As we’ve learned very well over the years — and keep learning all the time — the sport of boxing is not afraid to go the “sideshow” route if the sideshow will make money.
Floyd Mayweather fought Conor McGregor in the second-biggest pay-per-view event of all time back in 2017. DAZN and Matchroom Boxing have taken advantage of the notoriety of “YouTubers,” featuring fights with guys like KSI and the Paul brothers, Logan and Jake, and they’re plenty interested in doing more of those, it would seem. Two strongmen, one of them a “Game of Thrones” star on the side, will glove up in 2021.
Not all of these ideas are created equal, of course. The strongmen fight is probably closer to on par with the Aussie fights featuring sporting personalities like Paul Gallen and Barry Hall than to Mayweather-McGregor. And the YouTuber bouts are their own little niche within a niche, trying to work through an entirely different niche.
But McGregor, the UFC star, has wanted to return to boxing since losing to Mayweather. There has been talk of those two doing it again, but it really appears Floyd may be done with the sport as an active competitor. He’s 43 now, he’s got that perfect pro record, and most recent word is he’s looking to start training fighters. We probably still have a couple more years of at least some suspicion Floyd will fight again, but it’s less likely all the time.
There was also talk of Conor fighting Manny Pacquiao. There was legitimate interest on both sides there, and still may be. The 41-year-old Pacquiao is nearing his own end, and while he’s still a top welterweight, the feeling from most is he’s too old to be the top welterweight again. And at any rate, a McGregor payday would be bigger than what he’d get to fight Errol Spence or Terence Crawford, as much as that may sting the boxing diehards. But there’s also been no real movement on the idea of late, and Pacquiao may in fact be turning his attention to Crawford.
So enter ... Oscar De La Hoya?
Yes, that Oscar De La Hoya, the 47-year-old former champion who hasn’t fought since Dec. 2008, when he was thrashed by a younger, quicker Pacquiao. De La Hoya looked feeble trying to fight at 147 pounds again, and retired a few months after the humbling loss, saying then that he just didn’t have it anymore, even if he still had some desire.
There have surely been opportunities for “The Golden Boy” to return to the ring, but he’s passed on everything that may have come up for over 11 years.
But De La Hoya told CBS Sports’ “State of Combat” podcast recently that he thinks he’d knock McGregor out in two rounds.
“Oh come on, brother. Two rounds,” he said. “One thing about me is I went for the kill, always. Look, Conor McGregor — I love him in the Octagon, I respect him, I watch him all the time. But the boxing ring is a whole different story, it’s a whole different story.”
McGregor, the 31-year-old superstar, tweeted that he accepts De La Hoya’s challenge.
Back before Mayweather-McGregor, I offered the sincere belief that it wasn’t just that McGregor wouldn’t beat Floyd Mayweather, but that you could pick from quite a long list of boxers around his weight McGregor wouldn’t beat in boxing. There has always been suspicion, too, from myself and others, that Mayweather “carried” that fight to some degree, allowing it to go deep enough that it would get those “surprisingly watchable!” type reviews, and not leave consumers feeling totally ripped off for their pay-per-view money.
It’s why Pacquiao-McGregor interested me. Pacquiao, I suspected, wouldn’t be as willing to play along as Mayweather was, if indeed I’m right and Mayweather went easier than he had to in the fight with Conor.
It’s also why, heaven help me, De La Hoya-McGregor kind of interests me. Oscar hasn’t been an active fighter in a long time, and he’s old. There would no doubt be a degree of rust in a true live fight, even if he had a great camp and was in good shape. And one thing McGregor does have going for him in boxing is he has very awkward rhythms, unlike any high-level boxer out there. That and everyone agrees he does hit hard, so two things, really.
Is it impossible? No, but it’s also not likely to happen, for many reasons.
The first big issue might actually come down to Dana White. White would have to allow this, basically, as McGregor is a UFC fighter. And White does not like Oscar De La Hoya. That’s not a secret.
On the one hand, he might want to see his guy beat up an aged De La Hoya, if he thinks his guy can.
On the other hand, White is as petty as any fight promoter, and he might not want to help line De La Hoya’s pockets with more money. And the fight would make money. But to complicate matters to that end, De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions works with DAZN, and UFC are an ESPN partner now, doing pay-per-view through ESPN+. Something surely could be worked out there, but would it be too complicated to get through?
The fight would also really need a live gate to pay the fighters’ purses, which would have to be pretty huge, and with the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing, getting a live crowd in any time soon is just not likely. The hope from many is that by the tail end of the year, we might get to have, like, half-capacity venues with continued social distancing. But even that’s no guarantee.
The most likely thing is that this is all just talk, but I’m not ruling it out, as weird as it would be, as tough as the deal might be to get done. I’ve seen too much of the surprising and absurd from the sport of boxing (and MMA, for that matter) to be completely sure that this won’t wind up going down. Time will be against it given the current situation in the world, but I’ve learned to never say never in combat sports.