IT’S every outstanding fighter’s dream to go out on a high, at his peak, undefeated, wealthy and with his faculties intact, but so few succeed in an industry where often ego overrules wisdom.
Though Floyd Mayweather’s 12-round split decision victory over Oscar De La Hoya before a sell out, celebrity-packed 16,700 crowd at the MGM Grand on May 5, 2007 has to be regarded as the 30-year-old’s crowning moment, he has more to prove to achieve the level of respect he desires, even if he claims he is fully satisfied and is getting out.
After the huge build-up to this, the richest non-heavyweight contest in the sport’s history, Mayweather didn’t deliver on his promise of “Blood, sweat and tears.”
He didn’t punish, humiliate, and massacre Oscar as he said he would to win the WBC light-middleweight title. It wasn’t the one-sided fight he tried convincing us it was going to be. He didn’t compete as if willing to die in the ring, as he claimed he would (not that I ever expect a fighter to give his soul in pursuit of victory).
Floyd didn’t dominate or defeat De La Hoya in a manner that would leave us, the watching public, thinking he could have done likewise with former greats Sugar Ray Robinson or Sugar Ray Leonard.
But that’s not to denigrate his fabulous achievement of becoming a ‘world’ champion at five weights, the only man to do so without ever losing. It just means Mayweather hasn’t quite left the mark he wanted to and that his proclamation of retirement is, I believe, merely temporary.
Great champions Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns, Felix Trinidad and Bernard Hopkins, all watching ringside, have been in Mayweather’s shoes and tried to quit when they thought it was smart rather than when the passion had diminished, but later reversed their decision to quit. Without even knowing him well, I feel certain Mayweather will also.
He may even fight De La Hoya again before the year has concluded. September, being a favourite month for Oscar. And, crucially, there is a lot more money to be made, even if Mayweather (guaranteed $10m here to De La Hoya’s $25m – figures that are likely to multiply when the pay-per-view numbers are in) says he is so rich he doesn’t need it and De La Hoya is also ludicrously wealthy.
There are two schools of thought regarding Mayweather’s retirement. The first is that he craves so much the respect of the press and public that by bowing out, leaving at the top, he hopes boxing will miss him so badly and beg for him to come back, thus increasing the appreciation for him to perform.
The second is that Mayweather fears losing and, having established a perfect record of 38 consecutive wins, doesn’t want to risk spoiling what he’s achieved.
If he gets out, Floyd knows in time his legacy will only grow.
Mayweather said he wanted to spend time with his kids and develop projects outside of boxing, such as promoting and making music.
But he is a boxing man to the core and I don’t think it will be long before he starts to miss the stage and the juices for exhibiting his magnificent skills begin to show again.
As much as I would admire any fighter for putting his health and family before greater fame and glory, Mayweather is in his physical prime. He’s at an age when walking away is especially difficult, particularly as he’s at the height of his profession and has never been as widely known (not to be confused with popular).
I would find it much easier to comprehend if it were De La Hoya saying it was time to pack up.
Oscar said he would go back to the drawing board and analyse his performance. “If I didn’t go forwards there would have been no fight,” he said. “I didn’t feel like a loser. I’m satisfied.”
But at 34, De La Hoya lacked the speed, movement and energy to make certain of victory, although many observers, including Floyd Snr, when pushed, believed he had done enough.
The margin of defeat was so narrow. In fact, had judge Jerry Roth handed the “Golden Boy” the final round, as had his two colleagues Chuck Giampa and Tom Kaczmarek, the bout would have ended in a draw.
Although Mayweather was convinced he had won handily by eight rounds to four, it was much closer.
Roth had it 115-113 for Floyd, Giampa 116-112, while Kaczmarek gave it to Oscar 115-114.
I had them level 115-115. Even though Nevada officials are encouraged to find winners in every round, I made both the eighth and last even, my belief being that if you cannot determine a dominant fighter in a round you shouldn’t, because it only creates a misleading impression on the scorecards.
For me De La Hoya was ahead after six rounds and, as he’s done so often in big fights, faded over the last half-dozen when Mayweather, the superior boxer, picked up the pace and punched with greater authority.
But given the closeness of the result it suggested that a younger Oscar, even the man who lost to Shane Mosley seven years ago, would have been too active for Mayweather. We will never know, I suppose.
It was a better contest than I had anticipated. Mayweather didn’t stand and trade until the dying seconds, but he didn’t run either, as he had against Jose Luis Castillo in the first fight with the Mexican and as some suspected he might against the bigger De La Hoya,
A crowd of 7,000, the biggest ever for a weigh-in in Las Vegas, gathered to see them strip off the previous day with fans waiting in line up to six hours in advance to catch a glimpse of the stars.
De La Hoya looked superb at 11st and likewise Floyd at 10st 10lbs, roughly the same weight carried into the ring.
Oscar had whipped himself into shape. Physically, he looked as fit as ever.
However, I was left to contemplate the difference it would have made had De La Hoya gone through with his promise to throw 50, 60 jabs each round – according to punchstats he landed only 40 the entire fight – or hounded Mayweather mercilessly.
Oscar advanced on Mayweather, but never with sufficient eagerness to sap the challenger’s deep stamina reserves. Had De La Hoya jabbed repeatedly and let more bursts of punches go it would surely have made a significant difference. The jab was his most effective punch, but used so sparingly.
But, as Oscar explained and many might not appreciate, Mayweather is a difficult fighter to pin down and hit easily. Oscar was made to miss frequently and didn’t want to either look foolish swiping air or leave himself open to stinging counters.
Instead, he often waited too long to let his punches go, preferring to sneak the points by opening up on Mayweather’s body whenever the challenger attempted to hold.
This was an effective tactic, though one Mayweather soon learned how to defuse, by not engaging De La Hoya in the final 10 seconds and staying clear of the ropes.
Even if, as Mayweather claimed, Oscar’s punches hit mostly arms and gloves during those attacks, in the eyes of the judges and fans, the “Golden Boy” was scoring.
However, there were few sessions I could call dominant for either fighter. The judges agreed in seven of the 12 sessions – rounds one, five, six and 11 for Mayweather and two, four and seven for De La Hoya. That meant that five rounds were up for grabs.
It surprised me that in the close rounds the judges didn’t side with De La Hoya, who so clearly had the backing of the fans, was
the one going forwards and produced the eye-catching work.
“The crowd was for De La Hoya. He chose the [Reyes] gloves, the site and weight class. There were 16,000 rooting for him. But popularity and fame don’t win fights,” said Mayweather.
Surprising also was the power in Mayweather’s punches and the challenger, really a welterweight at best though the betting favourite, elected to shoot mostly single blows, superbly fast lead left hooks, jabs and rights, rather than his trademark combinations.
It was a risky strategy, but Mayweather coped brilliantly with the pressure when it seemed to most the fight was slipping away. He retained his composure from beginning to end, entering the ring with rapper 50 Cent by his side and wearing a sombrero as his uncle and trainer Roger used to do. He also wore trunks in the colours of the Mexican flag, with it being a Mexican public holiday.
That didn’t win the crowd over. They booed him into the ring and jeered when he left, clearly unhappy with the outcome of the fight.
But Mayweather went about his business as if he didn’t hear them. He didn’t panic that Oscar might be nicking rounds, because he was so sure he was outboxing De La Hoya and that he would make certain of victory in the later rounds.
Mayweather took the first, making Oscar miss several times, even cleverly pulling his stomach out of the way of a right, and picking off the champion with quick left hooks as he stayed on the outside.
In the second, though, Oscar came out working the jab effectively. But for some reason he didn’t sustain it.
Mayweather didn’t neglect his, though the crowd cheered for De La Hoya, who avoided a right to land one of his own and make his opponent smile. De La Hoya was not going to overwhelm the smaller man, even if Oscar came out firing to the body in the third and then sent Floyd’s head back with a right. More chants of “Oscar, Oscar…” reverberated around the arena.
Mayweather landed two solid rights later in the round, but was boxing as though he had a lot more in reserve. He finished the round well, although De La Hoya knocked him off balance with a potent jab.
Although De La Hoya took command of centre ring, he allowed Mayweather too much time and space. Only in close, when angrily firing both hands, was he scoring with telling shots. Mayweather tried holding, but Oscar worked his free hand vigorously to the body.
Again, though, Mayweather finished the round commandingly, standing his ground more, shooting out straight rights. He didn’t like it, though, when Oscar got in a glancing combination as the bell sounded, before referee Kenny Bayless could intervene.
Mayweather came back in the fifth, when displaying fine defensive work and looking strong. He fired repeatedly straight rights and one stiffened De La Hoya’s legs slightly.
Early in the sixth, Mayweather brilliantly landed a right uppercut, dipped his knees to duck a countering left hook, and stepped to the side. He scored with a beautiful left hook up and down, but then made the mistake of going to the ropes and allowing Oscar to flurry.
Mayweather took another right when against the ropes and later a left hook, making it a close round. I went for Oscar.
It was interestingly poised going into the second half. De La Hoya started the seventh solidly, hard jabs driving back Mayweather. Periodically, Oscar was invited to test Mayweather’s defence with combinations. Floyd wasn’t attacking enough. It was another round for the champion.
Floyd needed to pick up the pace in the eighth, but concentrated on throwing single punches, mostly jabs and hooks.
Though De La Hoya had another good spell attacking with Floyd against the ropes, the champion seemed tense and was nailed by a darting right, Mayweather’s best punch thus far.
The crowd tried to lift De La Hoya, but Mayweather was boxing with greater finesse, standing close enough to land and slip out of distance in case the champion tried to reply. Oscar didn’t have great success until the end, when Mayweather held but had his head whipped back by a left.
From the ninth, though, I had Mayweather in command. For the first time he let a flurry go, the type of shots that dismantled Arturo Gatti so impressively.
Even when Oscar pinned Mayweather on the ropes and attacked, Floyd parried brilliantly, like no one in the sport today can.
Mayweather made sure he didn’t lose the round by keeping his distance as the session came to a close.
Floyd took a sharp countering right early in the 10th but replied with a fabulous right to the jaw. De La Hoya held for the first time. The challenger followed up with a right uppercut, made De La Hoya squander three or four shots and then, catching Oscar square, rocked the champion back with a right as the round ended.
In the 11th, Mayweather, so superbly balanced and quick-handed, stepped it up further. He dominated. Oscar shook out his arms, as if feeling lethargic.
Floyd launched further strikes to body and head, though De La Hoya came back with a jarring right to the jaw seconds before the bell.
The 12th was open to interpretation. It was too close to call with De La Hoya having big moments bombarding the body with both hands and Mayweather, faster and sharper than the champion, scoring with single rights.
I thought a flurry from De La Hoya late on had nicked the round, but then Mayweather hit back hard with a right, buckling Oscar’s knees. Floyd then pelted the champion with a left hook as they exchanged for the first time in a dramatic finale.
As soon as it was over, Mayweather reached out to hug his opponent, bad feelings put aside. Oscar then raised his arms and the crowd let out the sort of scream that let it be know where their allegiance rested.
After the scores were declared to dissenting chants and the crowd had long dispersed, there was more drama when De La Hoya’s partner at Golden Boy, Richard Schaefer, announced a possible mistake when calculating the scores – that one for Mayweather should have indeed gone the other way.
The Nevada commissioner denied any wrongdoing.
De La Hoya, as ever, took defeat graciously, shook Mayweather’s hand and embraced him, praising the champion’s skills. “You have to respect the judges,” said De La Hoya.
“Mayweather’s a fast fighter, talented. But my jab failed me. But it also has to do with Floyd’s style.”
“We graced the fans with a hell of a fight,” said Mayweather, although it wasn’t as riveting as he suggested but none the less was exciting by Floyd’s standards.
“I kept thinking, “How did he beat all these guys when he doesn’t move his head?’ I thought I won easily. I was hooking him to death,” said Mayweather, whose eyes were slightly swollen whereas De La Hoya was relatively unmarked.
“He tried to steal rounds. It reminded me of Hagler-Leonard, but you cant steal rounds taking punches to the face.
“Everybody talked about his big left hook, but I saw it coming. He does have a good chin.”
Mayweather had talked a good fight, promising a knockout, but much of what he said was to boost pay-per-view and closed circuit sales and not to be taken literally. That’s just another reason to take with a pinch of salt, his decision to quit.
“As of now I’m sticking to my word. I don’t know what the future holds,” he said. “I’ve done everything I wanted to in this sport. I beat the best from 130 [9st 4lbs] to 154 [11st] and made a lot of money. You can’t stop God’s work. What’s meant to be is meant to be. Right now I am officially retired.”