By Chris Le
The hype-machine for what ESPN’s Bill Simmons calls “the last big fight for the foreseeable future” has been running at full force for the last couple of weeks now. Commercials depicting everyone from surgeons to reclusive mountain climbers voicing their fight predictions cover the scope of this mega bout, and HBO’s well-made and wildly entertaining “24/7” series, which documents both of the competitor’s roads to their May 5th meeting, has not failed in pumping me up to a point of school-girl giddiness.
So the stage is set. This Saturday, we will see the biggest and possibly last viable name in boxing, Oscar De La Hoya, against Floyd Mayweather, the unquestioned top fighter in the world. Will the fight live up to the hype?
There are so many variables in this bout that make it intriguing, with Mayweather’s leap in weight being the most telling. “The Pretty Boy,” as Mayweather is known, was undoubtedly at his most dominant and physical peak in the junior lightweight division (130 pounds). But in De La Hoya, Mayweather will be facing his biggest test, figuratively and literally, as Oscar is currently a natural junior middleweight (154 pounds). And while size is in the Mexican-American’s favor, age and physical tools are not. The 34-year-old De La Hoya has seen his best days, the late 90s during his welterweight (147 pounds) reign, pass him by and has not faced an elite-level opponent since losing to Bernard Hopkins over two years ago. It will be interesting to see if the long layoff has affected his sharpness.
However, the excitement and, ultimately, the outcome of the fight are not dependent on these peculiarities, but will be determined, as always, by styles.
Oscar is the prototypical boxer-puncher, utilizing a piston-like jab to set up his potent left hook and is equally inclined to either box or brawl. He isn’t the best in the world at either style, particularly slugging it out, but his all-around skill set and ability to adapt to nearly any style make defeating him a formidable task.
Mayweather, on the other hand, is the quintessential boxer who, due to his cat-like reflexes and elusiveness, can counter-punch an opponent silly for a full twelve rounds and make it look like a ballet lesson. His in-ring capabilities are borderline art forms it’s so pretty. And like De La Hoya, but perhaps to a greater extent, Floyd is never out of his element. His bread and butter is fighting in the center of the ring, yet he feels just at home while on the ropes–there is no situation in which he cannot excel.
Historically, the most effective strategy against Mayweather has been to swarm him — stick your head in his chest, keeping the fight in close in hopes of smothering his punches and neutralizing his speed. Easier said than done. Jesus Chavez found moderate success swarming in their 2001 meeting before succumbing to the welterweight champion’s accurate, stinging counter-punches. Some believe Jose Luis Castillo beat Mayweather 2004, overwhelming the pound-for-pound king only to find himself on the losing end of a unanimous decision.
De La Hoya should feel some hope watching the Castillo-Mayweather fight, but there’s one problem, De La Hoya has never swarmed in his life. It’s not his style. Throughout his hall of fame career, he has been a boxer, and that’s what he wants to do every time he steps into the ring — out-box his opponent. But as the saying goes, you don’t try to out-box a boxer; and Mayweather is the boxer of this generation.
The key to this fight is whether or not De La Hoya will be able to overcome the speed disparity and assert his will on a fighter that is seemingly unflappable and never out of control. Expect the bout to have a makeup that is exacting yet tactical, a style that will make the purists smile but the casual fans groan.
Prediction: Mayweather by comfortable decision.