The exceptional When We Were Kings was the first mainstream documentary to chronicle the buildup to a big boxing match. Unfortunately, it wasn't exactly timely—fans had to wait until 23 years after the Rumble in the Jungle to glimpse the pre-fight antics of Ali and Foreman. Timing isn't the problem with De La Hoya/Mayweather 24/7, a four-part, almost-real-time series that HBO's using to hype Saturday's showdown between Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather Jr. The trouble is that the documentary series sets the bar too high. To live up to the ridiculously entertaining promotional vehicle, De La Hoya-Mayweather would have to be the greatest boxing match of all time.
De La Hoya/Mayweather 24/7 offersfantastic access to the two fighters as they train, hang out at home, and taunt each other on the publicity trail. This is all tweaked up to the last possible minute—HBO couldn't provide preview episodes late last week because they were still being edited. Liev Schreiber, the narrator, comes in Sunday evenings (presumably after matinees of Talk Radio on Broadway) to voice the show hours before airtime. The tight schedule has made for some very meta moments. The second episode began with Mayweather and his posse watching the first episode.
The show works because both fighters realize that, with boxing's popularity on the wane, a big fight isn't enough to draw eyeballs. You have to, in the inimitable words of George W. Bush, "catapult the propaganda." For his part, Mayweather willingly takes on the villain role—as he puts it, "In this fight, there can't be two good guys. That's bullshit. So I chose to be the bad guy. Fuck it." (In another clip, the puckish fighter looks into the camera and says, "Mom, I'm sorry that I use bad language, I feel so bad … but I'm gonna fuck him up!")
"Pretty Boy" Floyd's livin' large lifestyle is so cartoonish that it reaches the level of performance art. He rolls around Las Vegas with a gigantic wad of cash and a flunky for every menial duty. Back at the estate, he hunts around in the Gap franchise he calls a closet. 50 Cent also turns up, riding a Segway.
24/7 would be a remarkable cultural object if it were nothing more than a very special episode of Cribs. But it's also a family soap opera that makes The Sopranos look like Little House. Floyd Mayweather Jr. was brought up to be a fighter by his father, Floyd Sr., a solid welterweight in his day. But just as the son made it big, Senior was busted for drug trafficking and sent to the slammer for more than five years. Upon his release, Senior found that Junior had outgrown his need for parental guidance, and the two had a nasty public spat.
It gets more complicated. Floyd Sr. was until recently De La Hoya's trainer and wanted little more than to have his student maul his son in the ring. But money changes everything, and when Oscar refused to pay Senior $2 million for his services, Senior cozied back up to Junior. Now, the dreadlocked paterfamilias lurks in the shadows as his brother Roger trains his son. Floyd Sr. and Roger detest each other. Senior calls himself the "World's Greatest Trainer" and lets it be known where he thinks Roger lies on that list. "It's Floyd's fight. … If he wants a great chance [to win], he has his daddy. If he wants an all right chance, maybe he'll do something else." Roger's retort? "He can be there, he can be at home in his rocking chair, I don't give a shit."
Where Junior comes off as an incorrigible (if entertaining) blowhard and Senior a bitter cutman relegated to a neutral corner, Roger is the crazy uncle one likes to keep locked away when company arrives. While his acumen as a trainer isn't questioned, he seems—to put a fine point on things—completely insane. (This punch he took back in the '80s may be the culprit.)
The first episode of 24/7 chronicled Roger's quest for reinstatement by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. The trainer had entered the ring to brawl with Zab Judah after Judah had smacked Floyd Jr. with a low blow. He was suspended for a year, which elapsed just in time for HBO to tag along to the hearing. Roger is properly sycophantic to the commission and has his license restored. On the way out, he thanks the deceased "Johnnie Cochran" and compares himself to O.J.—"Somebody got off," he says with a cackle.
Amid all that Mayweather Madness, De La Hoya is the picture of decorum. He's seen lounging in his Puerto Rico manse, watching the Masters as his lovely wife makes espresso and playing with the dogs out by the pool. It's a scene straight out of Rocky III—all that's missing is Mick growling, "Ya got civilized!"
De La Hoya stares into the camera and predicts punishment for Mayweather, but his heart isn't in it. While still a formidable fighter and the sport's top draw, De La Hoya hasn't had a win over a quality opponent since besting Fernando Vargas in 2002. Since then, he's been pummeled by Bernard Hopkins and whipped twice by "Sugar" Shane Mosley. Win or lose—more realistically, lose or lose—his legacy won't change much. He's going through the motions until fight night, after which he'll transition into his promotion career.
The only thing 24/7 lacks, then, is what When We Were Kings had in spades: historical importance to match the spectacle. Since De La Hoya has so little chance to win, the stakes of the fight are much lower than the promotional bluster would lead you to believe. As a result, De La Hoya/Mayweather 24/7 comes off less as a celebration of two great fighters than as a last-gasp attempt by HBO to revive its flagship sport.
A sure sign of boxing's growing irrelevance came immediately prior to the second episode of 24/7, when Ultimate Fighting Championship stud Chuck Liddell made a cameo on Entourage, a role that surely would have gone to a boxer as recently as five years ago. As great a gift to viewers as De La Hoya/Mayweather 24/7 is, even HBO knows where the future lies.