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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Miguel Cotto-Manny Pacquiao: 24/7 Pt. 1 Reviewed

Pacquiao Cotto 24/7
It feels like only weeks since the last journey though reality TV waters…mostly because it has been. Unlike the last time out, the hype this time surrounds a fight that isn’t a foregone conclusion, isn’t just a showcase.

Narrator Liev Schreiber’s voice over plays as the image of Yankee Stadium in unveiled. “…in the bowels of a modern sports temple,” we are introduced to the warriors at the heart of what will be the most viewed, and anticipated, fight for the rest of 2009. They share the same space but, at least for the cameras, don’t look much in each other’s directions. Highlights of one man’s highs, and another’s highs and lows, lead to clips of their press conference on the New York diamond.

“This is Pacquiao-Cotto, 24/7.”

Cue the music and real-timish review.

Raindrops fall over Baguio City as the World Jr. Welterweight champion, Manny Pacquiao (49-3-2, 37 KO) does his roadwork fish-style. A typhoon in the Philippines makes hitting the asphalt untenable so laps in the pool are the order of the day. It is reminiscent of Rocky III in that Pacquiao is struggling because he’s not much of a swimmer.

It’s hard to imagine this ending with a montage of Pacquiao looking Michael Phelps in the days before the fight, pulling Paulie in the pool while Apollo chuckles but, hey, one can hope.

The typhoon, of course, is no laughing matter. The haunting images evoke Katrina as citizens float down rivers which shouldn’t be, struggling to survive the wrath of Typhoon Parma (or Pepeng) amidst 28 inches of rain. Pacquiao’s choice to train at home, rather than in Los Angeles, is explored and Pacquiao states what would be the only thing he can, balancing his feelings for his nation and his need to prepare. “I feel bad. My sympathy to those people who are suffering in the storm. Right now I’m very focused and I don’t want to think about anything aside from boxing.”

Trainer Freddy Roach smiles uncomfortably describing how he’d liked to have had camp in Canada nut but was overruled because ‘it rains too much’ in Vancouver. A view of the Pacquiao entourage reveals the usual cast of characters from Pacquiao’s last two 24/7 outings, including a hair dresser…because ‘pound for pound’ can’t have split ends.

Roach laughs off the size of the crew and the episode segues to highlights of Pacquiao’s last victory, the second round decapitation of then-140 lb. king Ricky Hatton which made him the first fighter in history to capture lineal World titles in four weight classes. “I hate to say this about a World champion,” Roach states, “but he wasn’t that good.”

Pacquiao certainly made it look that way.

Dramatic drums and some singing in Spanish carry us to the camp of WBO Welterweight titlist Miguel Cotto (34-1, 27 KO). Schreiber describes that Cotto started training a full month ahead of Pacquiao, establishing the seriousness of the stoic Cotto before setting the storyline for why he needs to be serious.

Clips of some of Cotto’s 34 victories play out over the narration with images of leather landed against Zab Judah and Shane Mosley leading to a big Cotto “Whoo!” The festive music gets all dramatic as attention turns to Cotto’s lone loss at the hands of Antonio Margarito last summer. Cotto’s late, willful surrender in the contest is replayed and Cotto gives a reasoned reaction to that end. “Stop the fight for my benefit, for the benefit of my kids.”

Cotto’s father reflects on the struggle of seeing his son battered. The sport’s biggest controversy in 2009, the discovery of attempted altered hand wraps on Margarito prior to the Mexican’s loss to Mosley earlier this year moves to center stage. Schreiber asks, “How long had Margarito been fighting dirty? Had he broken the rules when he gave the brutal beating to Cotto?”

Fair questions.

Cotto simply states that there are people who know how long it went on. He’s had more to say in the press previously and has opined that he believes Margarito was dirty against him. History will probably never get a clear answer.

The cameras join Cotto for lunch and introduce Cotto’s trainer, Joe Santiago. Mitt work plays as the messy divorce of Cotto and uncle/trainer Evangelista Cotto is described. “The success of any relationship is the communication and Joe and me have great communication.”

The typhoon has settled as attention is returned to Camp Pacquiao. Roach heads out for his morning walk…culminating at Starbucks. There’s something oddly perverse about this image as the show plays out. Amidst the devastation wreaked upon the land, Starbucks still stands. During a montage of the masses devastated by, among other things, brutal landslides, Schreiber tones in that “disasters like this take the most from those who have the least.”

Starbucks still stands.

Images of refugee camps, families displaced by the flooding, are almost too tough to watch. Members of Team Pacquiao head into disaster areas to lend moral support. The smiles of the people say how much such small gestures can mean.

Cotto’s final training day in Puerto Rico before leaving for Tampa, Florida features an open workout and chance for viewers to see that, like Pacquiao, Cotto is a national idol. Next we get a trip to the tattoo parlor where Cotto is touching up his ninth piece of ink as his children and wife look on.

Family time at the tat house…whod’a thunk.

Cotto’s marital struggles are briefly touched upon as the Welterweight titlist describes that he hasn’t “always been the best husband” (easy to understand given the, um, beauty of the island) but that he and his wife are working on reconciliation after a three year separation. A family dinner leads to farewell hugs.

Back in Baguio City, U.S. military assistance is landing while Pacquiao is able to return to normal roadwork. Former World Lightweight champion Jose Luis Castillo arrives for sparring. Watching these two go at it could well be an episode in itself and, if they ever release these shows on DVD’s, the full sessions should be an extra feature.

The well reported, almost tabloid-esque, turmoil alleged in the camp of Pacquiao is alluded to with the physical confrontation between business advisor Michael Koncz and conditioning coach Alex Ariza a topic of chatter. Roach seems to laugh it off and Koncz downplays it while the cameras show stern faces around the gym to heighten the sense of drama, even danger, for Pacquiao.


Seriously, can anyone imagine if 24/7 had been around when Muhammad Ali was at his height? How about the time he got caught pawning off the wrong woman as his wife in Manila? That would have been good TV. Ali following it up by beating Frazier in the greatest Heavyweight fight ever was even better.

The lush climate of Tampa is the next stop and Team Cotto, in a rented mansion, is barbecuing and goofing at poolside while camp elders sip red spirits. The team heads “Renaissance Dogs” style into the gym. 76-year old cutman Joe Chavez is shown in his workout gear and, dear Lord, everyone should want to look like that at his age.

Dude is ripped for his age.

Cotto and crew express their focus and excitement at the success of camp so far. Santiago states, “Nothing else is on our minds besides Manny Pacquiao on November 14th.” Cotto speaks with measured calm. “(Pacquiao’s) just another fighter whose come to my division and challenge me for my title, you know. The night of the (fight), I’m going to be prepared for him and I’m pretty sure I’m going to beat Manny Pacquiao.”

Schreiber: “The fight is 21 days away.”

The episode finishes back in the Philippines where rain is pouring again as a new typhoon, Ramil, prepares to land. Roach is arguing to get out of Baguio and head to Manila but Pacquiao is resistant. He agrees and then relents the next morning, leading to Roach threatening to leave without the fighter, in front of a local politician. “I got pissed off enough to tell Manny, ‘you know what, if you don’t want me to be part of this, I quit.’ But he called and asked me to please calm down, so I did.”

The move shows off where Roach comes from in his school of thought. Mentored by the legendary trainer Eddie Futch, a man who more than once was said to threaten his fighters during fights that he’d sit out if they didn’t get it together, Roach’s ploy was classic. It all wraps up with Roach speaking to Koncz about how urgent the need to leave is.

Author’s note: Pacquiao is already in Los Angeles to finish training camp so don’t let the drama overwhelm the senses.

Final Thoughts: This was a fascinating start to the series. The tragedy in the Philippines added a weight and drama, a reality, this show often lacks in its various incarnations. It was impressive work by the documentary crew, balanced well against the Pacquiao camp issues and training story, never feeling exploitative. On the other side of the ledger, Cotto is hard to gimmick. He comes across as a fighter’s fighter going about his business.

If this show failed, and it has three episodes to correct it, it was in the lack of perspective given to Pacquiao’s career. It was a similar problem in the 24/7’s for his bouts with Oscar De La Hoya and Hatton. The full scope of what Pacquiao has done, and is attempting to do, is not being fully conveyed. Pacquiao’s status as a ‘pound for pound’ leader was mentioned. Not once in the show was it noted that Pacquiao is challenging Cotto for a title in a seventh weight class, a feat never seen even in this watered down era of ‘belts for all.’

This author has some problems with the catch weight stipulation for this bout, noted on air at 145 lbs. It can mitigate the fullness of the accomplishment if Pacquiao wins in November, as does the fact that there are multiple Welterweight title claimants. However, it would still be an accomplishment. Cotto is, at worst, the second or third best active Welterweight in the world with a victory over one man with a case for the top spot, Mosley, and a range of competition within the division former lineal king Floyd Mayweather has yet to face.

When this decade began, Pacquiao was 21 years old and just months removed from the lineal World title at 112 lbs. Ten years later, he is challenging for a piece of the Welterweight crown and is favored to win.

Boxing has a richness of history which is second to no other sport. No Flyweight champion had ever risen to win the Featherweight crown before Pacquiao. No former Featherweight champion, even with an unnecessary catch weight, has tested the peak of the Welterweight division like this since Henry Armstrong.

Being that this is essentially a hype show, a commercial engagement, it fails the viewer in not making those points. A couple camp members getting saucy is interesting stuff but there are available, non-soap opera, elements available to make the fight feel special.

And that’s what this is all about ultimately. On November 14th, the world should be getting one hell of a fight. Grade: B+

Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at roldboxing@hotmail.com

Source: http://www.boxingscene.com/index.php?m=show&id=23045

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