Shawn (Channing Tatum) is walking through the busy streets of New York to get to the subway. He is carrying a big blanket with something inside. He gets to a street with a bunch of vendors and scalpers. He opens up his blanket and has iPods and Harry Potter books to sell. Harvey (Terrence Howard) is watching him. An old woman picks up two books and Shawn says they’re $20 each, but the woman gives him a $20 and walks away. Another lady (Zulay Valez) comes and is interested in buying a Harry Potter book. Two thugs come over and start hassling Shawn. Zulay notices that the book is called Harry Potter versus the Hippopotamus and demands her money back. Shawn is trying to deal with all three people when another thug comes and tries to steal his books and iPods. He starts throwing punches and hits a bunch of people. He grabs his blanket and runs off, dropping his money. Harvey tells a kid to pick up the money.
Shawn comes up to a shop and talks with the owner about what happened. He tells him that he wants to buy some umbrellas from him and gives him $100 for them. He walks off with the umbrellas and passes a restaurant where Harvey is sitting and looking at him. He sees Harvey and the kid who took his money and walks in. Harvey asks if he can help Shawn. Shawn says he wants his money back and that he recognizes the kid from before. Harvey introduces the kid as Z pulls out a wad of cash and asks Shawn how much he wants. Shawn grabs the cash from his hand and counts out however much and gives the rest back. Harvey invites him to sit and talk, but Shawn walks out. Harvey and Z follow him and compliment him on the fight. Harvey introduces himself and tells Shawn he can make him $5000 for fighting one fight. They pass by a store where Harvey says hi to Martinez (Luis Guzman), and explains to Shawn that he runs every bet in the whole city and that is how Shawn will get paid.
Shawn is in a room and wakes up to a text from Harvey. He meets Harvey and Z and Harvey says that he’s going to get Shawn an opportunity. He gives Shawn his jacket to look more presentable. They go across the street where they meet Jack, a man who arranges all the fights. Harvey wants Jack to give Shawn a chance. He’s hesitant until Shawn talks back to him and says that he’ll give him a shot. Harvey and Z walk off telling Shawn that he’ll text him later. Shawn gets a text saying they got the fight. He meets Harvey and Harvey tells Shawn that there’s money on him losing. They get into a car that the two other thugs, Ray and Ajax, from before are driving.
They arrive at a building in Brooklyn where Jack is waiting. Shawn fights a guy who is more experienced at this type of fighting. The other guy throws the first punch, knocking Shawn to the ground. The other guy continues to beat Shawn and knock him to the ground. Shawn keeps getting up and getting punched. He gets up and sees a water fountain behind the other guy and tackles the guy into the fountain. The guy falls and doesn’t get up. The crowd gets quiet and Harvey gets Shawn and tells him it’s over. Jack’s assistant tells Harvey and crew to come to the club.
Harvey and crew arrive at a night club, but he only takes Shawn inside. Harvey and Shawn go into a VIP area where Martinez is trying to get Shawn into another fight. Shawn sees Zulay and walks off. Martinez tells Harvey that he’s going to lose Shawn really quickly. Shawn says hi to Zulay and tells her he feels bad about the book. He wants to make it up to her by buying dinner. He says he believes in fate, but she says that she doesn’t but if they meet again, then she’ll call it fate. Shawn walks back to Harvey and asks if they have another fight. Harvey introduces Shawn to a bunch of betters who say that they lost a lot of money betting against Shawn. He says next time they should bet the right way. Harvey pushes him away. A man named Evan Hailey sits down next to Shawn. They know each other b/c Evan use to wrestle for Shawn’s dad’s team in Birmingham, Alabama. Evan asks how his dad is and Shawn says he’s sure he’s fine. Shawn gets up to leave. Harvey comes over and tries to introduce himself to Evan and Evan throws a napkin in his face and tells him to go wash his car. Harvey says someone might hurt him for doing something like that. Shawn and Harvey leave and Shawn walks off saying he needs to go for a walk. Zulay is cleaning up the bar and comes out of the club and hails a cab. Shawn is waiting for her and gets excited when she remembers her name. He pays for her cab and she drives off.
Shawn is sleeping on a bench when Harvey finds him. Shawn is embarrassed and tells Harvey that he was going to go to a hotel. Harvey offers him a place and tells him if someone saw him sleeping there, her wouldn’t make any more money. Harvey has a bunch of Broadway tickets lying on a table. Shawn picks up a picture of Harvey, Martinez, and Jack. Harvey explains that they arrived in NY trying to be moguls selling tickets at the Garden. Harvey tells him that he’s from Chicago. Shawn asks if Harvey has a plan with the fights. Harvey tells him that he had plans to make money and open up IHOPS, but turned out that all he ever was, was a two-bit hustler. Harvey tells Shawn to get some rest b/c they have a big fight coming up.
Harvey and crew go into a store in the Bronx. They go all the way back where there is a crowd of people waiting. There is a big man that Shawn recognizes from the club when Martinez was trying to set up a fight. Shawn throws the first punch, knocking the guy down. He keeps punching him and the guy drags him to the ground. The guys have him in a choke hold and Shawn struggles to get out. One of Harvey’s thugs kicks the guy and the guy gets up to attack the thug. Shawn gets up and jumps on the guy’s back. The fight goes into the store and one of them accidentally knocks a woman’s shoe off. She pulls out a gun and shoots, but hits one of the thugs in the ear. Harvey grabs the gun and takes his crew and drives off. At the hospital, Harvey asks if he is OK and makes sure he didn’t fill out a police report. We find out that nobody’s getting paid. Shawn says he really needs the money and Harvey says he’ll work something out.
Shawn is waiting for Zulay in front of the club. He’s been waiting for two hours for her to show up so he get take her out to eat. She says she has to work in 20 minutes. They get to a restaurant where the server seems familiar with Zulay and offers her sparkling water. Shawn is looking at the menu and Zulay orders calamari. Shawn says he’s not hungry. Shawn mentions the little girl in the car that Zulay was driving. She says she’s her daughter. A cart with stuffed bunnies passes by and Shawn runs to go get one. Zulay gets a call from her boss and says she has to go. Shawn says since it’s a date, he’ll wait for the check. She laughs and walks off.
Harvey says there’s another fight, but there is no way Shawn’s going to win so when the guy puts Shawn in a choke hold, don’t move. Shawn tells Harvey that he doesn’t want to throw the fight. He also says that Martinez was talking to him and Harvey throws him out. Harvey comes out of his apartment and Shawn is sitting on the steps. He tells Shawn that he used to fight and a lot of people would put a lot of money on him. He asks Shawn if he really thinks he could beat the competition. He reveals that the fight is for $30K. Shawn doesn’t say anything and Harvey says OK, they’ll do it.
They arrive at an Asian-y building where Martinez and Jack are already sitting. Martinez tells Harvey that he and Shawn have no business in a place like this. The other fighter is really fast and punches and kicks Shawn. Shawn tackles him against a column and gets him on the floor. The other fighter manages to get Shawn on his back. Shawn gets up and the guy knocks Shawn back down. Shawn tries to get up but the guy keeps knocking him down. Shawn gets the guy on the floor and the guy has Shawn’s head between his legs, choking him. Shawn gets up to his feet, picking the guy up with him and throws the guy down onto the floor. The guy releases his feet and Shawn gets behind him and puts him in a choke hold until he stops moving. The thugs come up to Shawn and celebrate. Jack comments that Harvey’s got a winner.
The crew arrives at a club in a limo. Evan is there and heckles Shawn. Shawn attacks Evan but people break up the fight. Zulay takes Shawn to her house. On her door, there’s an eviction notice. Zulay’s grandma fixes them something to eat. Shawn mentions the eviction notice. Zulay asks bout Evan. Shawn mentions that he fights. Zulay asks what Shawn’s thinking about and he says he wants to kiss her. She takes him to the stairs and they’re about to kiss and the grandma comes and tells Shawn to leave.
Shawn goes to Harvey’s house and Harvey makes him turn around so he can’t see where he hides his money. Shawn tells Harvey that he shouldn’t be selling tickets and sneakers anymore; they should focus on fighting. Shawn tells Harvey about Zulay and they go to bed. Zulay is researching Shawn on the computer and find out that he was suspended from school and kicked off the wrestling team for fighting with his dad. She also finds out that Shawn’s dad helped Evan to a championship.
Shawn, Z, Ray, and Ajax are watching a clip of Evan fighting (boxing) in a real fight. Harvey enters a store, where Jack and Martinez are talking about him. Harvey wants to line up another fight for Shawn, who apparently is now the biggest draw of the town. Jack says that he wants to put Shawn in one of their big fights, $100K to the winner. Jack reveals that it’s going to be Evan vs. Shawn and they’re going to play up the whole rivalry. Harvey says OK. Martinez says that he’s betting against Shawn and that Harvey’s going to get nothing.
Harvey gets home and tells Shawn they need to talk. He tells Shawn he got another fight for $100K against Evan. Shawn says great. Harvey says he’s taking all their money and placing it against them. Shawn says Harvey should raise money to bet that he’ll win. Shawn says that he knows he’s nothing, but he doesn’t want to lose. Harvey tries to touch him, but Shawn slaps his hand. Harvey says he knows all about Shawn. Shawn says don’t talk about his father. Shawn arrives at Zulay’s house and he wants to give Zulay money for the apartment. This upsets Zulay and Shawn says it’s no big deal. They kiss and they end up in the bedroom. Zulay’s phone shows missed calls from Harvey, but he’s still hanging out with Zulay. Zulay tells Shawn that she looked him up on the computer. He explains that Evan and he were on the same team and his dad loved Evan. Shawn was a freshman and Evan would always mess with him. One day, he and Evan got into a fight and his dad got in between them and Shawn didn’t see him and he hit his dad and couldn’t stop. His dad never forgave him. Zulay checks her phone and sees her missed calls and hurries Shawn out. They are at the elevator when Harvey steps out and Shawn is confused. Zulay says she knows Harvey b/c she places bets for him but no one knows that they know each other. Shawn’s pissed off and storms out.
Zulay finds Shawn and tells him that she and Harvey have been friends for a really long time. She explains that she makes $11 an hour and she hates her job. Shawn asks why she didn’t tell him. Shawn goes to Harvey’s house and asks if the fight is still on. Shawn says he understands that Harvey wants him to throw the fight. Harvey asks if he’s OK with that. Shawn says yes but he wants half of whatever Harvey raises. Harvey says that if there is a hint of Shawn throwing the game, they’re both dead. Shawn says he gets it, but after the game, Harvey won’t ever see him again.
Harvey goes around collecting money from betters. Martinez asks if Shawn is going to listen to Harvey. Martinez says that if he changes his mind, he still wants his money or else he’ll kill Harvey. Zulay arrives at Harvey’s apartment and gets the money. Zulay goes to Jack’s office to place the bet for half a million dollars. Shawn is in the subway train working out, getting ready for the fight.
Harvey and crew arrive at the fight site, which is a terrace at a nice hotel. Zulay is there. Shawn throws the first punches, knocking Evan down. Evan and Shawn trade punches and tackle each other. They go through a window and end up in the hotel. Evan has Shawn in a choke hold and Shawn sees Harvey and gets out of the choke hold. He tackles Evan into a wall. Martinez asks Harvey what’s going on. Shawn bashes Evan’s head into a mirror and Evan tackles Shawn into the mirror. Shawn is on top of Evan and punches him in the face repeatedly. He stops and sees Evan isn’t moving. He gets up and Harvey’s crew comes up to congratulate him, but Harvey stays back. Martinez tells Harvey that he’s a dead man while shaking his hand. Jack looks shocked. Zulay walks away.
At Harvey’s place, the crew apparently bet on Shawn so they got their money. Harvey tells Shawn that he secretly wanted Shawn to win and if he wasn’t a dead man, he’d be happy. He tells Shawn that in a couple of minutes, there’ll be some men coming to the apartment and Shawn can’t be there when they come. Harvey looks out the window and Zulay is standing outside smiling up at him. Shawn smiles and tells Harvey that he and Zulay put it on Shawn to win and didn’t tell Harvey. He puts a bag on the table and tells Harvey that there’s $1 million in there. Harvey is shocked and looks inside the bag and comments that there’s a lot of money in it. Shawn says that’s a lot of IHOPs. Shawn says they’re going to Birmingham to see his family, maybe stop by Chicago. He invites Harvey and Harvey says they should go past Birmingham and go to California because he doesn’t want to give anyone any money, since they think they lost it anyway.
Harvey, Shawn, Zulay, Ray, Ajax, and Z drive off.
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