And that's why HBO's 24/7 is awesome. It sets the context and develops the characters. In a sport so vicious, the thrill is heightened when you feel some sort of parasocial relationship with the combatants.
So in 2008, that wasn't just some bald Puerto Rican man bleeding all over the canvas -- that was Miguel Cotto, the cardigan-wearing, soft-spoken, father who takes his kids Go Kart-riding on off-days. Two years later, that wasn't just some short Filipino guy beating up a tall guy with a faux-hawk-- that was God-fearing, ever-smiling, Congressman Manny Paquiao pounding Antonio Margarito, the guy who was suspected to have worn illegal plaster-loaded gloves to knock out the the cardigan-wearing, soft-spoken, father who takes his kids Go Kart-riding on off-days.
Yes, 24/7 is really an artfully crafted series of 30-minute infomercials promoting whatever fight HBO wants us to watch. Yes, it sometimes hypes up fights by making them seem much more evenly matched than they are (see Mayweather vs. Ortiz). Yes, a large chunk of worthy fighters -- especially in the lighter weight classes -- are underrepresented. But in an era when boxing gets less ESPN-love than UFC, when boxing's most newsworthy stories involve scandals, 24/7 fights the good fight, helping the sport maintain casual fans.
24/7's greatest value is what it can do for someone like Andre Ward.
Ward is probably the most underrated boxer in the world right now (commercially, not critically -- boxing writers named him Fighter of the Year in 2011). He is 25-0, but he is not a "TV-friendly" knockout artist -- he only has one KO in his last eight fights (most of which were still dominant performances). He cruised through Showtime's poorly promoted, and inevitably underwhelming Super Six super middleweight tournament. He is the most decorated undefeated boxer who has not spent time in jail for domestic violence.
In the lead up to his Sept. 8 fight against Chad Dawson (31-1, WBC Light Heavyweight champion) at Oracle Arena, Ward is getting the 24/7 treatment for the first time in his career. The first episode aired Saturday. The powerful hype machine that is HBO 24/7 presents Ward's greatness to the world in a way beating Carl Froch never could.
The narrative for this bout is clear: the underappreciated workhorse from the rough streets of Hayward (a ubiquitous 24/7 trope) looks to shoot his star upward against a bigger, slightly less underappreciated American champion who is going down in weight to face the most challenging opponent in his vicinity.
Getcha popcorn ready.