It’s the champagne of prizefights, the blue diamond of events with Pretty Boy Floyd Mayweather Jr. set to encounter Oscar “the Golden Boy” De La Hoya on May 5, 2007.
The fight of the century is upon us.
Seldom in the world of prizefighting has a boxer who is considered the pound-for-pound champion like Mayweather met a six-division world champion like De La Hoya. It’s the type of fight dreams and PlayStations are made of.
Not since Sugar Ray Leonard met Marvin Hagler, not since Muhammad Ali met Joe Frazier the first time, has a prizefight captured the imagination of not only boxing fans, but also sports fans and the general public.
It piques the interest of even grandmother sewing circles.
Though no site has been determined, it looks like the potentially biggest fight in the history of prizefighting will be at the Staples Center or the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
“It’s definitely going to happen,” said De La Hoya, 33, by telephone from his home in Puerto Rico. “Everything is signed.”
Now it remains for the boxing fans and others to speculate who will emerge on top the winner.
“I think Oscar De La Hoya will win because he’s bigger and he’s fast,” said Winky Wright, who is considered the second best fighter pound-for-pound in the world. “Oscar is no (Carlos) Baldomir.”
Just more than two weeks ago Mayweather challenged welterweight world champion Baldomir and slapped him silly for 12 rounds. Despite a seriously injured right hand in the last three rounds, the lightning moving Las Vegas resident proved too fast, too elusive and just too smart for the gritty Argentine pugilist.
But De La Hoya presents a different obstacle.
“Oscar has the physical ability to beat Mayweather,” Wright said. “He’s one of the best boxers in the world today and he’s proved that against the best. Who has Floyd fought?”
Ten years ago Mayweather, who was originally born and raised in Michigan, entered the professional ranks after a sterling amateur career. As the second generation of the fighting Mayweather family (his dad Floyd Sr. trains De La Hoya and his uncle Roger trains him) Floyd has developed into one of the most technically sound and astute prizefighters in the world today.
“My son is the best in the world, but he can be beat,” said Mayweather Sr. “Anybody can be beat.”
After only one year, 11 months and three weeks in the pro ranks Mayweather challenged WBC junior lightweight titleholder Genaro “Chicanito” Hernandez, a veteran of ring wars with Shane Mosley and Oscar De La Hoya. He dominated him. It was a shocking result.
“I didn’t think he could do those kinds of things against my brother,” said Rudy Hernandez, who trained his brother Chicanito for that fight. “Floyd is just too fast.”
In the eighth round of that encounter that took place on Oct. 3, 1998, the older brother tossed in the towel for the referee to stop the fight.
“I think Floyd is too fast for Oscar,” Hernandez said. “I can’t see Oscar winning that fight.”
Though Genaro Hernandez also fought and lost to De La Hoya in 1995 in a battle of Los Angeles-based world champions, the now retired boxer feels Mayweather has outdistanced himself from all others.
“He’s just too quick,” said Hernandez, who now does Spanish commentating for boxing and mixed martial arts. “Floyd will win that fight.”
Leonard Ellerbee, who helps train Mayweather, said the matchup may prove too much for De La Hoya.
“De La Hoya is a great fighter and a legend, but he’s going to be surprised,” Ellerbee said by telephone. “Floyd is going to win the fight easy.”
De La Hoya emerged from the 1992 Barcelona Olympics with the lone gold medal for the Americans. He did it with speed and surprising power in his left hand. But many Olympians have entered pro boxing and found it quite a different world.
“There’s a lot of slapping going on in amateurs,” said Emanuel Steward who formerly trained De La Hoya and now trains heavyweight titleholder Wladimir Klitschko among others. “The pro style is about power and speed.”
As a pro De La Hoya quickly rose through the ranks and captured his first world title as a junior lightweight in 1994. Then he won the lightweight, junior welterweight, welterweight, junior middleweight and middleweight titles.
Six months ago the East Los Angeles native returned to boxing after a two-year absence and obliterated the Nicaraguan strongman Ricardo Mayorga for the WBC junior middleweight title. Many fans were astounded by the results.
“Oscar has the best jab in the business,” said Sugar Shane Mosley, the only boxer with two wins over De La Hoya. “His left hook is topnotch too.”
It’s those two weapons that have fellow prizefighters and even Mayweather praising his abilities.
“Oscar De La Hoya is one of the best fighters of this generation. He’s a future Hall of Famer,” said Mayweather, 29, at a press conference two months ago. “What makes him great is he fought the best. He hasn’t ducked anyone. He fought them all. He fought Felix Trinidad, Pernell Whitaker, Shane Mosley, Bernard Hopkins. I respect and admire him for those accomplishments.”
But once they meet inside the ring Mayweather promises the praising ends.
“Oscar may be one of the best of his generation but I’m the best fighter today,” Mayweather said.
De La Hoya said he’s already begun training in Puerto Rico where he lives.
“I started about a week ago,” said De La Hoya. “Now I don’t have to change little Oscar’s diapers.”
While on the island paradise, De La Hoya said he watched the fight between Baldomir and Mayweather. He developed a game plan while watching the fight.
“I saw some flaws in Mayweather,” De La Hoya said. “I think I can do some things but I don’t want to say what they are.”
De La Hoya said he’s seeking the fight because he and others are convinced that Mayweather is a tremendous challenge and the best fighter in the world today.
“I love challenges,” said De La Hoya whose last great challenge came against Hopkins, the undisputed middleweight champion at the time. “I need them. They motivate me to train as hard as I need. Mayweather will bring that out of me because he’s the best today.”
One more thing inspires De La Hoya.
“I want to be the pound-for-pound best fighter again,” said De La Hoya, who at one time was tabbed with that recognition. “It’s been 10 years since I was called the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world. Now Mayweather is the pound-for-pound best. If I beat him I’ll be the best again.”
Fights on television
Fri. Telefutura, 8 p.m., Elvin Ayala (16-0) vs. David Banks (12-1-1).
Sat. HBO, 10:15 p.m., Juan Manuel Marquez (45-3-1) vs. Jimrex Jaca (27-2-1); replay of Manny Pacquiao (43-3-2) vs. Erik Morales (48-5).