by David P. Greisman
This is not about the fight — yet.
“Mayweather-Cotto 24/7,” the latest in HBO’s line of documentary/infomercial mini-series preceding its biggest boxing pay-per-view offerings, is not yet about the fight contained within its title.
That is because these series aren’t really about us.
We, the boxing hardcore of the world, were sold the moment the match was announced. This marketing effort is done for the rest, for those who aren’t immediately drawn in.
They’re not sold solely on style pairings and the possibility of a great fight. Otherwise, the rematch between Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo wouldn’t have bombed on pay-per-view. Otherwise, the trilogy of battles between Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez would have been the highest rated boxing broadcasts in years.
Those other people are sold on spectacle and personality, on the must-see nature of an event and on the must-follow characters who will play roles in it.
This is not about us. This is not an old-school HBO “Countdown” designed to get us excited the week before a big bout. This is a slow sale — introducing viewers to the players, then interesting the viewers in who they are, then intriguing the viewers on what could happen, then getting the viewers intent on being buyers.
Let’s see how HBO’s sales pitch via the first episode of “Mayweather-Cotto 24/7 went. With a nod to syndicated columnist Norman Chad, I took notes:
9:45 p.m. Eastern Time: Right on cue, we open with a close-up shot of and soliloquy from the biggest character this series has ever had, self-proclaimed, self-made and self-promoting.
“I’ma tell the fans this. If Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather is not on ‘24/7,’ don’t even bother watching. Because when I’m on ‘24/7,’ it’s you-must-watch TV. … What would this show, ‘24/7,’ be without me?”
Mayweather doesn’t acknowledge that this is a symbiotic relationship. HBO’s producers and viewers love the material he gives them. But where would Mayweather be without them?
Mayweather goes on to tell a producer, who is off-screen, that the show should have 10 minutes of Miguel Cotto and the remainder of the time should go to everyone from Floyd himself to the Mayweather family, his hangers-on, his rapper friend 50 Cent and others.
He’s not wrong about this. There’s a reason why Mayweather, who is not the champion in this bout but rather the challenger, has his name come first in the show’s title.
50 Cent made his first appearance of the series within the first minute, by the way. Does it count as product placement when the product is a person?
9:47 p.m.: Here’s why Mayweather is right about the show’s focus — Miguel Cotto is shown cross-armed and quiet. Whereas Floyd’s voice led off the series before we even saw his face, we’re joined now by narrator Liev Schreiber before Cotto says anything himself.
“You’ll excuse Miguel Cotto for not talking back,” Schreiber says. “He’s just here to fight.”
There’s no personal issue for Cotto, no path toward long-sought revenge, no unmistakable dislike for Mayweather rising from within. He’s a fighter, and that’s why we’re going to begin with shots of him hitting the pads in training camp.
It’s up to Schreiber and the producers to fill in the blanks, to make the sale for Cotto, to present his personality, and also his case for winning. That will come from B-roll footage and from interviews. And if it won’t always come from Cotto himself, then it’ll have to come from his trainers, friends and family members.
“I don’t need to talk about Floyd,” Cotto says. “He’s the kind of guy who always needs someone’s whole attention. I’m a quiet guy, but I’m always thinking, preparing myself to the event I’m going to face.”
Schreiber begins the sale: “That event is scheduled for May 5 in Las Vegas, a meeting of two of boxing’s signature names of the past decade.”
We get quick clips of members of Cotto’s team. We’ll probably be seeing this supporting cast — and what an appropriate term for this series — plenty over these four episodes.
That’s because Cotto makes his point with one line: “This fight for me is the best opportunity I can have to prove and show to the world what Miguel Cotto is made of.”
9:48 p.m.: And now the exposition. HBO needs to inform its viewers about the past in order to interest them in the future. This flashback to Cotto’s first and second fights with Antonio Margarito will be unnecessary filler for some, necessary footage for others.
This much is key: Cotto says the Margarito rematch win brought back confidence that had been missing. He’ll need a lot more than that to beat Mayweather. We see him climbing a rope without using his legs. We see him swinging a baseball bat into a tire. Training technology’s come a long way since the 1970s, when all Rocky had available to him was meat-swinging and egg-swilling.
9:51 p.m.: Four minutes for Cotto, and now back to Mayweather. Schreiber notes that the words “Mayweather Boxing Club” finally adorn the once-unmarked gym where Mayweather prepares himself.
Guess that’s what happens once all your taxes are finally paid off.
We get the montage of Mayweather’s supporting cast. That’s the second shot of 50 Cent in six and a half minutes.
“The Money Team, ‘til the day I D-I-E,” Mayweather says, marking the first time a grown man has felt it cool to spell out a three-letter word since Christopher Wallace became B.I.G. and Snoop Dogg sang of a fellow rapper as “D.R.E.”
9:52 p.m.: We get into Mayweather’s legal situation, including his upcoming jail time, which got postponed until June in order to fit this fight in. Mayweather says he’s not worried about it. Let’s not worry about whether he’s telling the truth — he’s telling himself what has to seem like the truth until this fight is past.
That Floyd Mayweather Jr. has been as successful as he’s been isn’t just because of his talent or his trainer, but because of his own dedication and ability to focus in the face of distractions.
9:53 p.m.: 50 Cent sighting No. 3. We get an extended segment featuring him. At this point in the episode, the man born Curtis Jackson has had about half as much airtime as Miguel Cotto and all of Cotto’s team members combined.
Leonard Ellerbe says Mayweather’s plea deal was “to protect his family.” Better late than never for that, huh?
9:55 p.m.: Finally, something related to the fight itself — the weight at which the bout will be contested.
“I can care less about the weight is. I’m in there to f*** you up,” Mayweather says. And this is true. Cotto will be more comfortable at 154, but he’ll also be noticeably slower than Mayweather, who’ll likely come in closer to welterweight and retain all of the speed and effectiveness he’d have were the bout at 147. As we saw with Manny Pacquiao’s run against heavier men, it’s not size that matters, but rather speed and technique.
9:56 p.m.: It’s apparently a requirement of every “24/7” series that Cotto is in that we get a shot of him in his underwear. Women buy pay-per-views, too.
Meanwhile, has Cotto’s good friend Bryan Perez last weight? And is that really the most notable news item yet some 11 minutes into this episode?
9:58 p.m.: Cotto’s trainer, Pedro Diaz, isn’t quite Naazim Richardson when it comes to poetically describing his fighters’ strategies: “Miguel will apply his intelligence in the ring,” the subtitles say. “He’ll use his hands in the ring, his training and his tactics.”
Groundbreaking: A boxer is going to win because of his punching and his strategy.
That’s like the supposed John Madden quote about football made famous by comedian Frank Caliendo: “Usually the team with the most points wins the game.”
9:59 p.m.: Back to Mayweather after three minutes with Team Cotto. Floyd is describing how the ring in his training camp is called “The Doghouse” and compares it to a dogfight, then digressed into not wanting to offend animal-rights advocates.
“I don’t give a f*** ‘cause I wear mink coats,” Mayweather says.
10 p.m.: 50 Cent sighting No. 4.
10:01 p.m.: More exposition. We turn to last September’s fight between Mayweather and Victor Ortiz. We get 50 Cent sighting No. 5. They also show a clip of the rapper walking Mayweather out to the ring for that fight. He was wearing a Baltimore Orioles hat then, but is wearing a New York Yankees hat now.
Roger Mayweather gets some on-screen time to describe how Ortiz had tried to apologize to Mayweather, post-foul, with kisses and hugs:
“He tried to make love to my nephew, I guess,” Uncle Roger says.
There’s a joke about Floyd’s jail time that could come here…
10:02 p.m.: Floyd talks about the controversial knockout he scored on Ortiz. “It’s like this: You violate, and we’ll demonstrate,” he says.
Pre-rehearsed line alert…
We move on to the post-fight interview argument between Mayweather and Larry Merchant. How many weeks of filming went into this episode, and there was this little newsworthy from within the camps? We’re 17 minutes in, and this show is more about selling Mayweather than it is about selling Cotto vs. Mayweather.
10:03 p.m.: Mayweather mentions 50 Cent. That doesn’t count toward our total, alas.
10:04 p.m. We return to Cotto’s home in Florida, where he’s spending time with his wife, sons and dogs. Clearly we’re marketing one guy as the bad guy who’ll turn off some and appeal to others, and we’re marketing the other guy as the good guy — who’ll appeal to some and turn off others.
10:06 p.m.: After two and a half minutes with Cotto’s camp, much of it with Cotto’s wife, we come back to Mayweather, who is hitting a heavy bag. Some believe that’s also an apropos description of what will happen in the main event on May 5.
10:07 p.m.: Floyd Mayweather Sr. shows up. Gee, what were the odds of that happening once “24/7” began filming? We need something to carry these four episodes, ‘cause it sure isn’t going to be Cotto vs. Mayweather.
Floyd Sr. says he never got an apology after the verbal altercation between him and his son prior to the Ortiz bout. Of course we get footage of that. If these “24/7” series are beginning to feel old, well, this first episode’s even more so because of all the archival footage.
“In the end of the day, he’s still my son,” Floyd Sr. says. “I live and let live, and all I do is attend my own business and leave everybody else’s business alone. And I think that’s the best thing for me to do.”
We’ll see how long that lasts.
10:08 p.m.: No mentions of Manny Pacquiao yet?
10:09 p.m.: Finally, some talk about this fight from Mayweather Jr. and Cotto.
Mayweather: “May 5 is just another day for me. You know, I don’t live that far from the [Las Vegas] Strip. The only thing I’m going do is hop in one of my toys, drive 10 miles down the street, go there and give the fans what they want to see. I’ma chop his ass up, and there’s two ways he can go: He can fall on his face, or he can fall on his back, or he can wave the white flag. Well, that’s three ways now.”
(Footage of Mayweather working out shows him to be wearing a T-shirt from the “Mayweather-Hatton 24/7” series.)
Cotto: “I think he believes Miguel Cotto is the last chapter of his career. He’s never faced a guy like Miguel Cotto. He’s going to see and feel it on May 5.”
Cotto might not give Mayweather a run for his money (no pun intended) in the ring, but he’s sure up there in terms of referencing himself in the third person.
10:10 p.m.: Since the fighters won’t really talk about the fight, let’s hear more from the trainers.
Roger Mayweather: “I don’t know what Cotto’s got, really, to be honest, but I will find out because he’s fighting the best fighter in the world.”
Diaz: “Invincible men only exist in the movies.”
Except Mayweather Jr. doesn’t need to be invincible. He just needs to be better.
I wish this “24/7” episode could’ve been better, too, but, well, this series wasn’t made for me.
This series is for selling the personalities. Cotto and his team got slightly more than the 10 minutes that Mayweather felt they deserved, while Mayweather and his camp took over the rest.
If past versions of this show felt like we’d seen it all before, well, this was one where we’d heard it all before. Mayweather is about shtick, about selling himself and his personality, marketing his name to those who love him and those who love to hate him. We’re not going to get footage of him sparring in the ring, as those moments are kept confidential, so we’re left with the remainder — Mayweather exercising his body and his mouth.
This isn’t about the fight — yet. It’s about the event and the people playing their roles.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Miguel Cotto are two of the top three pay-per-view draws in this country. But that doesn’t mean that those marketing this fight become complacent. The biggest bouts get the “24/7” treatment. These two men have been on screen many times before.
That means we know just about everything there is to know about Mayweather and Cotto.
That means there’s nothing compelling about this commercial.
That means little in the long run, because this series isn’t really about hardcore boxing fans like us.
The 10 Count is at the beach and will return next week.
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com.
Follow David on Twitter at twitter.com/fightingwords2 or on Facebook at facebook.com/fightingwordsboxing, or send questions and comments to [email protected]