Luis "Mountain" Rivera (Quinn) is a washed-up heavyweight boxer. The film opens with Luis taking a brutal beatdown that ends with a seventh-round knockout, at the hands of Cassius Clay himself. The doctor who examines Luis after the fight says that he should never fight again, due to the risk of blindness from sclerotic damage in his eyes or the risk of death from bleeding on the brain.
Luis's trainer, "Army" (Rooney), wants to help the poorly educated, no-skills Luis get a job. Luis meets a friendly social worker, Grace (Harris), who sets Luis up with an interview to become a camp counselor. However, Luis's deeply cynical manager, Maish (Gleason), who bet on Luis to lose the Clay fight and is deep in debt to gamblers, still needs Luis as a meal ticket.
The screenplay was written by Rod Serling, best known as the creator of The Twilight Zone. The film was a remake of a 1956 episode of Playhouse 90, also directed by Nelson and written by Serling, which starred Jack Palance as the boxer.
- The Cameo:
- Yep, that's really Muhammad Ali in the opening scene, knocking Luis out. This film was made when Ali, then still Cassius Clay, was a rising heavyweight contender two years away from winning the title.
- Jack Dempsey also has a cameo. Luis and Maish get drunk at his bar.
- Cast the Expert: In addition to Muhammad Ali in the film, the earlier TV version had Jack Palance as the main character. Palance had been a semi-pro boxer before he started acting.
- Chiaroscuro: Dark, shadowy lighting as a frightened Maish runs out of the locker rooms and into the arena, trying to escape Ma and her goons.
- Did Not Get the Girl: It seems like a romance between Grace and Luis is blooming, but after he kisses her forcefully and pulls her onto the bed, she recoils. She leaves the apartment and they never see each other again.
- Downer Ending: Luis doesn't get the girl, and he seems doomed to a humiliating life as a wrestler, playing an ugly stereotype.
- Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: Ma Greeny, the evil lady gangster, is ostentatiously puffing on a cigarette as she threatens Maish with his life if he doesn't get her money back.
- I Coulda Been a Contender!: Luis, who really didn't get all that far in the boxing world, clings to the rather thin glory of being ranked fifth among heavyweights...ten years ago in 1952.
- Impairment Shot: The first scene features an extended Impairment Shot from the POV of Luis, who is getting knocked out by Cassius Clay. The image warps in and out of focus as Luis drifts on the edge of consciousness.
- Little People Are Surreal: How to establish that yes, the wrestling will be really really degrading? Start with a scene showing midget wrestling.
- Kayfabe: Discussed Trope. Perelli the wrestling promoter explains to Luis that the only things he has to know to be a wrestler are "how to make it look real" and how to fall without getting hurt.
- The Oner: The opening, a P.O.V. Shot of Luis during a fight. It continues after the match as he's led out of the ring and ends with him in front of a mirror, giving the audience a first look at his swollen, beaten face.
- Sports Stories: A particularly melancholy tale of a washed-up boxer.
- Title Requiem: Appropriate for a heavyweight boxer at the end of his career, which has been a sad failure.