HALLELUJAH FOR A GRUDGE MATCH I CAN ACTUALLY BELIEVE IN (AND A NETWORK THAT KNOWS HOW TO TELL THE STORY PROPERLY)

“-Ohhh, I’m so glad I’m calling this fight.”

-Max Kellerman

 Not that it’s some kind of secret or anything, but the people over at HBO Boxing are pretty damn good at promoting the fisticuffs. Their 24/7 documentary series was essentially created to sell the 2007 Floyd Maywaether/Oscar De La Hoya Super Fight (and sell it they did, to the tune of 2.4 million pay-per-view buys) and continues to be employed everytime Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao have a fight to promote. The idea is a proven winner, indeed. Four episodes in four weeks, with the finale usually airing the day before the fight or thereabouts. Great idea really, to take the usual one-hour “documentary/pomotional” idea and stretch into something so extensive. Usually the endgame is to sell the viewing public on the idea that both guys have a chance to actually win the fight, which is hardly an easy trick whenever one of them is Pacquaio or Mayweather.

Thing is, HBO usually pulls it off quite nicely, especially in the case of the Mayweather/Victor Ortiz fight. If you watched those four shows, you might have bought Ortiz as young, talented and fearless, and if you know Boxing, you know that fighters in Mayweather’s poisiton eventually get old,  quite often in the span of one night and without any real, tangible warning signs. Hey, I didn’t have to try that hard to conjure up the image of an upset in my mind, and that hope is what is being sold here.

Of course, it was clear about two rounds in that Ortiz didn’t have a chance in hell, either physically or mentally, and that he’d be looking for a way out sooner than later (in this case, by trying to headbutt Floyd’s  block off) but that’s beside the point. The fight did over a millon buys on pay-per-view, and I’m willing to bet that a good number of those people were sold enough on Ortiz’ viability as a foe to spend their money on this fight. That’s how it’s done.
 With that said, some fights have a better story to tell than others, and the rematch between Antonio Margarito and Miguel Cotto, scheduled for December 3rd, is tell one of the better ones I’ve come across in along time. I mean, if I told you a story of two guys, one the undefeated king of his division and a rising superstar in the sport, and the other a tough-as-hell brawler whose career lacked a defining victory, and how they essentially switched places in one night of back-and-forth, bloody warfare, you might be interested in seeing these guys fight again, right? How about if you add some intrique to the mix? Say, something like the fact the winner of the first fight (Margarito) was busted less than a year later for essentially attempting to wrap his hands in plaster, thus making his glove fists into something of an even deadlier weapon? And how it is natural for Cotto to assume that Margarito had pulled a similar dirty trick in their fight? How else for a proud, perviously undefeated Warrior to reconcile the fact that he lost for the first time as a pro?
For his part, Margarito remains both unrepentant and antagonistic, maintaining not only that he didn’t cheat against Cotto, but that he hardly needed to, then or now. Often in the modern era of fight promotion, the people in charge try and sell you on contrived grievances and manufactured rivalries. If the earliest notion of what made fighting popular was the basic idea that two men who had a score to settle were gonna duke it out until one them dropped, it has continued to be true even well after the first smart promoter decided that a fake rivalry worked just as good as a real one.
What I’m saying here is that someone like me can tell the difference. This fight isn’t one of those that is being sold with a bunch of desperate “these guys really don’t like each other!” hyperbole (which usually means they actually do, by the way) . Here, it’s assumed, not implied. Watch the first episode of Margarito-vs-Cotto 24/7 and listen to Margarito dismiss his opponent as nothing more than a crybaby, then watch a solemn, focused Cotto talk about redemption and his eventual return to in-ring glory. About how he’ll get his name back by destroying the guy who took it from him. This fight doesn’t need promotion or hype, it only needs someone who can tell the story properly, and that’s exactly what HBO excels at.
And if that may not be enough, HBO has come up with another great idea for selling fights. They call it “Face off”, and the concept is every bit as simple as the name implies. Put Boxing analyst Max Kellerman at a table with the two Boxers and let him mediate (or instigate) a short conversation between the two. Whatever happens, happens.
What can I say, that video fucking moved me. Margarito is the asshole who thinks (or pretends) he is right. Cotto feels just as sure that he is and more to the point, he knows he’ll win this time around. He just knows it. This is a real life good guy/ bad guy scenario here, and it’s compelling as hell. You see, once in a blue moon the truth is actually dramatic enough on it’s own. This would be one of those times.
So yeah, I can’t fucking wait for this fight. Max’s sentiments at the end of this video sum the whole story up just perfectly. He knows that Boxing can deliver moments like this in a way that no other sport truly can, and that this is as good as it gets in Boxing.
So do I.
-John Hathwell
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