Grab your phone. Pull up the flicks playing at your local cinema this weekend. Don’t show me the titles. Don’t even look yourself. Want to know what the worst of the bunch will be? Which of those laboriously lazy, hundred million dollar behemoth pictures will almost assuredly waste your time and money? Just skip to the tail of the title and look for something with the number two after it.
The history of cinema is littered with sequels that were little more than cash-grab concoctions meant to lure in an audience based on goodwill from the first go around.
This weekend Floyd Mayweather and Marcos Maidana go at it again live in Las Vegas and across movie screens nationwide. As you settle in your seat with thoughts of that night in May when the first chapter of the saga unfurled, you’ll likely be hoping that somehow this one will be even better than the first.
That earlier meeting gave us a very interesting plot with a solid through line. A tough-as-nails Argentine plows ahead against a glossy American star with supreme finesse. There were mild twists and turns, intrigue and enough questions left unanswered for at least some that a sequel was viable and is now awaiting our further consumption.
Of course, with few good foes left to pit Mayweather against, there is a dearth of interesting scripts waiting to be rushed into production with compelling story lines that will capture audiences’ imagination.
That said, there have been few challengers that Mayweather has been willing to face that seemed like surefire blockbusters. Few fights that actually promised to be fights.
Having long been criticized for phoning performances in on mediocre material, what exactly has kept audiences interested in Mayweather?
It can be honestly said that Floyd Mayweather fights rarely deliver a supremely entertaining hour to their spectators.
Nearly all of his highest profile performances have been bloodless clinics and silent symphonies devoid of any stirring passages that have us humming the melody of his mastery for weeks. Mostly we watch, shrug and forget the mismatch by Monday morning.
Yet though they lack in the theater of drama, these fights somehow manage to keep the audiences coming back. Whether it’s to see a villain lose, see a hero rise or simply to feel a part of a singular sporting event; for whatever reason, we’re all willing to spend time and money watching Mayweather in fights that are boxing’s equivalent of Godzilla vs. Bambi, the tongue in cheek short which played in theaters before the 1985 version of the venerable Japanese film series.
Spoiler alert!! Like hapless Bambi, few of Mayweather’s foes had much of a shot going into their matches. And like Bambi, most got stomped out with no question of who the victor was or would be.
While Mayweather’s supreme skill, megawatt smile and dastardly attitude and actions account for where he has gotten to today, the brightest marquees the sport has to offer, none of these things are quite compelling enough to justify peoples fascination with what goes on inside the ropes he steps through.
Those one sided decisions against sometimes questionable opponent choices aren’t the draw for fight fans.
Beyond his own prodigious machinations and dedication, Mayweather owes much of the success in driving his audiences to return again and again to one unsung, marginalized factor.
The very history of boxing itself.
A great battle, a stunning knockout, a dramatic swing of fortunes. Each boxing fan at one time or another got a taste of that drama, that adrenaline rush and on the sport’s biggest nights, everyone wants to believe anything can happen.
Now here we are, on the cusp of seeing the sequel to one of Mayweather’s most intriguing performances. A gritty method actor turn, where he had to find the fighter within him just a little and portray one in the ring.
In the world of film, successful sequels have two paths. They can depart greatly from the storyline of the original and give everyone something entirely different: twists, turns, new plot lines and action featuring characters they already enjoyed watching.
Or they can take the essential successful elements of the first go around and expand them, push them further, blow them up and take what worked well the first time to the next level.
When director James Cameron was tasked with expanding Ridley Scott’s “Alien” to “Aliens”, his formula was simple. More Aliens, more firepower, and more tension with an otherwise identical plot. He came away with a film more intense than even the classic original and one of the most artistically successful sequels of all time. He repeated the steps with Terminator 2 and established himself as the “King of the World” of second movies.
Boxing is no different. And the Argentine Terminator, Maidana, would do worse than a crash course in Cameron. He had success swarming Mayweather, pushing him to the ropes and working hard. But over the course of the fight he began to fatigue, a career-long pattern for him, and lost too much steam to close the show.
Because Maidana doesn’t have the in-the-ring versatility to come in with a fresh script, he will have to subscribe to the idea of doing what worked well the first time, just do it better, bigger, and more bruising.
Mayweather, on the other hand, can follow a script and even ad-lib a memorable line when he has to.
If he wants to simply amplify what he did in the first bout and eke out a win, he could choose to go to the body earlier and counter in a more consistent way off the ropes. If everything else remained the same, just those two adjustments would be enough to win a clear decision.
If he wants to radically alter his game plan, he has the skill to do it. Perhaps he makes a conscious effort to pivot and stay in the center of the ring; playing the matador to Maidana’s bull, instead of falling back to the ropes. Changing the geography of the fight could dramatically alter the result.
Or maybe he commits to that body work, but pairs it with combinations instead of one and done potshots.
The truth is that Mayweather, if age has not caught up to him, could weave together a number of wrinkles to remake this fight into something very different from the first bout.
Like the Godafather Part II, which added layers, side plots and sprawling storylines to what the classic original laid out, Mayweather has the tools to make this fight into something we didn’t see the first time. Something a lesser talent like Maidana may look out of place co-starring in.
The Hangover was released in 2009 and became the highest grossing R-rated comedy of all time. It combined a unique story hook with likable and interesting characters. Although, the film was a smash hit and these characters could have been tossed into a myriad of situations and foils that could have yielded other classic comedies, the safe route was chosen by the studio, producer, director and writers.
The two sequels that followed were nearly beat for beat recreations of the first Hangover, albeit less funny, less dynamic… stale and boring, a waste of everyone’s time, both spectators and filmmakers alike.
Maidana and Mayweather could choose to birth that sort of sequel too. If each man thinks they deserved to win clearly last time and they need only to replicate their past performance to be lauded as the winner, then we very well may see little more than a pale imitation of the enjoyable bout from this past May.
Boxing promotors and movie studios know that packaging a past success as a new product is a quick sell and an easy buck. Even the fighters know that if they expend little more energy than last time out, they have roughly a 50-50 chance of winning.
And for all that, why is anyone tuning in to watch? Why will you sit forward on your couch as the bell rings in Vegas on Saturday? Or settle into your theater seat with intense eyes as Maidana stalks forward across a 40 foot screen?
You’ll do it because this isn’t scripted.
For all the months of rehearsal, the studying of past performances, pouring over plans and visualizing the action, when the bell rings, it’ll be a sequel with no screenplay, a violent improv that can turn on a single punch, that can thrill with a fleeting triumph, that can wrap you up in possibilities and red herrings and still surprise you.
While the great films that portray boxing, like Rocky and Raging Bull, reach for the heightened air of such elemental combat, and the visceral indulgence of two men fighting for our entertainment, nothing that Hollywood has produced quite matches the wholly unpredictable cinema vérité of these men who are willing to face each other, with their sense of self worth, their careers, their health and their dignity on the line, in the ring, with no one to yell “cut”.
When faced with a human drama such as this, put on before our eyes, how can we help but watch and wonder and hope that the night’s performers can somehow do justice to the long history of their art form and thrill us once more?