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De La Hoya deserves better than that, of course, having ruled six divisions and run up a 38--4 record (with 30 KOs) during his 15-year career, his left hook as impressive as his smile. He still has some crunch in him and could be dangerous at this weight. Mayweather (37--0, with 24 KOs), who has an equally impressive set of choppers, is the quicker and shiftier boxer and will be the favorite in the fight for it. But even as a shoulder-rolling phantom, his power, never his strong suit, becomes suspect as he moves up in weight to meet De La Hoya.
The fighters' tour was a staple of big-time promotion in the 1970s and '80s, when Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Tommy Hearns and Roberto Dur�n were repeatedly squaring off. It hasn't been used as much, or as effectively, in recent years. With De La Hoya consistently taking the high road and the puckish Mayweather playing his recklessly rude foil, there could hardly have been more drama, or comedy. Mayweather seemed to be beside himself on the tour, hatching caper after caper (producing a live chicken with a gold medal around its neck, stealing De La Hoya's bag) and generally getting under his opponent's skin. When the two parties ate in the same restaurant, someone from Mayweather's table took food from a cart headed for De La Hoya. "I mean, who acts like that?" says De La Hoya, shaking his head.
But if the tour was old school, the HBO documentary (or reality show, or infomercial, depending on where you dial in your cynicism), 24/7, was something very new. Its four half-hour segments, shown after The Sopranos and Entourage on Sundays, were an all-access peek into the two fighters' camps. The shows were so profane that even promoter Bob Arum (who has been involved with both fighters) was aghast: "I mean, what the f--- was that!" But they were also funny, not a little revealing and a shrewd ramp-up to Saturday's event. Toggling between two entirely different lifestyles ( De La Hoya sips cappuccino that his wife, Puerto Rican pop star Millie Corretjer, made for him at their San Juan estate; rapper 50 Cent materializes on a Segway while Mayweather gets a haircut at his Las Vegas estate), HBO easily made the case for rooting interests while also providing a benchmark for televised surrealism.
When you promise your fighters estimated purses of $25 million (for De La Hoya) and $10 million (for Mayweather), you need to find promotional leverage where you never looked before. So in addition to 24/7, HBO boasted of "600 million impressions," worth $25 million, in its PowerPoint show. Nobody at the press conference had any idea what that meant. Advertising, possibly? Better understood was the Tecate beer marketing in 14,000 7-Elevens, and the Rockstar energy drink promotion in 11,000 Circle K's. This kind of sponsorship for a fight is certainly unprecedented but possibly now required.
"Somewhere along the way," says Greenburg, "[boxing] lost the average fan. But I think we're earmarking this as the fight that can bring him back. In many ways this is the Super Bowl of boxing. We can get that viewer back once again, to create the beauty and drama of this sport."
THE PROBLEM is, once the viewer is back, he may not stay. For all of Mayweather's pound-for-pound excellence, his willingness to play the heel and his entertainment value, this is still De La Hoya's promotion. He is boxing's biggest breadwinner since Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield surrendered the heavyweight division; in total PPV revenue his take is $492 million from 17 events, third behind the two big men. And with this fight he will easily topple Tyson's career haul of $545 million. In terms of single-fight buys, the 1.4 million for De La Hoya's bout with F�lix Trinidad in 1999 remains a nonheavyweight record. And the record of 1.99 million buys for Tyson-Holyfield II in '97 is within reach.
De La Hoya has been notoriously cagey and unreliable when it comes to setting his retirement date. He was never going to fight into his 30s, remember? It's been a year since he knocked out Ricardo Mayorga and 2 1/2 years since he lost to Bernard Hopkins in an ill-fated but lucrative step up to the 160-pound division, but he always finds a reason to come back for one more payday. However, with an estimated net worth of $150 million (prefight) and with investments in publishing, banking, fight promotion and real estate, he may be hard-pressed to find many more reasons.
Mayweather's box-office clout, without the ability to cross over into the Hispanic market, is paltry in comparison with De La Hoya's, and he has never become the attraction his talents seemed to predict. This puzzles most followers of the game, because Mayweather's impish charm trumps De La Hoya's less-authentic public persona. There's hardly anyone more fun to be around than Mayweather. But he's also capable of nastiness--blasting the very people who bankroll him. Also, there's the matter of his family.
If we got a nickel every time we used the word dysfunctional in a Mayweather story, we could more easily afford to buy his pay-per-view fights. But the family is unusual. Floyd Sr., who as a trainer was seen not so long ago in De La Hoya's corner, developing game plans and off-the-wall rhymes, was never truly estranged from his son, but their relationship has had its ups and downs, not limited to the time in 2000 that Junior evicted Senior from his house. The father, save for a 5 1/2-year prison stint on drug charges, was demanding when it came to the son's boxing career, requiring a perfection that not even Floyd Jr. could deliver. The son, though admitting that he still works to please the father, chafed and fired him first chance he got.
In his place he installed his father's brother, which produced even more sensational family dynamics. Roger Mayweather, like Floyd Jr., could not take the old man's blathering. They never got along, and they still snipe at each other at every opportunity. The young fighter has handled this better than you might have expected, even though his father was De la Hoya's trainer of record until January. Give Senior this, though. Rather than continue to train a man to destroy his son, he essentially fired himself by asking for an unheard-of $2 million to remain in De La Hoya's corner. De La Hoya replaced him with veteran Freddie Roach.