Chicago boxers Destyne Butler Jr. and Kenneth Sims Jr. dreamed of competing in the Olympics, turning pro and getting their own Wheaties boxes since they were kids.
A 12-year-old Butler told a Tribune reporter in 2007 he planned to share his eventual riches with the homeless because “it makes me feel sad to see poor people on the street.” “I’m happy people are going to look up to me,” a 17-year-old Sims told a reporter for the Tribune’s teen edition, The Mash, in 2011.
Things didn’t quite go as planned. The film “Ringside” follows Butler and Sims for nearly a decade as they overcome various setbacks to turn pro. The 93-minute project – was set to have its broadcast premiere at 6:30 p.m. Friday on the Showtime network – is being called the boxing “Hoop Dreams,” a nod to the 1994 documentary about two Chicago teens who set their sights on the NBA.
“The film is about boxing, but it’s more about the day-to-day life and the hardship on the South Side,” “Ringside” director Andre Hormann told the Tribune by phone from his native Germany.
Hormann said he was inspired by the French sociologist Loic Wacquant, who immersed himself in South Side boxing culture for his 2004 book “Body & Soul: Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer.” The heart of Hormann’s film is the father-son relationship. Kenneth Sims Sr., a former street brawler, taught his son to box so he could defend himself. Destyne Butler Sr., a former drug dealer, pushed his son to stay busy and away from trouble.
Hormann started filming around 2009, and moved his family to Chicago in 2013 along with cinematographer Tom Bergmann and his family so they could wrap up the story. Plans changed when Butler got arrested.
Butler, then 18, was charged with residential burglary of Chicago-area homes with another man he said served as a mentor. “Ringside” cameras trail Butler – once a media darling who earned the nickname “2 Sweet” – as he enters a military-style boot camp in southern Illinois for nonviolent offenders. The attention “definitely changed the dynamic of the situation, probably for the worse for me,” said Butler, who finished his sentence in prison after getting kicked out of boot camp.
“For the first couple times, it was definitely a difficult thing to watch, just knowing where I could have been if I would have stayed out of trouble or stayed on the right path,” Butler, now 25 and living on the South Side, said about “Ringside.” “I really enjoy it now. I can really sit back and enjoy it, and just be like, wow, I really came a long way from where I was at.”
While Butler plotted his boxing comeback in prison, Sims – also known as “Bossman” – was building his pro resume. He narrowly missed a spot on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, but kept his focus despite tough living conditions and the emotional toll of gun violence in his community.
“My dad and my mom, they always pushed me to be the best that I could be,” said Sims, now 26 and living in Auburn Gresham. “I just want people to know that I always do my best, and (the film) is about the city of Chicago. I love Chicago. I think Chicago’s the best city in the world.”
“Ringside” premiered in 2019 at the Berlin International Film Festival and won the Silver Hugo award in the documentary competition at the Chicago International Film Festival in October. Hormann said Showtime is the ideal platform for “Ringside.” “Kenny was already on Showtime and then Destyne, it’s his big goal to have a fight on Showtime. All the boxing fans are on Showtime, so it’s a very good match I think, and we are really happy about it,” Hormann said.