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Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!
Saturday is going to be huge.
I’m not even talking about Cinco de Mayo. Granted, Cinco de Mayo will be a huge day of cultural celebration for the many Mexican-Americans in LA, as well as the many boozers who will be, um, celebrating in their own way by double fisting Coronas.
What I’m talking about is a boxing match.
Wait, a boxing match? Seriously?
Yes, I know, boxing is full of corruption and politics, more notable for its shady promoters like Don King or Hollywood caricatures like Rocky Balboa than anything that actually happens in the ring. And the action is boring and slow as compared to Mixed Martial Arts like UFC and PRIDE fighting. Quite frankly, boxing is soon to go the way of the dinosaur, the dodo, and professional hockey (what, the NHL still exists, you say?).
For one day at least, things will be different. Saturday night's fight between hometown hero (or antihero, depending on your perspective) Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather, Jr. is not just the biggest story in boxing in several years (and quite possibly the last important story about boxing ever), and not just one of the biggest sports stories of the year, but one of the biggest events of the year. The fight itself is only a small part of a broader construct about culture, social class, and history.
From a boxing perspective, both men are great champions, having dominated the sport like few men over the last 25 years. At 34, De La Hoya is the aging, past-his-prime superstar, winner of an Olympic gold medal in 1992 and the only boxer in history to win a world championship at six weight classes. He's known for being a tough competitor in the ring, though he has only fought once since September 2004. On the other hand, the 30-year old Mayweather is widely considered the best current pound-for-pound fighter in the world, and is undefeated as a professional. He's known for his exceedingly fast hands and strong defense, but has been criticized for just doing enough to win rather than fighting his hardest.
But the more compelling reasons for caring about this fight are found in who the fighters are and what they represent. De La Hoya is the "Golden Boy", the biggest draw in the entire sport; he's Madison Av. He's not only a star inside the ring, but outside the ring as well, dabbling in acting, singing (a Grammy-nominated Latin Pop CD), fashion, and business. He's got model-like looks and is always well-spoken in front of the camera (at least for a boxer).
Mayweather is the "Pretty Boy", one of the cockiest and brashest characters in the sport; he's much more 8 Mile. While De La Hoya has tried to keep things civil, Mayweather has been talking junk to Oscar to his face, or on camera every chance he's gotten. His focus is solely on his craft. Floyd is also good friends with 50 Cent, who will be accompanying him to the ring on Saturday, and has reportedly wagered $1 million on a Mayweather win.
The contrasts go beyond personality. De La Hoya is a Mexican-American, born in Montebello and raised in East LA with meager resources but a strong family supporting him. He's both revered in the Latino community for his widespread success and his financial investments in Latino neighborhoods, as well as hated because of the perceived notion that he's become somewhat of a corporate sellout and turned his back on his roots by moving to Puerto Rico (he married a Boricua singer in 2001). And he sees the fight not just as in terms of his place in boxing history, but as an opportunity to expand his Golden Boy Productions promotions business and redefine boxing.
Mayweather is African-American, born in Michigan and raised in a boxing family with an, er, interesting relationship. His dad, Floyd Sr., was a pro boxer and his trainer and agent. At least until Floyd Jr. fired his own dad from both jobs, and gave the training responsibilities to his uncle, Roger. (Oh by the way, Floyd Sr. trained Oscar for six years and nearly hired Floyd Sr. to be his trainer for this fight before good ol' Dad wanted too much money - nice) You could say that the only thing Floyd Jr. is loyal to is his own legacy, carrying that perpetual chip on his shoulder. And the only thing he cares about is proving that he is the defining fighter (as opposed to superstar) of his generation.
So the question is, which guy sounds like your kind of guy? The classy gentleman or the edgy thug? The polished businessman with an agenda or the emotional fighter on a simple mission to win. The guy who scrapped to make himself a success, or the guy who has been groomed for this moment since he was born? The legend or the challenger to the throne?
Regardless of where you stand, it will make for compelling drama. Especially after you've thrown down a 12-pack.
Me? Team Pretty Boy.
Oscar De La Hoya vs. Floyd Mayweather, Jr.
Junior Middleweight World Championship
MGM Grand, Las Vegas
PPV telecast starts at 6 pm
AP photo by Jae C. Hong