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Failure to Launch (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday May 8, 2007 10:26AM; Updated: Tuesday May 8, 2007 10:26AM
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Mayweather tried to win over De La Hoya fans with his haberdashery.
Mayweather tried to win over De La Hoya fans with his haberdashery.
John Iacono/SI
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Worse even than a lack of fireworks for a Fourth of July kind of crowd was the feeling that conditions would never again be quite this right to rejuvenate a sport that is increasingly marginalized and fragmented. Boxing has become so globalized that American fans have few rooting interests anymore (especially in the all-important heavyweight division). It might be impossible ever to produce even another Mayweather, much less a De La Hoya, who both had Olympic and free TV exposure in their career infancies. The pay-per-view model that boxing now favors is fatally shortsighted; it produces unimaginable purses for the elite few but further constricts the fan base to the purist. No fighter again will have the wide recognition of these two.

Afterward, Mayweather insisted anew that he was taking his wealth and fast hands to some other platform of fame -- record producing, perhaps. "I came in on top, I'm leaving on top," he said. No pugilist in recent history has left the game undefeated at the age of 30, drawing a $10 million payday in his final fight. But Mayweather, a five-time champ in five divisions, just might be contrary enough to do it.

As for the 34-year-old De La Hoya, whose charm and left hook have earned him more than $500 million in pay-per-view buys -- probably more than even Mike Tyson or Evander Holyfield after Saturday's haul is finally counted -- the future in the ring is even less certain. As valiant as he was in his underdog role against Mayweather, he has now lost to almost every great fighter he's faced: Felix Trinidad, Bernard Hopkins, Shane Mosley. His crossover appeal is such that he will remain an attraction long after he can honorably compete, but let's not forget that he is more businessman than fighter these days (his company, Golden Boy, promoted the fight) and, more important, that he fights only every year or two.

If the match didn't live up to expectations, it might be that those expectations were unreasonable. It wasn't the fault of the fighters, who came into the bout in sensational shape. Mayweather is always in condition. But De La Hoya, whose interests are more varied as he pursues mogul-dom, has been known to run out of gas in the late rounds. That he displayed rippling abs at the weigh-in bespoke his renewed dedication to the sport.

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