De La Hoya – Mayweather Jr.: Why We Must Watch

After three hours and approved credit card charges of 19-million dollars, the fight venue at the MGM Grand sold out. For those of us without a ticket, evites are flooding our computers; Cinco de Mayo is suddenly the festive undercard for an event that’s expected to challenge the record of 1.99 million pay-per-view buys (1997 Tyson/Holyfield II). In the stores, flat screens are flying out the door, and on the street the beer guys are flush with overtime. Golden Boy Promotions is passing around a hat that we are eagerly filling, and although we shouldn’t consider it a privilege to plunk down such heavy scratch, we are compelled by the necessity of it. This could be one of the all-time greats: think Hagler/Hearns, Pryor/Arguello…hell, is it hyperbole to summon the memory of the Thrilla in Manilla? NO. Or, maybe, YES. I just don’t know, but I do know this: To love hockey, baseball or basketball, you need stamina (or a bookie on speed dial). The regular season is long, and very few individual games are of much significance. Without fantasy leagues and our compulsion for statistics, would the regular season even be broadcast on network television? The playoffs can drag on like Lent, and the best-of-seven series for the championship is a fantastic recipe for an enthusiasm reduction. Unless you’re a die-hard fan, or it’s your team vying for the title, there’s no such thing as a can’t miss game. Even the Super Bowl, our nation’s most-watched sporting event, is sometimes subjugated by the beer commercials, half-time theatrics and tasty appetizer trays. Can you remember where you watched the Super Bowl three years ago? Can you remember who played? But the big fight is different. The event is a culmination of two careers. It’s nothing that can be scheduled annually, because it is that rare time when two well-known, evenly matched and potent fighters agree to square-off. Even the apathetic sports fan has seen them in action, been impressed, and thanks to HBO’s marketing onslaught, the need to witness the fight becomes as necessary as buying Echinacea when you have the flu. What is it about such a fight? There is no player of the game, instant replay, plush mascot, Gatorade shower, or plans of visiting Disneyland. It’s about two guys engaging in the most basic of athletic endeavors: fighting. The rules are easily understood, the stakes are raised well beyond win or loss, and once in the ring the fighter doesn’t even have a t-shirt to hide behind. After the first bell, (fouls notwithstanding), there is never a break in the action longer than a minute. And unlike team sports, where if you make a trip to the fridge you risk missing a good play, in boxing you might miss the outcome. So we find ourselves glued to the tube and cheering, basking not just in the camaraderie of those in our living rooms, but in fact sharing in this spectacle with sport fans around the globe. And when the great fight meets expectations, it provides an indelible marker for our own lives. The Rumble in the Jungle, the No Mas fight, Hagler vs. Leonard: the odds are good that if you witnessed these events, you can also recall where you saw it, who you were with and where you were sitting. When referenced, these fights summon memories in the same manner as hearing a song on the radio from an album you played to scratches when a kid. It takes you back. And who wouldn’t want the opportunity for that? When expectations of greatness are not met, boxing still offers the chance of good fodder. For the awe inspiring, remember Mike Tyson obliterating Michael Spinks in 91 seconds. For the bizarre, remember Fan Man in his powered paraglider interrupting Holyfield/Bowe. For the vulgar, well, The Bite Fight should say it all. Watching boxing indulges an innate fascination with the profane (if you subscribe to the notion that violence is profane), and while the examples in this paragraph satisfy this fascination, it is ultimately the great fight we yearn for, for it is in the great fight that we see a hero complete a journey. No we won’t wait a week for HBO to rebroadcast the fight. We won’t take that risk; we won’t stand mum in the cafeteria line while coworkers enthusiastically rehash the spectacular. So now that we’re committed, what are the chances that the Oscar De La Hoya vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr. fight will meet our expectations? The prevailing prediction among pugilistic prognosticators seems to be that this fight will go the distance (check the sports book for the betting line on a knockout if you don’t believe me). De La Hoya was only knocked-out once, and on that occasion he went up in weight and stood toe-to-toe against the cement-fisted Bernard Hopkins. What welterweight with this strategy wouldn’t Hopkins knock-out? De La Hoya has been tested many times, and other than some questions regarding his conditioning, it is unlikely that the smaller “Pretty Boy” Floyd packs the kind of punch that will cross De La Hoya’s eyes. Mayweather Jr. has a proven chin as well. Additionally, as fighters in his own weight have tremendous difficulty hitting him, there’s little reason to believe that De La Hoya is going to have many opportunities to land flush on Floyd. They are both defensive specialists. Examining the true but cliche notion that styles make fights: it bodes well that De La Hoya’s offense is often reliant on the lunging strike, and that Mayweather Jr. is most comfortable counter-punching. However, neither fighter exposes himself for long, and that they are both so quick in moving out of their opponent’s range it seems likely that those seated ringside will be treated to a constant breeze. De La Hoya insisted on a smaller ring, which will compel action, and on using Reyes gloves, which will enhance the possibility of a knockout. De La Hoya has learned from his bouts with Mosley and Trinidad that he can’t get on his bicycle and expect to win. In watching his punch-mitt work with new trainer Freddie Roach (as shown on the HBO promos), his fight plan seems to include a rougher, toe-to-toe approach (maybe he plans to be the Hopkins to Floyd’s De La Hoya). This is promising. Coupled with “Pretty Boy” Floyd’s desire to dethrone De La Hoya as the sport’s most bankable star, his need to make a statement, and his unflinching belief that he can’t be beat, it seems that Mayweather Jr. is willing to engage in a fight where the testing of heart trumps the showcasing of skills. If this is the case, be ready to bear witness to one of those magical times where a great fight billed becomes a great fight fought. Then again, with their speed, defensive expertise and guaranteed paydays, we could be doling big dollars for the first all-male episode of Dancing with the Stars.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.