Eddie Gonzalez returns to BLH this afternoon with a look at the fights and stories that have recently given HBO's 24/7 series new blood and new life.
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Floyd Mayweather likes to say he invented HBO's award winning, fight-promoting documentary series 24/7. And sure, maybe Floyd offered some idea for a series build to what ended up being the biggest non-heavyweight fight ever, but in reality 24/7 is an extended month long version of the Countdown series that precedes it.
No matter who "invented" the series, HBO struck gold. The initial run did EXACTLY what it intended, it took the sport's biggest and most profitable star, Oscar de la Hoya, and used some of his limelight to establish a new star, Mayweather. Floyd (and his family) took the opportunity and ran with it, outshining Oscar on the series and then beating him in the ring. A star, and a new vessel with which to make them, was born.
Now, five years later, the series is a mainstay on HBO and a cog in the hype machine for the biggest fights in the sport and on the network. To many, however, the series has gone stale, and in the last two weeks we found out why.
24/7 didn't grow stale as a result of formula, instead it was a victim of a lack of new characters. In just about any series with a long enough run, new characters are introduced to refresh the series, but for some reason 24/7 was the exception. Until these past two weeks, there had been 14 versions of 24/7 run by the network for boxing, and 12 featured either Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao (another for NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson, and three others featuring NHL teams as build up to their Winter Classic. Admittedly I never saw a Johnson episode but the hockey version of 24/7 has always been sensational). The remaining two? Roy Jones Jr along with Joe Calzaghe, and the incredible installment featuring Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito's creepy cyborg eye.
In the last two weeks however, we got a treat, two separate installments of the series with four new faces. The first featured 168 pound champ Andre Ward and 175 pound champ Chad Dawson. On the surface these are two guys who haven't lit the world on fire with their personalities (or in exciting fights for that matter), but also haven't been given the platform to do so.
The formula is generally the same, fighters training for the fight, running off one-liners about what they plan to do and how they are motivated. In between we get some of their home lives, which is where the Ward-Dawson version entertained the most. Dawson and the interesting names of his four sons drew chuckles. Ward returning home to the sassiness of his daughter drew sympathy, as I have an 8-year-old daughter with an attitude myself.
The second featured two fighters who didn't speak English, and a ton of subtitles, but still managed to entertain as well. It wasn't as scintillating as their Face Off with Max Kellerman, but Julio Cesar Chavez Jr and Sergio Martinez gave HBO their second straight week of good entertainment.
Chavez told us over and over that he wants to be "the best middleweight in the world," which was unintentionally hilarious, but we also got a good look at the work he does, and the relationship he has with his father. We got to see that Chavez is bothered by the perceptions of him, got a better understanding of what motivates him and in general he was legitimized a bit more by the HBO production.
Martinez worked hard as well, and even while not speaking English, managed to show that he has more of personality than we gave him credit for. The bit where he went on a rant about why humans don't belong in the water was hilarious, his general ire for Chavez and everything he represents was convincing, and as a whole this episode got me even more excited for the fight. This, along with the aforementioned Face Off, convinced me to spend my $60.
In the past, due to the star power and "personality" of the two A-sides, Mayweather and Pacquiao, their opponents are inadvertently overshadowed. Neither has been able to, to steal a wrestling team, put their opponents over in the way Oscar did with Floyd.
The past two weeks we got fighters presented on equal ground, all carrying the same amount of importance. All presented with an equal shot of winning their fight, all champions.
In the Floyd and Manny installments we get Floyd and Manny, playing Floyd and Manny, which bogs down the show. Floyd cusses and counts money and in general remains in character. Manny has the same drama with the Freddie Roach/Alex Ariza duo, does work as a Congressman and holds Bible study. Wash, rinse, and repeat. At this point they kind of remind me of Hulk Hogan, and leave me feeling like the Ultimate Warrior: "Where does Hogan end and Terry begin?"
In the new installments, however, we got humans, just being human, giving us their stories, and this has helped flesh out fighters that up until now we haven't seen much of. Instead of "Chad Dawson," we get "the champion father of four, who, even though he is the 175 pound king, for some reason still has to prove himself." And so on and so on.
This is why the show was created. To show us these aren't just two guys fighting for a check, these are humans, with lives, families and feelings, giving everything they have to this sport. When these four get into the ring this Saturday and the next, we will now have emotional investments in them. We now have an incentive to care what happens in the ring, and later outside of it. When someone wins, the payoff will be bigger, and the sympathy for the losers will be even more emotional. Yes, the series was created to make stars out of fighters who need that extra push, but it is also there to make us care more than we usually would.
The past two weeks proved that 24/7 still works and still can excite us for fights, convince us to spend money to see them. It just needed a slight refresher. It needed less characters, and more humans.
Couple of things happening around boxing that I wanted to touch on briefly:
What in the hell is going on at Golden Boy? You may have noticed that of the four fighters involved in these two weeks of 24/7, none of them fight under the Golden Boy banner. After spending last year slipping firmly into the No. 2 spot, they spent this year shitting the bed even more. Counter programming Chavez-Martinez was dumb enough, especially if the numbers between the $60 card and the Showtime card end up comparable. Now they are threatening to do the same with Manny Pacquiao's next fight in December, as well as a free PACKED UFC on Fox telecast? Golden Boy has had a rough couple of years, watching its stars of yesterday grow old, leave for greener Top Rank-watered pastures, or retire. Their former stars of the future, Amir Khan and Victor Ortiz, grow more flawed (albeit more entertaining as well) by the fight. Now they are taking their biggest next in line star, Canelo Alverez, and moving him to a secondary network? Cotto was a coup, but he is also aging and surely doesn't have many fights left. This, along with the disaster that is Oscar's Twitter, coupled with possibly losing their partnership with cash king Floyd Mayweather is making this one hell of a run for Golden Boy. How do they fix this mess?
Freddie Roach has been Manny Pacquiao's trainer for a long time, so this masks the rough patch he has had as well. With the news this week that he and Khan have probably worked together for the last time is just the most recent hit for Roach. He was also supposed to be the guy who fixed Jorge Linares, and that ended with many calling for Linares to retire. Who would have thought that out his recent additions to his stable, that Chavez Jr would come out stronger than those three? If we are going to congratulate Freddie for the evolution of Manny, we also must criticize when he takes two elite talents, and doesn't get elite results.
Lastly, I'd like to applaud Miguel Cotto, a favorite fighter of just about everybody, for not allowing himself to be bullied into a fight with Pacquiao by Top Rank, standing his ground on the weight but still taking a tough fight against a credible challenger in Austin Trout. As Scott has said many times, Miguel is in maybe the best position of any fighter in the sport, with leverage and no promoter ties that get in the way of him taking any fights. Miguel didn't have to take a tough fight, but he did.