TV: Brawling Buildup to a Title Fight

When co-workers ask me, "Who do you like in the playoffs?" or "How about them Yankees?" I usually say something like, "I'm not really into sports." But to simply say that I'm not into sports does a disservice to the depth of my ignorance of the subject. The true answer would be more like, "Actually, the part of my brain that should be occupied by sports minutiae is instead occupied by a gaping abyss so deep and dark that eons could pass before a beam of light illuminated its outer reaches." But who has time to say all that before the elevator reaches the 16th floor?

Despite my total ambivalence toward all things sports, I found myself in front of my television this weekend totally wrapped up in the behind-the-scenes conflict leading up to the May 5 light-middleweight boxing match between Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather Jr. For its unprecedented four-part reality series "De La Hoya/Mayweather 24/7," HBO sent cameras to document the boxers as they prepare to square off for the WBC light-middleweight championship, and there's more than enough personal drama to compensate for my lack of interest in sports.

The show begins with De La Hoya, who has just begun working with venerable trainer Freddie Roach. De La Hoya had selected Roach over Floyd Mayweather Sr., his opponent's father, who had.asked for an exorbitant $2 million to train De La Hoya. Floyd Sr. then rejoins his son's training team, only to find out that his reappearance doesn't mean he would be training his son. Instead, that job goes to Roger Mayweather, Floyd Sr.'s younger brother and Floyd Jr.'s uncle. So neither Floyd Sr. and Roger, nor Floyd Sr. and Floyd Jr., are on speaking terms, and on top of that, Roger, who is just returning to the Mayweather team after a prison term, has to appear before the Nevada State Gaming Commission to request that his training license be reinstated. His license was revoked following a 2006 incident in which he charged the ring after his nephew was dealt a vicious low blow by his opponent, Zab Judah. HBO's cameras capture all of this, giving the show a delicious voyeuristic appeal.

Of course, the main conflict is between the two fighters, and "24/7" documents the bad blood between them, which began during a press tour in which a showboating Mayweather displayed weirdly antagonistic behavior not seen since the days of Mike Tyson. "I'ma beat you ‘til you respect me!" Mayweather yells, just inches from his opponent's face. "I'ma make you call me pretty." De La Hoya also accuses Mayweather of stealing his training gear, an accusation Mayweather almost explicitly admits to: "He says I stole his training gear, but what is he gonna do about it?"

Perhaps because villains are more intriguing, Mayweather's segments are far more interesting than De La Hoya's. The show captures both men at their palatial homes--Mayweather's in Las Vegas and De La Hoya's in Puerto Rico--and while De La Hoya's at-home segments show the family man playing fetch with his five dogs, and his wife making gourmet coffee, one of Mayweather's segments shows him getting a haircut in his bathroom, as rapper 50 Cent rides back and forth through the shot on a Segway. 50 Cent on a Segway is tough to compete with. Not to be entirely outdone, De La Hoya flies in an unexpected guest to serve as a sparring partner: "Sugar" Shane Mosley, who has dealt De La Hoya his only two defeats.

All of this takes place in the premier, interspersed with sequences that lay out biographies of each boxer. It's a dense 30 minutes. By the end of the premiere, I was hotly anticipating the next episode. That's right, me, the guy with the black hole in his brain where the sports trivia should … well, you remember. Whether or not viewers have any interest in this fight or in boxing at all, "De La Hoya/Mayweather 24/7" is an engrossing look at both a boxing match and a personal circus, and fans of human drama will want to have a ringside seat.

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