Showtime's All Access series is often -- usually, really -- called that network's version of HBO's 24/7, with the overall tone of that statement being that the Showtime program is somehow lesser than the HBO offering.
I guess in some ways, this is true. There's no Mayweather, no Pacquiao, no Liev Schreiber with his generally pitch-perfect narration that can draw even the biggest cynics into a fight (well, maybe not the truly biggest cynics), and for reality-type TV, 24/7 even at its worst has been solid, its biggest problems over five years of covering big fights coming when a fight isn't interesting (Joe Calzaghe vs Roy Jones Jr in 2008), or when the subject matter itself has grown tired, because we've seen it all before (Mayweather vs Ortiz and Pacquiao vs Marquez III were rough to get through for diehard viewers).
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All Access has taken a different sort of approach, finding its own voice with the same core ideas: Go behind a fight, get to the guts of the sport, and tell the stories of the fighters. While 24/7 has had some good recent runs with two-part series covering Cotto vs Margarito II last year, and Chavez Jr vs Martinez this year, All Access hadn't had a really memorable sort of fight to hang its hat on. Until now.
It is perhaps a bit strange that the physical mismatch between Canelo Alvarez and Josesito Lopez on September 15 would result in All Access getting some seriously great TV, but that's what we got. Episode one was excellent. And episode two, seen above, is brilliant.
This is possibly my favorite 24/7 or All Access show to date. Dramatically speaking, it seems to hit every right note -- good and bad.
The Lopez story is great, and handled wonderfully. It's the classic underdog tale in so many ways, but it had the gut punch of a reality non-twist at the end: He was the underdog because he probably shouldn't have been there in the first place. And he was physically dominated by a bigger, stronger man.
Watching Josesito take in the ESPN fights on TV a couple of nights before his bout was revealing. Josesito's press quotes and interviews were always upbeat before the fight but as he listened to Tessitore and Atlas and Rafael discuss his fight, and find it hard to give him any shot, it becomes very, very clear that fighters are always aware of what they're up against. And Josesito Lopez knew the task ahead of him was enormous, and the idea of him winning the fight was foolish to so many spectators.
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The fight itself is covered beautifully. I watched it knowing the results, as I covered the Chavez Jr vs Martinez fight live here, so I saw Canelo vs Lopez around 3am or so on Sunday morning. No matter the recaps you read, you can't quite feel the fight until you see it, and this wound up having a special, unique feeling that I think the Showtime people captured remarkably, because it took me back to watching those punches land, and watching the underdog crumble.
I felt bad for Josesito Lopez.
Watching the fight that night/early morning, I wanted it to be stopped well before it was. I knew it wasn't going to be, but I just wanted someone -- Joe Cortez, Henry Ramirez, Lopez himself, anyone -- to step in and say, "This is kind of ridiculous, and enough is enough. Go home, all of you."
I don't often cringe when I watch a fight, but this one got me. I don't blame Alvarez or his team. They did their jobs in there. I don't blame Lopez for taking the fight -- how couldn't he? It was a huge opportunity. I don't even really blame Golden Boy for making the fight. I was never intensely critical of the matchmaking, though I can understand if you were, and definitely can understand after if you feel like it was total bullshit.
Part of it is that Lopez is such a likeable character. His breaking of Victor Ortiz's jaw wasn't supposed to happen, but it did, and because of that, he got this fight. Victor, as we see briefly, was supposed to be in the ring with Canelo on this night. Reduced to a spectator with a still-swollen jaw, he's gracious with fans who speak to him, but the regret on his face is very noticeable as he settles in to watch the fight.
After defeating Ortiz, really, Lopez should have sought out a title shot at 147 pounds, or even thought about going back to 140 and using his new name value to his advantage, rather than winding up having it used for his doom. But boxing doesn't work that way, and when you're a fighter like Lopez, you take the chances you can get. And this was a big chance.
But watching him beaten down, still giving everything he had -- it's inspiring, in a way, but it doesn't have the happy ending where he lands the miracle blow that turns the tide, where he's so tough he can't be broken. He was flesh and blood, and Canelo Alvarez pulverized him until finally, Joe Cortez stopped the beating.
And I think in the end, everyone involved or just watching was, for one reason or another, happy that Josesito Lopez is so damn tough. And happier that he wasn't forced to prove he was any tougher than this.
There is a lot to this episode. A lot of stories are being told. And they're being told, for once, with subtlety and an appreciation for the audience being able to form their own opinion with what is presented by the footage.
There's also more to come from both of these fighters. Where will this night lead them? Canelo obviously has bigger and badder waiting for him down the line, while Lopez has had his path altered by the first punishing defeat of his career. It's an open ending, with the fighters' attitudes left for you to interpret however you choose.