Boxing’s bad boy beat the Golden Boy in one of the richest fights ever, using his superb defensive skills and superior speed to take a 12-round split decision and win the WBC 154-pound title in his first fight at that weight.
He didn’t impress the pro-De La Hoya crowd that roared with every punch thrown by their hero, and even Floyd Mayweather Sr thought his son had lost. But Mayweather landed the harder punches and landed them more often, and that was enough to eke out yet another win.
“It was easy work for me. He was rough and tough, but he couldn’t beat the best,” Mayweather said. “It was a hell of a fight.”
The fight that was supposed to save the sport may not have done that, but it was entertaining enough and competitive enough to keep everyone’s attention even though neither fighter seemed to hurt the other and neither went down.
Immediately after victory Mayweather was talking of a life outside boxing – until the post-fight interviews.
“I came in on top and I’m leaving on top,” said Mayweather. “Right now, Floyd Mayweather is officially retired from the sport of boxing.”
However, when asked if he would be interested in a rematch with De La Hoya, Mayweather’s competitive juices started to flow.
Having banked around 10 million dollars before rich pickings from the pay-per-view market, and with the prospect of a rematch already being talked about here, Mayweather said: “I will have to go home and talk to my team.”
Then came the more significant response. “I plan on retiring but if the fans want a rematch then who knows what the future will be.”
Both proud champions fought from the opening bell to the end of the final round, which finished with the brawl De La Hoya wanted all along. But it came too late to help De La Hoya, who lost four of the last five rounds on two scorecards, sealing his fate.
“I could see I was hurting him,” De La Hoya said. “I was pressing the fight, and if I hadn’t pressed the fight there would be no fight. I’m a champion, and you have to do more than that to beat a champion.”
“I just fought the best fighter in our era and I beat him,” Mayweather said.
The sellout crowd of 16,200 that paid a record $19 million gate didn’t think so, booing the decision just as it had booed Mayweather when he came into the ring wearing a sombrero on Cinco de Mayo.
And neither did Floyd Mayweather Sr, the estranged father of the undefeated champion and the former trainer of De La Hoya.
“I thought Oscar won the fight on points, threw more punches and was more aggressive,” said the senior Mayweather, who munched popcorn as he watched the fight from a $2,000 ringside seat given to him by De La Hoya. “My son had good defence and caught a lot of his punches, but I still thought Oscar pressed enough to win the fight.”
Two of the three ringside judges, though, gave the fight to Mayweather, who has never lost in his pro career and won a title for the fifth time in as many weight classes.
Mayweather was favoured 116-112 by judge Chuck Giampa and 115-113 by judge Jerry Roth. Judge Tom Kaczmarek had De La Hoya ahead 115-113. The Associated Press had Mayweather winning 116-112.
The fight lacked the drama of the slugfest that De La Hoya wanted when he offered Mayweather a chance to make at least $10 million to fight him for the title. De La Hoya made at least $25 million for only his third fight in the last three years.
De La Hoya wanted Mayweather to trade punches in the middle of the ring with him, thinking he would win the fight on power against a fighter who moved up in weight to challenge him.
“The champion in me wanted to stop him,” De La Hoya said. “I was just trying to close the show.”
The fight ended with the crowd on its feet and two fighters trading punches wildly at the final bell. They then stopped and embraced each other.
It was a night of ebb and flow, with both boxers fighting in flurries and both having their moments. The pro-De La Hoya crowd roared loudly anytime he threw a big punch, while Mayweather smiled at his opponent every time De La Hoya landed a punch that got any reaction from his fans.
In the end, though, Mayweather’s hand was raised in victory. His father got in the ring with him and they embraced.
And boxing had survived for one more night.