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Canelo vs Jacobs: A look back at the big fights of Cinco de Mayo weekend

Canelo Alvarez and Daniel Jacobs carry on the recent tradition of a big fight on the first Saturday in May.

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Tom Hogan-Hoganphotos/Golden Boy Promotions
Scott Christ is the managing editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2006.

Canelo Alvarez and Daniel Jacobs meet this coming Saturday, May 4, streaming live on DAZN from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

The first Saturday in May is a big one in U.S. sports. You have the Kentucky Derby every year, and Cinco de Mayo weekend has become a big fight tradition for boxing in this country. But the tradition doesn’t really go back that far. There have always been fights on Saturdays, of course, but the first Saturday in May becoming a true every year event in U.S. boxing really dates back to 2007 for what it’s become, and you can stretch it back to about 2003 at most to stay consistent.

2003-2008: Oscar De La Hoya and Corrales-Castillo

Oscar De La Hoya’s first fight on Cinco de Mayo weekend came back in 1995, when he unified a pair of lightweight title belts with a second round stoppage of Rafael Ruelas, but it wasn’t until 2003 that fought on the weekend again, headlining an HBO pay-per-view from Las Vegas against Yori Boy Campas. De La Hoya stopped Campas in the seventh round to retain a pair of 154-pound belts.

Oscar wouldn’t return to Cinco de Mayo weekend in 2004 or 2005. In 2004, we didn’t even have a “first Saturday in May” big fight on May 1, but we did get the first Pacquiao-Marquez fight, which was excellent, on the following Saturday.

2005 featured a stone cold classic, arguably still the best fight of this century, with Diego Corrales storming back to stop Jose Luis Castillo in the 10th round of an all-out war. You’ve surely seen this fight by now, but if you haven’t, go out of your way to do so. For those of you who would always love to relive the 10th round of the fight, here it is:

De La Hoya returned to Cinco de Mayo weekend in 2006 for a fight with boxing bad boy Ricardo Mayorga. Oscar hadn’t fought since Sept. 2004, when he was knocked out in the ninth round of a middleweight championship challenge against Bernard Hopkins. It had been a bold move, going to middleweight, and it didn’t really pay off in the ring; in his two fights north of 154, De La Hoya won a very debatable decision over Felix Sturm and then was stopped by B-Hop, making it clear that he wasn’t a middleweight.

The fight with Mayorga was a comeback, very well-promoted for HBO pay-per-view. The only way Mayorga’s crude brawling style was a threat to De La Hoya was if you thought Oscar was shot, but back at 154, De La Hoya was anything but. He dominated Mayorga and stopped him in six.

After beating Mayorga, De La Hoya wouldn’t fight again until May 5, 2007, a full year out before he faced off with pound-for-pound star Floyd Mayweather, still at the time known more as “Floyd Mayweather Jr” or “Pretty Boy Floyd.”

De La Hoya-Mayweather in 2007 is the fight that truly launched the tradition of having a big, heavily-marketed event every year on the first Saturday in May, with the fights almost always coming on pay-per-view.

Oscar De La Hoya v Floyd Mayweather Jr. Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

The build-up to Oscar-Floyd was an incredible success, with De La Hoya painted as the good guy of boxing and Mayweather adopting a new, flashy, outrageous “heel” persona, “Money Mayweather.” The fight very successfully launched HBO’s “24/7” series, documenting the lead-up to the fight. In every way, the promotion was a massive success.

That success was fully revealed to the tune of a then-record 2.4 million buys on pay-per-view to see the “Golden Boy” take on his undefeated challenger. In an interesting fight that saw De La Hoya have success early before Mayweather sort of figured him out and got going, Floyd won a split decision.

In 2008, De La Hoya was again the featured star, but this time not on pay-per-view. In what was presented as some sort of treat for fans, De La Hoya headlined on regular HBO against Steve Forbes at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California. De La Hoya-Forbes was meant to be a tune-up for a rematch that September with Mayweather. Oscar had even brought back his former trainer — who also happened to be Floyd’s father, Floyd Mayweather Sr — for the fight, and was working his way down to 147 pounds again.

In the end, all we got was a somewhat lethargic-looking De La Hoya routinely outpointing an overmatched opponent in Forbes, who was a likable guy and a good fighter, but not on Oscar’s level.

Mayweather-De La Hoya II never happened, and Oscar instead fought Manny Pacquiao in Dec. 2008. Pacquiao destroyed him and De La Hoya retired.

2009-15: The Mayweather/Pacquiao Years

From there, Mayweather and Pacquiao took over the weekend for several years.

In 2009, while Mayweather was in one of his many “retirements,” we saw Pacquiao absolutely wax Ricky Hatton in the second round of their 140-pound title fight, emphatically ending what had been a highly-anticipated bout.

Mayweather was back for 2010, though, and fought Shane Mosley in a welterweight main event, a long-awaited fight that some felt Floyd had avoided for years. Mosley was coming off of an inspiring upset domination of Antonio Margarito in January, and Mayweather had just returned to boxing in Sept. 2009, beating Juan Manuel Marquez.

Mosley buckled Mayweather’s knees with a right hand in the second round — and then after recovering, Floyd took over the fight in a big way, ultimately winning a wide decision. On the undercard, a 19-year-old kid named Saul “Canelo” Alvarez made his U.S. major card debut, beating Jose Cotto.

Mosley was back in the main event in 2011, facing Pacquiao this time. Pacquiao-Mosley wasn’t as much of a desired fight as Mayweather-Mosley had been. Not only had Mosley been dominated by Floyd the prior year, but his only fight between that one and this one had been an ugly draw with Sergio Mora. In a pay-per-view event that promoter Bob Arum convinced Showtime was going to be great during a squabble between Arum and HBO, Pacquiao dominated Mosley and CBS sports personality James Brown, who had been hosting the show, all but apologized to people who had paid with the hope of seeing something more.

2012 was another Mayweather fight that people had wanted to see for years, or had wanted to see years before, this time against Miguel Cotto. Cotto was competitive but lost the decision on wide scores. As good as Cotto was, he wasn’t Mayweather.

Mayweather was back again in 2013, this time for a fight with Robert Guerrero, which didn’t measure up for the public. It was a fight that many were indifferent to when it was first rumored, to the point that industry people flatly denied it would be taking place before announcing that yes, it was taking place. In a predictably one-sided affair, Floyd won another wide decision.

Much of the same was thought of Mayweather’s 2014 matchup with Argentine slugger Marcos Maidana, but Maidana found some ways — some legal, some not so much — to press Mayweather, taking things to a majority decision in one of Mayweather’s more competitive and entertaining fights, one that became a brawl in many ways.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. v Manny Pacquiao Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Finally, in 2015, we got the fight we’d wanted to see for half a decade: Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao. It took a major negotiation, an absolute ton of money, an agreement to co-produce the pay-per-view between HBO and Showtime, and both guys kinda running out of fights to take otherwise, but it all worked out financially. 4.6 million homes bought the pay-per-view at $100 a pop.

The fight itself was seen as a major letdown, roundly criticized for a lack of action or drama. Mayweather won by unanimous decision and Pacquiao complained that he’d entered with a shoulder injury, which didn’t much help the reactions of people who had spent $100 without that information beforehand.

When all was said and done, Mayweather-Pacquiao represented the inevitable end of an era, both for boxing and for Cinco de Mayo weekend specifically.

2016-Present: The Canelo Takeover

With Mayweather retiring after his Sept. 2015 win over Andre Berto and only returning to boxing once for a novelty fight with UFC star Conor McGregor in Aug. 2017, Cinco de Mayo weekend has found its new headline attraction in the last few years in the form of Mexican superstar Canelo Alvarez.

Canelo broke through to U.S. fans on that Mayweather-Mosley card in 2010, then fought and defeated Shane Mosley on the Mayweather-Cotto card in 2012. In 2013, he lost to Mayweather in a mega-PPV event in September. And in 2015, he signaled his intentions to take those weekends for himself going forward, headlining on HBO the weekend after Mayweather-Pacquiao, knocking out James Kirkland in Houston. He was groomed to be this guy.

Canelo Alvarez v Amir Khan Photo by David Becker/Getty Images

In 2016, Canelo got his first headline job on Cinco de Mayo weekend, facing Amir Khan. Khan did OK in the early rounds, but eventually the naturally bigger Alvarez found him for a brutal sixth round knockout, the outcome that pretty much everyone had felt was inevitable.

In 2017, Alvarez faced fellow Mexican star Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. Canelo’s stardom in boxing came from his promotional push, yes, but that was a result of his fighting and his successes, along with his marketability. Chavez’s stardom came largely from his name alone. Their differences played out in the ring, as Alvarez came to win and Chavez did the bare minimum of physically presenting his body in the ring at the scheduled time. Alvarez won a clear shutout decision over 12-rounds.

Last year, we were supposed to see the rematch between Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin. The two had fought to a debated draw in Sept. 2017, and the pay-per-view was a big hit. The rematch was still the biggest fight in the sport.

Then Alvarez failed a drug test, claiming tainted Mexican beef as an excuse, and the fight was called off. Golovkin kept the May 5 date but his fight moved to HBO instead of pay-per-view. After a search for an opponent, Vanes Martirosyan wound up across from GGG, who brutalized the challenger and knocked him out midway into the second round.

The 2000s Cinco de Mayo Weekend Top Five

Jose Luis Castillo v Diego Corrales Getty

(Not counting Pacquiao-Marquez in 2004 because it wasn’t the first Saturday of May, which all these other fights were, and we’re only talking main events here, nothing from the undercards of these shows)

  1. Diego Corrales vs Jose Luis Castillo, May 7, 2005 (Showtime)
  2. Floyd Mayweather vs Marcos Maidana, May 3, 2014 (Showtime PPV)
  3. Oscar De La Hoya vs Floyd Mayweather, May 5, 2007 (HBO PPV)
  4. Floyd Mayweather vs Miguel Cotto, May 5, 2012 (HBO PPV)
  5. Manny Pacquiao vs Ricky Hatton, May 2, 2009 (HBO PPV)

Gonna go with Pacquiao-Hatton in the fifth spot because it was the most brutal and electric knockout in what was a fight that people were excited to see. Canelo-Khan in 2016 also featured a wicked KO, but people just weren’t looking forward to that fight near as much. That makes a difference for me.

This year, we have Canelo-Jacobs, a good matchup that has a chance to join this list. Both guys are at the top of their games, in their prime years, and it doesn’t figure to be a mismatch once the bell rings. Will we get the action or the drama, at least the kind that doesn’t come from judges? We’ll see on Saturday.

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