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Failure to Launch

The two most compelling boxers of their time. A $19 million gate. Jack and J-Lo. Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s victory over Oscar De La Hoya had everything boxing could want -- except for the thrills inside the ring that could revive this sagging sport

Posted: Tuesday May 8, 2007 10:26AM; Updated: Tuesday May 8, 2007 10:26AM
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Mayweather (far right) used his superior speed and guile to clip De La Hoya with clean rights in the center of the ring.
Mayweather (far right) used his superior speed and guile to clip De La Hoya with clean rights in the center of the ring.
John Iacono/SI
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And so, having finally attracted a little mainstream attention again, has boxing squandered another opportunity. With all eyes upon the sport -- well, more eyes than usual -- it produced an event of not much drama, little excitement and no satisfying conclusion. And even for somebody who found the semispectacle satisfying, there was no possibility of another one with even this much promise. The winner immediately announced his retirement, and the loser, who doesn't fight much anyway (or win much anymore), was ambivalent about his future in the ring.

Boxing used all possible means of promotion, even inventing some new ones along the way, to create the kind of anticipation that might attract fans beyond its core audience. It banked on the best the sport could offer: a WBC super welterweight title bout between Oscar De La Hoya, the best-known and loved athlete still in a ring, and Floyd Mayweather Jr., the consensus pound-for-pound champion, last Saturday at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. This was an honestly intriguing match, artfully built up, everybody tweaking story lines to the breaking point. And what did we get?

Not a complete fizzle, with De La Hoya surprisingly competitive and Mayweather appropriately combative. The sellout crowd of 16,200, stuffed with celebrities sitting ringside (Jack Nicholson and Leonardo DiCaprio were in the first row, Helen Mirren sat behind Will Ferrell, who was next to John Cusack, who was perched behind Jim Carrey, most of them ogling J-Lo), was enthusiastic enough. Their rousing response at the fighters' ring walks, that keening howl, was reminiscent of some of the superfights of the 1980s, when the Hollywood royalty descended on these happenings to certify their importance, and the hoi polloi followed suit. But Mayweather's split decision was scant payoff for the record $19 million gate. As close as it was -- De La Hoya was one round away, on one scorecard, from getting a draw -- there did not seem much appetite for more. Not even De La Hoya, who has now lost five of his last 12 fights, bothered to agitate for a rematch.

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