Antoine Fuqua’s sports film ‘Southpaw’ revolves around Billy “The Great” Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal), the Light Heavyweight champion whose downfall starts with the death of his wife Maureen Hope. Maureen’s death affects his family severely as he eventually loses custody of his daughter Leila. Billy then tries to regain everything he has lost by teaming up with Titus “Tick” Wills, who trains him. The boxing film doesn’t give much away explicitly about Billy and his past but his tattoos contain everything the viewers need to know about him. If you are curious about the meaning of the same, let us be your ally! SPOILERS AHEAD.
What is the Meaning of Billy Hope’s Tattoos?
In ‘Southpaw,’ Jake Gyllenhaal’s Billy Hope has six tattoos (as far as we know, none of the tattoos are real.) Three of them directly concern his daughter Leila. As far Antoine Fuqua’s film is ultimately about the relationship between Billy and Leila. Even after hitting rock bottom, upon losing his wife, ring, championships, house, and wealth, Billy stands up for himself to be with his daughter. When she gets transferred to the child protection service, Billy stops consuming alcohol and drugs so that he can visit Leila at the service center. Even when she doesn’t leave her room to meet him, Billy patiently accepts the same and returns each time, regardless of whether Leila wants to see him.
Billy’s bond with Leila is evident in the tattoo on his left arm that reads, “Father.” Leila’s name is tattooed on his chest as well. Alongside his daughter’s name, there is a tattoo that reads, “II-X-MMIV,” the Roman numerals for 2-10-2004, which can very well be Leila’s birthday. These three tattoos show how much he loves Leila and how big a role she plays in his life. When Jordan Mains returns to Billy’s life with an offer to fight against Miguel “Magic” Escobar, he accepts it for the sake of his daughter. Although he knows that he isn’t ready to get back in the ring, he takes the risk only to provide for Leila.
When it is about his daughter, Billy doesn’t even think twice about risking his own career, especially since his defeat against Magic would have buried him to oblivion. Another significant tattoo Billy has is the “flying swallow” near his right ear. During the early period of sailing in the United Kingdom, sailors apparently had one or more swallows tattooed on them to denote their eventual return. It is even seemingly believed that the tattoo guarantees that the sailors will return home safely. Eventually, the swallow became a symbol of homecoming and the return to loved ones.
As far as Billy is concerned, his life as a boxer can be paralleled to the life of a sailor. Like a sailor steps into a ship for feeding one’s family despite the dangers looming in the sea, Billy also steps into rings to feed his family regardless of how hurt he can get. Billy receives blows and bruises for the sake of his family and at the end of the day, all he wants to do is to return to his home to be with Maureen and Leila. Billy must be hoping that the tattoo will carry him home every time after a bloody fight.
Billy’s other two tattoos read, “Fighter” and “Fear no Man.” Even as a kid, who grew up in an orphanage, Billy had to fight life to become “The Great” Billy Hope. When his own actions and incarcerations challenged him, Billy overcame them to be a successful boxer. The “fighter” in Billy doesn’t fight just fellow boxers but life itself. It is that fighting spirit that gives him the courage to regain his championship and be a better father. The same courage also gives him the strength to face anyone in the ring, without fearing whoever the man in front of him is.
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