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Ray Winstone cuts Matt Hookings' eye open in boxing movie prizefighter
Ray Winstone and Matt Hookings in Prizefighter

The actor rubbing shoulders with Russell Crowe, Ray Winstone and Tyson Fury

Matt Hookings is the son of Wales British heavyweight boxing champion David 'Bomber' Pearce.

Welsh actor Matt Hookings (Image: Suki Mok)

Matt Hookings is diplomatic when I ask him jokingly who won a friendly game of tennis between him and Russell Crowe. "He asked me [to play]," the Welsh filmmaker and actor laughed, speaking to me over video call from Scotland. "He looked me up and down and said 'you look like you can play tennis'. I am sporty, so I said yes. He said 'Sunday, 3pm', and told me where to meet him. I won one and he won one. It was a fun afternoon out."

If hitting a few balls with one of the world's most famous actors out in Malta might seem a strange place to find yourself in, it's less so for Matt these days. The 32-year-old filmmaker and actor from Newport has spent months on set with Crowe filming Prizefighter, a new boxing biopic telling the story of Jem Belcher, who became the youngest English boxing champion in history at the age of 19 in 1800 and transformed boxing from primitive pugilism - or bare-knuckle boxing - into the modern sport.

It's a lesser-told story in among the endless list of boxing films of fact and fiction, from Rocky to The Fighter to Southpaw. Belcher's life was a short and tragic one; the Bristol boxer lost an eye in an accident when playing at rackets, turned to alcohol, lost his fitness and fell victim to the effects of his lifestyle before a spirited comeback to the ring later in his career. He died in 1811 aged just 30.

Read more: The story of 'Newport's Rocky', the boxer who nearly became a world champion

It's a tale which holds particular resonance with Matt, who is the son of British heavyweight boxing champion David 'Bomber' Pearce. Often hailed as the country's answer to Rocky, Pearce, also from Newport, became British heavyweight champion in 1983 and had a shot at a coveted European heavyweight title, but a brain scan revealed an abnormality which would ultimately call time on his career. He died due to sudden adult death syndrome (SADS) in 2000, aged just 41. Today a statue of Pearce stands on the Newport riverfront.

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