The HBO honchos have done it again. They were the first to step in to the private lives of boxers as they prepared for a big fight in the documentary series 24/7. From there, they rolled out the short-format documentary called “2 Days,” based on the premise that two days before a fight, anything can happen. So true. Now, they’ve done it again. HBO has created another compelling and incisive sports show. This one is called "Under The Lights."
Under The Lights is made up of three elements: a host, a fighter, and a trainer, all gathered together to break down a fight. The host moderates, fills gaps and largely functions as a human transition. The meat of the show is, as it should be, the ideas and insights of the fighter and trainer. They dissect the potential fight in a way that only boxing insiders can. It’s an appreciated change from the usual critics and pundits expounding on a sport that they often only know from the outside. That’s not to say that outsiders who’ve never laced up gloves can’t have insights on boxing. Far from it. But those people would be kidding themselves if they thought they could understand the sport the way a fighter or trainer does. Surely, a fighter and trainer bring in their own biases, but they have access to vantage points of the sport forever denied to academics.
In the inaugural show, Under the Lights focuses on the upcoming matchup between Manny Pacquiao and Chris Algieri. The fighter bringing his insight to the show is Tim Bradley, a former opponent of Pacquiao. The trainer, Virgil Hunter, is the man behind super middleweight champion Andre Ward. Together they dissect the aging legend and the young upstart looking to shock the world. It is brilliant.
Bradley and Hunter offer great insight into what Pacquiao is like today, how that’s different from yesterday, and how ultimately this version of Pacquiao will fare against the taller, younger, longer, fleet-footed Chris Algieri. While I don’t agree with everything that Bradley and Huntrer say, the way they talk about the sport is extremely educational to hardcore fans and newbies. It’s something that you can watch over and over again, extracting a different nuance every time. Just ask our editor-in-chief; he’s watched the episode at least half a dozen times.
While this is definitely HBO’s creation, it is reminiscent of a somewhat similar show from decades ago, hosted by Muhammad Ali and the legendary trainer of the two youngest heavyweight champions of all time, Cus D'Amato. In their show, the two discussed footage of former heavyweight champions, arguing about whether Ali had the the stuff to beat the champions of yesteryear.
The banter between the two is amazing. One can image that in the current market, this show would top the sports charts. But it's a show that couldn't be replicated today. There isn’t a fighter with Ali’s brilliant combination of skills in the ring and unique gift for gab, nor is there a trainer like D'Amato that marries insight with personality and gumption.
Watching Under The Lights brings you back to the '70s, to the special glimmer of boxing theater and insight that Ali and D'Amato created.
Pacquiao will face off against Algieri in a few short days. What's at stake isn't Pacquiao's legacy. That is firmly cemented. What’s on the table is a fight with another all-time great. Unlike in the past, it seems that HBO and Showtime are actually negotiating behind the scenes to find a way for the impossible to finally happen, for Manny Pacquiao to meet Floyd Mayweather in a boxing ring. Before you go making bets on that fight, however, you should check out Under The Lights for a compelling look at what might unfold this Saturday.
A former college wrestler, Taekwondo black-belt, and wannabe boxer, Paul Navarro (aka Fight Like Sugar) is now a full-time lawyer, part-time fight scribe, and high school wrestling coach.