Ms. Million Dollar
Maggie Fitzgerald wins a "humble beginnings" contest nine times out of ten.
"She came from southwestern Missouri," Scrap explains, "the hills outside the scratchy-ass Ozark town of Theodosia, set in the cedars and oak trees, somewhere between nowhere and goodbye. She grew up knowing one thing: she was trash." Thanks for not sugar coating things, Scrap.
Maggie grew up poor, and—outside of her dad who passed away—she grew up without much support. We get a bitter taste of what Maggie's early days were like when we first meet her mother, Earline, who treats the new house that Maggie gifts her like a cancer and chastises Maggie for complicating her welfare collection scheme. Oh yeah, and she also tells Maggie that everybody makes fun of her for being a boxer.
Gee, thanks, Mom. Enjoy the house.
Theodosia in the Rear View
Maggie may live in Los Angeles, but Theodosia is never that far behind her, and triumphing over her cruddy background is a major motivator for her boxing career. She "is obsessed with the courage and determination to be somebody," Rex Reed writes, "even if wearing boxing gloves is the only way she knows how to do it" (source). Fortunately, our girl Maggie is scrappy. She can't stop, won't stop, until she makes it, and she's more than willing to put in the hard work.
MAGGIE: I'm 32, Mr. Dunn, and I'm here celebrating the fact that I spent another year scraping dishes and waitressing, which is what I've been doing since I was 13, and according to you, I'll be 37 before I can even throw a decent punch. […] Other truth is, my brother's in prison, my sister cheats on welfare by pretending one of her babies is still alive, my daddy's dead, and my momma weights 312 pounds. If I was thinking straight, I'd go back home, find a used trailer, buy a deep fryer and some Oreos. Problem is, this is the only thing I ever felt good doing. If I'm too old for this, I got nothing. That enough truth to suit you?
Maggie practically lives at the Hit Pit, where a sign on the wall reads: "Winners are simply willing to do what losers won't." When it comes to that sign, "Maggie doesn't just believe it," claims Desson Thomson of The Washington Post. "As it turns out, she lives it" (source). It's her tenacity and determination that finally convince Frankie to train her, and it's her fire and fortitude that propel her up the boxing ranks.
FRANKIE: How many eyes do you need to finish this fight?
MAGGIE: One's enough.
Girl is grittier than an oyster at the beach.
Everybody Loves Mo Cuishle
With Maggie, what you see is what you get. She's earnest, eager, and open. When Frankie agrees to train her, she's absolutely giddy. At the gas station, reflecting on her disappointing visit with her mother, her stare is heavier than a bag of bowling balls. In the ring, she's a sinewy stick of dynamite. "Her body language shouts," writes Newsweek's David Ansen (source). There's no pretense about Mo Cuishle.
When she sees that successful manager Mickey Mack shows up at a restaurant she's at, she tells him right off the bat:
MAGGIE: Mr. Mickey Mack? I'm Maggie Fitzgerald. I hear you're a... a real good manager. Doing, uh, good things for Big Willie. But I thought you should know I ain't never leaving Mr. Dunn, so you don't need to make any more excuses to bump into me. Sorry for interrupting your dinner.
Maggie is a woman who has spent her entire life on a quest for respect. Under Frankie's guidance, she finally gets it. She's a consistently gracious winner, despite almost always knocking her opponent out cold in the first round. Fans chant her name everywhere she goes. "She may have come from 'trash,' as she puts it, but there's nobility in her heart," film critic Roger Moore explains. "She craves that respect" (source). After going her entire life without it, it's not hard to see why.
When Maggie makes it big, her excitement is our excitement. We've seen her stay late at the Hit Pit, scrimp and save to buy her own speed bag, and deal with jerkwads like Shawrelle. In other words, we've watched her earn every ounce of admiration that she gets. Her success is hard-fought and honest.
The Champ's Last Fight
One thing Maggie's gained from her relationship with Frank, both personal and professional, is self-respect. When she finally realizes that her family is shamelessly trying to rip her off while she's lying there hopelessly injured, she finally gets the courage to send them packing.
MAGGIE: Momma, you take Mardell and JD and get home 'fore I tell that lawyer there that you were so worried about your welfare that you never signed those house papers like you were supposed to. So anytime I feel like it I can sell that house from under your fat, lazy, hillbilly ass. And if you ever come back, that's exactly what I'll do.
Maggie's plea to Frankie to help her end her life, therefore, may be heartrending, but it is in keeping with her character, her wish to hold on to that self-respect.
MAGGIE: I can't be like this, Frankie. Not after what I done […] Daddy used to tell me I'd fight to get into this world, and I'd fight my way out. That's all I wanna do, Frankie […] I got what I needed. I got it all. Don't let 'em keep taking it away from me. Don't let me lie here 'til I can't hear those people chanting no more.
Maggie's spent her entire life fighting for respect on her own terms. When she feels circumstance stripping it from her, she's determined to slug her way out of the world. She'll bite her tongue and bleed to death if she has to. When Frankie describes Maggie to Father Horvak as stubborn, he's not kidding.
Maggie's life may be cut short, but because of Frankie, it's a life lived fully. Maggie's quest for respect was also a quest for love, and in Frankie, she found both.
Looks like she did all right, and then some.