It was billed as “The World Awaits,” and Sports Illustrated called it “The Fight to Save Boxing” in a rare cover story for the sweet science ahead of the May 5, 2007, clash between Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather.
Boxing wasn’t actually in any danger of dying, but it still exists, so I guess you could form some sort of argument that Floyd and Oscar “saved boxing” 13 years ago with their mega-fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
The fight did change boxing, without question. HBO put a brand-new hype machine behind the bout, as the fighters were the subject of the first “24/7” documentary series. De La Hoya, long established as one of boxing’s top names and by 2007 its most reliable remaining pay-per-view draw, was well-known beyond just the boxing diehards.
But Floyd Mayweather, the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, still wasn’t. Mayweather had split with promoter Bob Arum at Top Rank, as De La Hoya had years prior, as the Michigan native looked to prove Arum wrong and show he could be a serious draw for the sport.
Floyd achieved that. “24/7” allowed him to change his persona from “Pretty Boy” Floyd to “Money” Mayweather. He was loud, he was obnoxious, he was arrogant, and he had no problem painting himself as the villain. He read the landscape and figured he could make money as the bad guy. If everyone wouldn’t pay to see him win, maybe he could get some people to pay to see him win and others to pay in hopes that he would get his big mouth shut for once.
Floyd feuded with his father, stemming from drama surrounding his uncle Roger being his trainer, which upset Floyd Sr, who had declined to train De La Hoya, as he had in recent bouts. Oscar had declined to pay $2 million for the elder Floyd’s services, and Floyd Sr declined an offer of $500,000, plus another $500,000 if Oscar won the fight.
All of this soap opera-level drama, trash talk, reality TV-style intrigue. Would it worked?
It worked. Lord, did it work.
The De La Hoya-Mayweather fight is a good chess match where Oscar has about half a really good fight and then Mayweather takes over and out-boxes him.
But the bigger story was the business generated. The fight set a then-record with 2.4 million buys on pay-per-view, topping the previous record for the 1997 Holyfield-Tyson rematch, which came in at 1.99 million. With a split decision win and his profile raised, Floyd Mayweather became a new bankable superstar for boxing, far bigger than he’d ever been over the prior years. And De La Hoya retained name value, too.
There was talk of a 2008 rematch, which would have seen Oscar return to welterweight, sort of returning the favor as Mayweather had come up to 154 for the first bout, beyond where he was most comfortable. Floyd Sr was going to train Oscar this time, but then Mayweather announced one of his “retirements,” and De La Hoya instead was decimated and retired by Manny Pacquiao in Dec. 2008, clearly looking like he had no business at 147 anymore.
Mayweather, of course, just kept winning. After beating Ricky Hatton in Dec. 2007, he didn’t fight again until Sept. 2009, when he returned with a wide win over Juan Manuel Marquez. He followed that up with victories over Shane Mosley, Victor Ortiz, Miguel Cotto, Robert Guerrero, a young Canelo Alvarez, and Marcos Maidana (twice).
Floyd would blow away the De La Hoya-Mayweather numbers a few more times. He and Canelo set a new revenue record in 2013, though the buys (2.15 million) didn’t quite reach the De La Hoya bout. Both records were shattered with 4.6 million buys for Mayweather-Pacquiao, and Floyd would do another 4.3 million on PPV for his last bout in 2017 against UFC star Conor McGregor.