side, educated at a private high school and then in the Ivy League.
But after seeing his first fight, at a ring in Yonkers, Eric Drath was hooked.
“It’s a very pure sport,” said Drath, 44. “You don’t need any money to be a boxer. You need a pair of gloves ... there’s not a barrier for entry.”
Though he had a career in broadcast news, Drath became a boxing publicist and eventually an agent, traveling with fighters to Hungary, Poland, Germany and England.
While enmeshed in boxing circles, Drath developed an interest in a boxer who eventually became the subject of his first documentary, “Assault in the Ring.” The film, which aired on HBO in 2008 and went on to win an Emmy, followed Bronx fighter Luis Resto, who was suspended from the sport in 1983 after he and his trainer removed padding from his gloves before a fight, a move that left his opponent with permanent injuries. Resto never fought again and served jail time for assault. For years afterward, he lived in a dark, decrepit basement of a boxing gym in the Bronx.
Once complete, Drath sold the film to HBO, a beginner’s mistake — that ultimately paid off.
“Little did I know back then that you should never go make a movie and then try to sell it,” said Drath from the office of his company, Live Star Entertainment, near Madison Square Park, through which he also produces television award shows and live events. “Try to sell it first.”
Drath, who lives in the West 70s near the American Museum of Natural History with his wife and two young daughters, was a talented athlete, attending Trinity-Pawling boarding school, where he played football and lacrosse. He hosted a radio show as a student at Columbia University, eventually working for CNN and Fox News, which gave him some of the storytelling tools he employs in his films.
“The stories he’s attracted to, and also the way he tells his stories, are going to appeal to people who wouldn’t even think they’re interested in sports,” said Aaron Cohen, a writer and film producer who worked with Drath on “Assault in the Ring” and other projects.
Tall and broad-shouldered, Drath has the matter-of-fact speech of a straight-shooting football coach. One of his intangible qualities as a filmmaker, Cohen said, is his ability to form relationships with the subjects of his stories. In “Assault in the Ring,” Drath draws facts from Resto that the boxer spent two decades denying. At a Dairy Queen in rural Tennessee, not far from the home of his ill-fated opponent’s family, Resto confessed to Drath about his role in the conspiracy, telling him that his trainer plastered his hands before the fight.
“All the stories that I do, it’s the human element that I found interesting,” said Drath. “Sports is a great environment in which to tell a story, but it’s really about the humanity that comes out.”
Drath’s company is finishing a series of short films about celebrity athletes’ early days through a partnership with ESPN and Marvel Entertainment. Scheduled to air in July, the films examine racecar driver Danica Patrick’s childhood as a go-kart racer and San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s Little League Baseball days, among other athletes’ formative years. He’s also working on his first narrative film, a short based on his experiences as a boxing agent, and adapting Stephen Birmingham’s 1967 book “Our Crowd,” about storied New York Jewish families such as the Lehmans and Guggenheims, into a documentary film and hopefully a scripted series. Though busy on several projects throughout the year, he still finds time to bring his daughters to Columbia University basketball games, for which he holds season tickets.
With “Assault in the Ring,” which was recently distributed through digital services, Drath originally wanted to prove Resto’s innocence, a compulsion that might come from being a lover of sports himself.
“Look, I’m a Mets fan. I’m always on the side of the underdog,” said Drath. “I always want to right a wrong. I always want to show the guy who might not get the camera.”