May 5, 2007 Junior Middleweight Bout
What makes a great boxing match? What makes a match up for the ages? There are several ingredients that can go into the making of a memorable fight; personal grudges, a clash of styles, and furious action, just to name a few, but in my opinion, this coming battle between Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather Jr. has one of the best ingredients, a mismatch between reality and perception.
Going into this fight, it is the perception of Floyd Mayweather Jr. that is dominating the debate. All eyes are on him. He is widely regarded as the best pound for pound fighter in the world and has met virtually every challenge in dominating fashion. His speed and defensive skills appear to be more than a match for any fighter out there and, certainly in the perception of many, more than a match for an aging Golden Boy. That is the perception, but that is not the reality.
To begin, first consider the physical attributes of Mayweather. Here, the tell of the tape does not give the whole story. He is 5’ 8”, but he is a small 5’ 8”. He is a man with a slight build. While that build accommodates his impressive speed and defensive skills, it is not well suited for packing on the pounds for a trip up the weight classes. If you remember, it wasn’t too long ago that a seemingly frail Mayweather was making almost as many headlines for routinely breaking his hands as he was his superior skill and dominating style.
While he met the challenges of some decent fighters in the lightweight ranks, there were times in some of those fights, such as against Jesus Chavez and Jose Luis Castillo, in which their power clearly made him uncomfortable. And remember, these were lightweights. The truth is, this is not a fighter well disposed to the greater physical demands and punishment that must be endured in the higher weight classes. Additionally, since his trials at lightweight he is still largely untested.
He has moved up in weight with just three fights in each of the 140 and 147 pound divisions against, to be honest, less than spectacular competition. Now he is moving up again, this time to the untested 154 pound weight class, and while size and strength are not everything, we must remember that this isn’t just any other opponent he will be facing.
Many have made the comparison to Shane Mosley, using his fights with De La Hoya as a blue print for this one, but that is not an accurate comparison. Most obviously, Mosley is a bigger man than Mayweather. His bigger frame made the move up in weight much more natural. Additionally, Mosley gave De La Hoya problems for two primary reasons, his reach and his strength. Mosley’s reach was something De La Hoya had to continuously adjust to, and in my opinion, the biggest reason why Oscar ultimately lost both fights.
Since their speed was fairly even, when both fighters were “getting off” at the same time it was Mosley’s reach that enabled him to get the best of it more times than not. That, combined with his strength, is what kept De La Hoya at bay, keeping him from going on the offensive in a more aggressive way. It was the combination of these two traits which were the biggest deciding factors in their fights.
Mayweather, however, possesses neither of those attributes. In this fight, De La Hoya is the bigger man, the stronger man and the physically superior man. There will be no reach or strength advantage for Mayweather to utilize. The importance of this cannot be overstated. De La Hoya is at his best when he has little concern regarding the physical presence of his opponent.
Let’s take a moment to mention the fighters who have given Oscar his greatest problems. Mosley, Trinidad, Sturm, Hopkins. All of these fighters exhibited some sort of physical advantage over Oscar. Even against a fighter such as Ike Quartey, remember how the fight changed once De La Hoya felt his power and tasted the canvas? Arguably, Oscar was controlling the fight to that point and even knocked Quartey down earlier in that very same round, but once he was suddenly made aware of Quartey’s physical presence, De La Hoya became a different fighter.
The simple truth is that throughout his career, De La Hoya has always been most comfortable when he was able to look down on his opponents, impose himself and, in the end, physically dominate them. In that way, this fight seems perfect for him. De La Hoya is the physically bigger man. He will be able to look down on Mayweather, and using his superior strength, reach and physical presence, will be able to move and control him as needed. If this is indeed the case, Mayweather’s speed and defensive skills will be substantially neutralized and De La Hoya’s power will become the supreme deciding factor in the fight. Power, incidentally, of the like Mayweather has never before experienced. When he finally does, I believe, he will be completely shocked and unprepared for it.
Another key factor being overlooked by many is the fighters’ overall level of competition. To his credit, every time Mayweather has faced a new challenge he has stepped up in impressive fashion. Many thought that Diego Corrales and Arturo Gatti could create problems for him, but in each case he met the challenges that were presented and never looked better. The problem with this, however, is that neither of these fighters is anywhere near the level of an Oscar De La Hoya.
Additionally, while two close wins by decision against Jose Luis Castillo are impressive (arguably his best quality opponent), it hardly begins to provide a foundation for the argument that it prepared him for the likes of Oscar. On the other hand, De La Hoya has been battle hardened with one mega fight after another. Given his experience, to believe that Mayweather’s speed and boxing skill will somehow surprise or overwhelm Oscar seems, to say the least, farfetched.
There are also some assumptions regarding Mayweather that remain in doubt. A man of Mayweather’s height and build fighting 19 pounds above his optimum weight creates many questions. Clearly, Mayweather will need to bring all of his speed and slick moves with him into this fight, but since this is his first time at 154 pounds, we just don’t know if that’s a realistic expectation. However, while there are some unknown elements as to what Mayweather will bring, we always know what to expect from De La Hoya.
Win or lose, he never shows up with less than his best. He will be in shape and armed with a plan for victory. Furthermore, while De La Hoya also had, in my opinion, some initial difficulty adjusting to the higher weight classes, there is little doubt that he is now a proven, legitimate 154 pound fighter, and a strong one at that.
If not seen at one of the press conferences or the weigh in, the physical disparity between these two fighters may not be noticed by many until the time of the fight. I do believe, however, that when they are viewed side by side it will be obvious. Additionally, as if De La Hoya needed more of an advantage, it is important to note that factors such as preferred gloves, a smaller ring size and weight restrictions were all conceded by Mayweather in the negotiations for the fight.
While it is certainly not inconceivable that Mayweather could win a decision over De La Hoya, in order to do so he will need to walk a fine tightrope indeed. He will need to stay away from De La Hoya’s power, while still engaging him enough to remain effective and win the necessary rounds. If Mayweather can strike such a balance he will have a chance, but it does not seem a likely scenario.
In the end all I can say is, be ready for this one. If you want to be able to say that you were there when the seemingly unbeatable Floyd Mayweather Jr. was shocked by the aging Golden Boy, now is your time to get ready. While surprising for many to hear, the simple truth is that this might be the perfect match up for Oscar. After years away he will finally be able to return to his favorite pastime, dominating lightweights. Not only should Oscar win this fight, but he should win it easily.