24/7: The Greatest Reality Show?

Who work harder than me? No athlete work harder than me. Fuck fighters. No athlete works harder than me. … You tell me one athlete right now that has been dominating the game for 16 years straight without a loss? Tell me one. Tell me just one. That ends it all, and I’m gone.
— Floyd Mayweather Jr.

HBO’s 24/7 is the greatest reality show series, and Floyd Mayweather Jr. is the perfect subject for it. You should be watching.

Is Floyd a promotion-savvy chameleon employing a carefully crafted persona, or an attention-needing egomaniac who honestly believes he is the most dominant athlete of all time? You’re never quite sure. He is so unapologetically brash and wealthy that he is easily juxtaposed with his opponent, who is always portrayed as the hard-working, no-frills fighter who can’t wait for his chance to shut “Money” Mayweather up once and for all. This time, it is Victor Ortiz’s turn to be sold as the underestimated, blue-collar, Mayweather antidote that is worth the extra charge on your cable bill.

Ortiz trains with a small, close-knit group; Mayweather doesn’t know the names of his entourage. Ortiz is rebounding from professional embarrassment; Mayweather has never been defeated. Ortiz’s trainer drives a Coca-Cola truck before training; Mayweather’s sets up the chairs for the audience. Ortiz’s interview is shot in front of a black background; Mayweather’s in his home theatre. Ortiz’s closest confidante is his brother; Mayweather’s is 50 Cent.

24/7 sells emotion, it sells family, and it sells a fight for the crown. It’s Game of Thrones in a boxing ring, and it is done with such craft that we will happily pay the fee to see which ethos, which fighter, and which family will win on Sept. 17.

Here’s why the show works: You don’t need to be a world-class boxer or even a boxing fan to relate to it. It isn’t about strategy, footwork, and film study; it’s about respect, second chances, and conflict. 24/7 could be about a rock/paper/scissors match for “shotgun” rights and we would become emotionally invested, pick a side, and pay to see who ended up in the passenger seat.

This particular iteration of 24/7 highlights the most charged and relatable source to draw your sentiments and choose your side: family conflict. It is impossible not to be overwhelmed with empathy when Ortiz discloses that his mother simply hopped on a bus and abandoned her children when he was 7 years old. It’s impossible not to think about your current sibling rivalries when you learn that Ortiz’s former trainer Robert Garcia no longer even speaks with his brother, Ortiz’s current trainer, Danny Garcia. Danny’s quote, “I love my brother. I’m eight years older than him. I hope we can talk. I hope one day we can get together again,” perfectly illustrates just how little this show is about two men punching each other in the face.

Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s camp, not to be outdone, has no shortage of family drama. The first episode ends with a scene in the Mayweather gym, when a difference of opinion between Floyd Sr. and Floyd Jr. escalates into personal attacks and threats of violence. Floyd Sr. is an accomplished trainer who claims credit for Floyd Jr.’s success, while Floyd Jr. openly deflects all credit away from his father and toward his uncle and current trainer, Roger Mayweather. This difference in perspective is present in all of their conversations.

In this particular bout, while the two men argue, gesticulate, and, ultimately, are held back to avoid a father-son brawl, they are constantly turning toward the camera, ever so slightly. They’re both clearly conscious of the conflict at hand and the vehicle in which it will be displayed to the public. It doesn’t matter whether the spat is being dramatized for the benefit of the viewing audience; all that matters is that there is a real, palpable struggle between a father and a son. And at its “is he really going to punch his dad on television?” peak … they cut to the credits, ensuring you will tune in for the next installment.


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Jacoby

David Jacoby is an ESPN producer who somehow became a writer and editor for Grantland.

Archive @ djacoby