By David P. Greisman
Conflict, though universal and timeless, is not a 24/7 institution. War is punctuated by periodic negotiations. Professional wrestling needs promos to set up, flesh out or add to the storylines. Even “The Jerry Springer Show” prefaces its tussles with bleep-filled conversation.
A fight with no context will still draw attention. Witness schoolyard score settling. Watch the multitude of videos popping up online of brawls at fast food restaurants, diners, sports stadiums, and neighborhood settings somewhere, anywhere and everywhere in America. And fights in the stands at boxing matches can draw the attention away from even the most engaging battle between the ropes.
But interest in those battles last only as long as the fights themselves. Giving context adds drama to the action and makes storylines stick.
HBO has followed that formula with its “Countdown” shows, its “24/7” miniseries, and most recently its 12-minute “Face Off” broadcasts. The tension between Wladimir Klitschko and David Haye got people talking. So did the verbal sparring between Bernard Hopkins and Jean Pascal.
The “Face Off” for the third bout between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez was nowhere near as gripping, partly because of English being the fighters’ second language, and partly because Pacquiao and Marquez have a rivalry in the ring but are respectful outside of it.
That leaves the job of getting the conversation going to “24/7 Pacquiao/Marquez,” the first episode of which aired this past Saturday.
Let’s talk about the first episode, then.
With a nod to syndicated columnist Norman Chad, I took notes:
10:01 p.m. Eastern Time: Liev Schreiber, who could have a second career as the next incarnation of movie preview guy Don LaFontaine, perfectly describes the storyline of this fight:
“Seven years ago, two men found themselves pitted against each other in the ring. And 12 exhilarating rounds of boxing revealed only how even a match they were. So a few years later they met again, an evening that yielded a victor, but also an echoing quantity of dispute.
“Two bouts had hardly determined who was superior, but in the time that’s passed since, while both have remained world-class fighters, only one has risen to the standing that transcends his place in the sport: global icon. But inside these ropes, both men know in its purest of forms supremacy remains very much unresolved.”
Unfortunately, this fight will not say anything about the past, only about who the fighters are now. Pacquiao and Marquez were both featherweights in 2004 when they first fought and both junior lightweights in 2008 in their rematch. Now Pacquiao has retained his speed despite rising to the welterweight division, while Marquez just does not (and will not) carry the weight well.
10:02 p.m.: “I have to prove who won those two fights,” Marquez says. Says Pacquiao: “I have to prove this fight that, you know, he’s wrong.”
The first two fights are like the number of licks it takes to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop: “The world will never know.”
You’ll find people who thought Marquez won both and people who thought Pacquiao won both. Sometimes close fights are just close fights.
10:03 p.m.: The cameras transport us to the city of Baguio. What comes first after Manny retires: his Hall of Fame induction, or the Philippines changing Baguio’s name to Pacquiao?
Schreiber returns to background: the first fight was a draw, the second a split decision victory. You can air all the tirades from Floyd Mayweather Jr. you want – they sell a fighter to those who will root for or against him. But this? This is selling the fight.
10:06 p.m.: We follow a sparring session between Manny Pacquiao and lightweight contender Jorge Linares with two Pacquiao camp members, neither a trainer boxer, putting the gloves on.
“There’s only like four of us that really have a job in the entourage,” says Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s trainer, with a laugh. “But the entourage is probably 50 deep at this time. And those guys, their job now is to entertain Manny.”
It’s MC Hammer all over again. How soon until a broke Pacquiao starts his own search engine?
“The fight is terrible, man,” Pacquiao is overheard saying. He has no idea that, on the night this airs, it’ll still provide better action than the HBO main event.
10:07 p.m.: “It is quite a spectacle,” Roach says. “It’s a little embarrassing to the sport, to be honest with you.”
Um, Freddie, have you been following this sport in the past 20 years?
We go to Mexico City. Juan Manuel Marquez arrives in a yellow Hummer – and suddenly all I can think of is Marquez drinking his own urine.
10:09 p.m.: “He knows he hasn’t beaten me decisively,” Marquez says, “and it’s like a thorn in my side that I want to pull out.”
We go to footage from their two fights, interspersed with great quotes from Roach and Marquez’s trainer, Nacho Beristain, who calls Pacquiao “a bundle of dynamite that looked like a Filipino guy.”
This is, of course, good salesmanship. Two pitched battles, two action fights, and these two talented boxers getting back in with each other once again. Granted, most believe Pacquiao is now the decisive favorite to win, Marquez the clear underdog, but this presentation is still far more honest than the way Showtime’s “Pacquiao/Mosley Fight Camp 360” went out of its way not to mention Shane Mosley’s one-sided loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr. and ugly draw with Sergio Mora.
10:12 p.m.: There’s something about Freddie Roach that just makes me think a sports agent played by Tom Cruise is going to walk over and give him a hug.
The selected footage and commentary is as effective for building up this fight as when WWE puts together a video package with a voiceover from Jim Ross. This is good, as Pacquiao and Marquez won’t do much selling of this fight with their talk.
“Hell of a fight,” Larry Merchant says at the end of the rematch. “I’m calling it another draw.”
10:13 p.m.: “To have won those two fights would have put me where Pacquiao is now,” Marquez says.
Not quite. And it’s hard to think that Marquez is jealous of what Pacquiao has become. It’s more likely that he feels he’s at least as good as a guy lauded as one of the best ever.
Marquez is a future Hall of Fame inductee, but I don’t think he’d be where Pacquiao is now had the decisions gone his way. A big reason for Pacquiao’s ascent has been because of his rising through the weight classes, knocking out Ricky Hatton, stopping Oscar De La Hoya and Miguel Cotto, and decisively beating Antonio Margarito and Shane Mosley.
Marquez has been great as a lightweight champion, but I can’t envision him beating any of those five names.
10:15 p.m.: We transition to Oct. 15 and Manny Pacquiao watching Jorge Linares lose via technical knockout in Los Angeles. This is moving the storyline forward: Pacquiao has arrived in the United States. A fighter he was sparring with had his own match, one that Pacquiao was there to watch.
It feels like we’ve gone from building up Pacquiao-Marquez 3 to being a fly on the wall for what goes on next. It’s interesting, for a moment, to see Pacquiao and Linares talk pre-fight in front of a row of urinals. It’s interesting to see Pacquiao and Linares embrace after the fight, the defeated fighter leaving blood on Pacquiao’s white shirt.
It’s ultimately forgettable, though. There is a guy named Juan Manuel Marquez who’s going to be fighting Manny Pacquiao, right?
10:17 p.m.: At least we return now to Mexico City, getting the back story to Beristain’s boxing gym. Beristain is a colorful man, and not just because of what appear to be blue crocodile skin shoes.
“Feint,” he instructs someone in the gym. “Feint, you dumbass. Don’t you know what feint means? What are you doing, dude?”
I’m left wondering if Beristain used words other than “dumbass” and “dude.” Those subtitles make him sound like if Beavis and Butthead were boxing trainers.
10:19 p.m.: Interesting that Marquez’s team thinks that Pacquiao now being a more disciplined fighter is to their advantage, that he’s no longer an unpredictable, difficult-to-tame whirlwind.
I think they’re wrong, that Pacquiao now has fewer flaws to take advantage of.
10:20 p.m.: We’re 20 minutes into this episode, and still no urine drinking.
10:21 p.m.: We get some camera time with Alex Ariza, Pacquiao’s vaunted strength and conditioning coach. He, like many others from Pacquiao’s camp in this episode, is wearing a T-shirt bearing the name of Pacquiao’s website.
I guess with no obvious reasons to reference 50 Cent or Coca Cola in this series that the product placement has to come from somewhere. I seem to recall those surrounding Oscar De La Hoya wearing plenty of “The Ring” magazine T-shirts on “24/7” a few years back.
10:26 p.m.: After seeing Marquez in his role as studio analyst on ESPN Deportes’ “Golpe a Golpe,” we move to the end of the episode. Schreiber says that one more night in the ring will put the fighters’ legacies up for review.
Only if Marquez wins. And even that won’t damage Pacquiao’s legacy, but rather will just add to Marquez’s.
10:27 p.m.: Roach says there won’t be any controversy this time: “I want Manny to knock this guy out and shut him up and close the book on this.”
That’s the end of the episode, and, honestly, it should be the end of the series. It’s hard to envision that there will be enough material to make three more episodes interesting.
Conflict is an institution of “24/7” on HBO. There is physical conflict and there is verbal conflict. As much as the “24/7” series involving Floyd Mayweather Jr. appeal to the lowest common denominator, the boasting and trash talking that come from his mouth make for appealing television.
Then again, people watch “Jersey Shore,” too.
Pacquiao and Marquez are not going to sling mud at each other. Neither will Beristain and Roach. And unless we see the camp squabbles or natural disasters that plagued past Pacquiao camps during the filming of “24/7,” the rest of the show seems destined to be “fly on the wall,” the cameras following the fighters and those surrounding them as fight night approaches.
The most attention-grabbing part of this first episode was when the first two fights were shown and the fighters and their trainers broke down the action.
What will be most interesting to see in the next episodes is what changes and adjustments the fighters and trainers make for Nov. 12.
The 10 Count
1. Full disclosure: I didn’t watch “24/7 Pacquiao/Marquez” live – I was in New York City for Nonito Donaire’s bout against Omar Narvaez.
There was a great atmosphere at The Theater at Madison Square Garden, and I had a better perspective on the crowd than I normally would have – I bought a ticket and experienced the card from the fan’s point-of-view rather than being in press row and at a distance from the noise and energy.
As with many shows not involving major ticket sellers, Donaire-Narvaez relied on ethnic and regional draws. “Irish” Sean Monaghan of Long Beach, N.Y., pulled in a bulk of the fans in attendance. With his fight on third, the theater was already filling up just half an hour after the doors opened.
There were also Long Island residents there for Michael Brooks, boxing fans of Puerto Rican heritage there who let their loyalties be heard when Jonathan Gonzalez came to the ring, Argentine fans rooting for Narvaez, and, of course, a number of the local Filipino-American community in the arena for Donaire.
The crowd seemed younger than other boxing cards I’ve attended. It’s a shame that the main event proved to be such a stinker. This being New York City, their disappointment wasn’t limited just to booing. We heard bored fans start chants for the New York Jets. We heard a “This is bulls**t!” chant. And, amazingly, we saw people walk out early during the main event.
The best part of not being on deadline Saturday? Leaving immediately after the decision was announced, heading to the closest bar, and washing the bad taste of Donaire-Narvaez out of my mouth.
2. I can only imagine what the crowd must’ve been like in the big arena at Madison Square Garden during Wladimir Klitschko’s snooze-fest with Sultan Ibragimov…
3. Nonito Donaire, in his post-fight interview, hit the proverbial nail on the head in comparing his dreary decision win over Narvaez to what Manny Pacquiao experienced in going the distance against the defensive-minded Joshua Clottey.
As with Pacquiao-Clottey and Sergio Martinez vs. Darren Barker, there are times when a winner can look less than impressive even when the loser did little to look good. Clottey, Barker and Narvaez stayed in defensive shells, and though each was effective when he opened up, all were also far too aware of the punishment they could take from offensive-dynamo opponents.
But one fighter being nearly all defense doesn’t mean that the other fighter can then worry about nothing except his own offense. Clottey shook Pacquiao with the occasional solid shot. Barker blooded Martinez’s nose. And Narvaez caught Donaire’s attention early with some clean, flush counter shots.
The blame for the boring bout still has to fall on Narvaez. Nevertheless, everyone watching Donaire-Narvaez – except for Narvaez’s fans – wanted to see Donaire overwhelm his man and put him away. Yet for all of Donaire’s hand speed, he’s not as swift on his feet. He needed to spend less time chasing after Narvaez and focus on cutting off the ring and forcing him against the ropes, where he could strafe him with power shots.
4. Not sure which nickname from the undercard was better: Cletus “Hebrew Hammer” Seldin or Tommy “Razor” Rainone.
5. Oh, thank goodness. Instead of defending his heavyweight title against Evander Holyfield (49 years old) or Hasim Rahman (who is turning 39 in two weeks), Alexander Povetkin will step in the ring this December against…
…42-year-old Cedric Boswell.
Actually, better Boswell than Holyfield, who isn’t ranked by the World Boxing Association and doesn’t deserve to be, or Rahman, who is somehow ranked No. 1 by the WBA and doesn’t deserve to be.
Boswell is 35-1, that sole loss coming eight years ago against Jameel McCline. Boswell was out of the ring for two-and-a-half years after that, and since then he’s won 14 straight against the kinds of opponents that typically land a past-his-prime heavyweight a shot at a world title.
The sanctioning body had Boswell at No. 14 as of September, which qualifies him for the shot and is far, far, far more justifiable than the WBA’s lofty opinion of Rahman.
6. I’m calling it now: Evander Holyfield vs. Hasim Rahman 2, heavyweight title eliminator, sometime in 2012.
7. God bless the occasional delusional press release.
Some sanctioning body called the UBO (not to be confused with reggae band UB 40) bragged to websites last year that its vacant “Inter-Continental cruiserweight title” would be awarded to the winner of December’s bout between Roy Jones Jr. and Max Alexander.
Even the most fringe of the fringe needs additional titles in each weight class, never mind when said fringe of the fringe says on its website that “if you are a UBO world champion, you are the only WUBO world champion in your weight class.”
But if you, too, want to work from home and start your own sanctioning body, what better fight for a vacant intercontinental belt than one between a dude who hasn’t won since 2009 versus a dude who hasn’t won since 2007?
And then you can tell the media that “this fight will be the first ever UBO title fight to be broadcast live on Internet pay-per-view.”
Their families must be so proud.
8. Out of Commission, part one:
Why is referee Pat Russell still, a week later, apparently under a California State Athletic Commission gag order when it comes to speaking to Max Kellerman of HBO – but was able to be quoted at length and on the record when talking to Steve Kim of MaxBoxing.com barely more than 24 hours after Hopkins-Dawson?
9. Out of Commission, part two:
Why did the New York State Athletic Commission prevent HBO from doing fight-night weigh-ins for Donaire-Narvaez? The first thing that came to mind was that perhaps a commission that once sanctioned Arturo Gatti vs. Joey Gamache was sensitive to what appeared to be a massive weight disparity between Donaire and Narvaez. I don’t know what the answer is, but I’d like to know.
10. For James Toney to make cruiserweight for his Nov. 4 bout against Denis Lebedev, he has to lost 37 pounds from what he was in August 2010 against Randy Couture.
In boxing terms, that’s one-third of Ivan Calderon…
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com.
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