May 5, 2007 -- MGM Grand, Las Vegas, NV
Winner: Floyd Mayweather, Jr. SD-12
The biggest money fight of all-time -- and that means ever. Ever, ever, ever. No one ever made more money for a fight than did Floyd Mayweather, Jr., and Oscar de la Hoya on Cinco de Mayo, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Mayweather, the confident pound-for-pound king, stepping into his fifth weight class (junior middleweight) for a shot at his sixth world title, Oscar's WBC 154-pound strap. Floyd, despite his smaller frame, came in as the favorite. Simply put, he came in as the favorite because he'd never lost, and only once or twice really been challenged by anyone.
He'd gone 2-0 in 2006, winning decisively over Zab Judah in the notorious riot fight and dismantling an overmatched Carlos Baldomir late in the year. Oscar hadn't fought in about a year, ripping apart the trash-talking Ricardo Mayorga in one of his most furious performances ever.
Floyd-Oscar was given a hype machine unmatched in the history of boxing. HBO dedicated a documentary mini-series, "24/7," to the fight, taking up valuable post-Sopranos airtime on Sunday nights. Backed by HBO's almost risky level of promoting their showdown, Floyd and Oscar did their very best to sell the contrasts, the rooting interests. Mayweather, a super-flashy talker that could also walk the walk, unbeaten in his career. de la Hoya, the "Golden Boy," the veteran dedicating himself to training unlike he had in years, a nice guy, a family guy, a boxing mogul that always fought the best fighters he could.
Mayweather had been a boxing star, even a boxing superstar, for years. Long regarded as one of if not the best pound-for-pounders in the game, he was never a true mainstream name, probably the closest he'd gotten being a fight that accidentally came just too late against Zab Judah, or his rip-roaring annihilation of blue collar tough guy Arturo Gatti. With Oscar, Mayweather finally descended upon the casual fans en masse.
It was a more interesting personality matchup that some may have really noticed. Oscar has, for his entire career, fought off backlash from diehard fans, a predominantly macho male sector. But, I've never quite understood why. Did these supposed diehards ever watch him fight? Yeah, he's a good-looking guy who was the teen idol of the sport in his younger days. That all hid something, though. de la Hoya, at his best, is a ferocious fighter with a natural ability to finish. His winning smile that made 15-year old girls squeal and fashion glittery posters of him disguised a murderous left hook and some serious skills. He didn't win an Olympic gold medal by accident, and he hasn't been such a successful pro by accident, either. Two of his harshest professional critics, Fernando Vargas and Ricardo Mayorga, were both forced to eat their words after the bell rang.
Mayweather, on the other hand, carries the nickname "Pretty Boy." I have in my life met a lot of boxing fans that didn't like Oscar for the reasons mentioned above. Most of them also were not Mayweather fans, because along with his good looks, he flaunted money, flaunted his big lifestyle, and flaunted his superiority over others. I watched this fight with some of them. All of a sudden, everyone was an Oscar fan. All had been forgiven. It's a strange thing what age and an underdog story can do.
The fight was competitive, especially through the middle rounds. Oscar's natural size advantage played a role, as he was able to pressure Mayweather, particularly with a very effective jab. But the numbers will never lie -- Mayweather was landing at a much higher connect rate. And the clip that we've seen so many times since, of de la Hoya unloading with body shots, Mayweather pressed against the ropes, is maybe slightly overdone. Those shots were not controlled, precise punches. It was a series of wild slaps.
As the fight wore on, de la Hoya abandoned the jab. It's never been explained, though Oscar has been asked several times. I would make a guess that Mayweather simply stopped giving him a look to get it in, but whatever it was, Floyd pretty much started fighting his fight. I scored it 114-114, as I thought Oscar really solidly won some rounds with harder shots. But I give that draw an asterisk. While Oscar may not really be a 154-pound fighter, Mayweather absolutely is not, and had no business from a fundamental standpoint being in the ring at that high of a weight. It's taken a long time for him to be able to work his body into the welterweight class. Naturally, Mayweather probably tops out at 140. But he's so skilled, has so much God-given talent (combined with an insane work ethic, which rarely gets props), that he can box that high and make more money.
I wouldn't go so far as to call de la Hoya-Mayweather a truly great fight. It was good. It didn't get the praise it deserved for changing the way boxing is promoted, the way we see fighters, and for being a legitimately good fight that had a lot of intrigue. Anyone that was expecting a knockout or much in the way of big exchanges was looking to the wrong matchup.
So while boxing wasn't "saved" by this fight (and didn't need saving), in my opinion it undeniably changed everything for the better. In the end, Floyd, Oscar, HBO, Golden Boy, and everyone else associated got what they deserved -- the biggest money fight of all-time, the biggest PPV buyrate of all-time (by far), and a true event that helped to re-shape the rest of what turned out to be a phenomenal year for boxing.