ESPN Plans Boxing Pic

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ESPN will enter the boxing ring for its next telepic, developing an original film based on the life of controversial boxer Jack Johnson, the first African-American world heavyweight champion.

Set to premiere next year, the film will be executive-produced by Gerald Abrams of Cypress Point Productions (Nuremberg, Out of the Ashes) and written by Paris Qualles (Hannibal, The Tuskegee Airmen).

"Jack Johnson knocked loudly on the door of a deeply segregated society," said ESPN executive vice president, programming and production Mark Shapiro in a statement. "With defiance, he mounted a force of courage still felt a century later. His story belongs not only to boxing, but to our national heritage."

The telefilm will mark a comeback of sorts on Johnson biopics: James Earl Jones starred as the boxer in the theatrical The Great White Hope, which was based on the play by Howard Sackler.

ESPN’s most recent original film, 3, a biopic about the late National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing driver Dale Earnhardt, earned a 5.0 household rating for its Dec. 11 premiere, making it the total-sports network’s highest-rated telepic to date.