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· Baddest Man On The Planet
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By Cliff Rold

We’re days away from the biggest fight in boxing in almost five years: Oscar de la Hoya (38-4, 30 KO) versus Floyd Mayweather (37-0, 23 KO). How big is this fight? Oscar finally made the cover of SI. ESPN the Magazine went with a Floyd cover. Even Time Magazine did a feature on it. It didn’t make the cover, leaving the two combatants still a hair behind Gerry Cooney in cultural relevance…but given the general interest in boxing in 2007 it’s still pretty damn good.

Over the last six months, boxing fans have heard or read about every conceivable angle this fight can be analyzed from: its place among superfights, the family dramas, the trash talk and the fear that it will devolve into a colossal bore. All covered. This is my second look at the fight and I’m most concerned with separating the real historical aspects of the fight from the Penn and Teller of it all.

My first examination of the bout looked at it from the perspective of its place amongst battles between former U.S. Olympic medalists

With the countdown near complete, it’s time to address the points between hype and history that have been glaring in all the buildup.

Ask the fighters and their respective cadres of yes men and you’ll hear “Oscar is a six-division ‘world’ champion” and “Floyd is going for the ‘world’ title in his fifth division.” This is great for hype but cause for serious hiccups if you care about boxing history. For instance, the title on the line this Saturday is far short of a true World title. It’s a WBC belt on the line, but the legitimate throne of the division remains vacant in the wake of Winky Wright’s move to 160 lbs. There are some very good beltholders; none has emerged the champ. At best, the superfight gives us the leading contender to wear the crown.

In legitimate terms, each has been the true World champion of three weight divisions; everything on top of that is nothing more than a series of leather straps representing sanctioning fees paid. How can one be sure of such a thing? For that matter, how true are the assertions that a valley exists between the two, in favor of Oscar, as regards their respective levels of career competition? Simple enough really…just take a close look at each of these noted division-hoppers, in each division they sought to conquer. In the beginning, there was…

130 Pounds

Titles: Mayweather (World Champion 1998-2002); De la Hoya (WBO belt 1994)
Notable Foes: Mayweather (Genaro Hernandez, Angel Manfredy, Diego Corrales, Jesus Chavez). De La Hoya (None…or Jimmi Bredahl)
Advantage: Mayweather

Each won their first titles at junior lightweight but their legacies at the weight are markedly different. De la Hoya’s venture into the 130 lb. domain was short lived; he weighed below or at the limit only twice in his 42 fights, once to win the WBO belt against Jimmi Bredahl and once in defense against an overmatched Giorgio Campanella. Only eleven fights into his career, De la Hoya wasn’t brought near the area code of the division’s best fighters (i.e. Azumah Nelson) and rightly so given the star that was being built. 130 lbs. is almost irrelevant in examining Oscar as was the belt he won there.

The same can not be said for Mayweather. For those who feel he is the best fighter in the world, today and of this era, the argument is largely made on what he got done at 130. A case can be made that “Pretty Boy” Floyd was the greatest champion ever at a weight that once hosted Sandy Saddler, Alexis Arguello and Julio Cesar Chavez. He won the legitimate lineal World title in his 18th bout against Genaro Hernandez in 1998, holding the crown for over three years and through eight title defenses. Among his victims was future World lightweight king Diego Corrales via 10th round stoppage in what may have been the most dominant performance in any sport over the last ten years.

135 Pounds

Titles: Mayweather (World Champion 2002-2004); De la Hoya (WBO 1994-95, IBF 1995)
Notable Foes: Mayweather (Jose Luis Castillo). De la Hoya (Jorge Paez, John-John Molina, Rafael Ruelas, Genaro Hernandez, Jesse James Leija)
Advantage: Push

Floyd has the best win at 135 and a reign as its real World champion; Oscar fell just short of total recognition as champ but the depth of his opponents was impressive. Floyd moved to the division in 2002 to face a rugged Jose Luis Castillo. The Mexican had picked up wins over the near-great Stevie Johnston and fellow countryman Cesar Bazan but was a decided underdog. After the fight, many thought he was the victim of a bad decision. Ring Magazine recognized it as a battle for the vacant crown and they were correct. Castillo and Mayweather were that much better than the rest of the field. Mayweather left no doubts in a rematch victory but then chose average opposition for his second and third title defenses in 2003 (Victoriano Sosa, Phillip N’Dou). It was the beginning of a three year run of lesser foes for Floyd, made all the worse at 135 by a refusal to face the still-game Johnston.

De la Hoya’s mark at 135 was made almost entirely during a 1995 run that may have been the best of his career. He never clearly defined himself as the king of the class though. To say he did would be to ignore Orzubek Nazarov, a veteran alphabet titlist who would have pushed the then still-developing Golden Boy to the brink. A 1994 win over old featherweight entertainer Jorge Paez set the table for a marvelous run that saw Oscar win a nip-tuck war with Molina; devastate the well regarded Ruelas in two; force the undefeated Hernandez to quit in six; and obliterate the otherwise reliable Leija in two. None are the Hall of Fame force Castillo turned out to be but to so clearly master four world class foes (in a row) can not be dismissed.

140 Pounds

Titles: Mayweather (WBC belt 2005); De la Hoya (World Champion 1996-97)
Notable Foes: Mayweather (DeMarcus Corley, Arturo Gatti). De la Hoya (Julio Cesar Chavez, Miguel Angel Gonzalez)
Advantage: De La Hoya

The competitive drought mentioned above for Mayweather was in full effect during his run at 140. A case can be made that Floyd’s run at 140 was about building his cache and the bridge to Oscar but that doesn’t change what fans were forced to sit through. It may be true that Gatti and Corley were both legitimate top ten contenders, but Mayweather (for various business reasons) being unable to get fights with the divisions true World champion (first Kostya Tszyu and then Ricky Hatton) makes this division forgettable to his legacy. Oh, and he found time to fight Henry Bruseles. Ricky Frazier was retired I guess.

Oscar’s foes were on par with his run at 135. It can be argued that this may have been his best weight; had he stayed around awhile he might rate with Aaron Pryor and Barney Ross in the pantheon of great junior welterweights. That didn’t happen and he does not. Regardless, this is where Oscar would pick up his first real World title. Chavez was a two-time lineal World champion when Oscar scored a fourth-round stoppage on cuts that carried him across the threshold from star to mega-star. He followed it up with a wide decision win over Gonzalez, a former WBC titlist at 135 lbs. who had made ten defenses. Wins over Frankie Randall and Kostya Tszyu would have added to the ledger, but he got enough done to rate higher at 140 than “Pretty Boy.”

147 Pounds

Titles: Mayweather (World Champion 2006-Present); De La Hoya (World Champion 1997-99; WBC belt 2000)
Notable Foes: Mayweather (Zab Judah, Carlos Baldomir). De la Hoya (Pernell Whitaker, Julio Cesar Chavez, Ike Quartey, Oba Carr, Felix Trinidad, Shane Mosley, Arturo Gatti)
Advantage: Are you kidding?

Look, if I need to explain the difference in level of competition between the two warriors at this weight then boxing really is dead. Interestingly, this is the only shared weight where each can claim to have been the true champion. Oscar narrowly defeated the legendary Whitaker to win a World title whose line traced directly to Donald Curry-Milton McCrory; Floyd breezed through Baldomir to win the title whose line traces straight to Oscar’s loss to Mosley. Mayweather fans can take solace that his 2006 wins against Judah and Baldomir were against two of the top three at 147 and that they marked the end of his 2003-05 vacation from challenging battles.

Still, if the gap in career quality of competition was narrow before, it is at welterweight that Oscar blows by Mayweather with no looking back. Whitaker, Trinidad and Mosley were all top-five pound-for-pound level foes and while a case can be made that Oscar lost all three or was robbed against Trinidad (officially he lost to the latter two) all were razor close. The bout with Mosley was a classic. Ike was a beast and Carr was leaps and bounds better than Baldomir. The Chavez rematch win marked the end of the Mexican God as a force and the Gatti fight almost doesn’t merit mention with the rest of his tenure. True, he had some Bruseles level mediocrity (Patrick Charpentier) but it’s a grain of sand on a beach of awesome opposition.

Oscar above 147

Titles: 154 lb. World Title (2001-03); WBC belt 2006-Present; WBO belt at 160 lbs. (2004)
Notable Foes: Javier Castillejo, Fernando Vargas, Shane Mosley, Felix Sturm, Bernard Hopkins, Ricardo Mayorga.

Mayweather has yet to campaign above 147; Saturday’s Jr. Middleweight tilt is a hell of a first trip to take there. Oscar has had mixed results above welterweight. He won the lineal World title from Castillejo in 2001 and won the (so-far) defining fight of his life when he stopped Southern California rival Fernando Vargas in 2002. His second loss to Mosley was controversial to some, but so to was his win at 160 over Sturm. Hopkins was a noble venture even if the nobility of the body shot that stopped Oscar in the ninth round is still debated. The only other bout he’s had, Mayorga, was a six-round blitz of a faded but still game former World welterweight champion.

More fun facts…

*Both Oscar and Floyd are part of an exclusive fraternity. They are, chronologically, the seventh and eighth fighters in the history of the sport to capture real/lineal world titles in three separate weight classes. The only other fighter to accomplish the feat in the last thirty-plus years is Sugar Ray Leonard. This is the first time two men in this exclusive fraternity have faced off since Henry Armstrong earned his third crown by defeating triple-crown winner, and then welter king, Barney Ross in 1938.

*Oscar has faced eight current/former/future lineal World Champions in his career, posting a mark of 5-4 with four of the wins inside the distance. Floyd has faced five, defeating all of them with two stops.

*This is the sixth time Oscar has faced someone who was considered consensus top ten in the pound for pound ratings. Of the six (Chavez, Whitaker, Trinidad, Mosley, Hopkins, Mayweather), only Chavez would have been considered less than top five going into his bout with Oscar.

Bottom Line: As is evidenced, this fight could have all the hype it needs without embellishment. Also evidenced is that those who argue for an Oscar win this weekend based on quality of competition have a lot of ammunition. Floyd arguably lags behind Roy Jones much less Oscar in this category, a hard knock on a so-called pound for pound king. Remember folks, Mayweather rates himself above Sugar Ray Robinson. Read through his divisional tests and enjoy the chuckle.

The chuckle may be the most entertainment you get this week. Oscar is a 34-year old fighter with two fights in nearly three years facing off against a 30-year old, fairly active master of his craft in the prime of his life. Floyd may not be the best fighter Oscar has ever faced, but Oscar is not the same guy who fought Mosley and Quartey either.

That doesn’t mean he can’t win. Oscar may have some losses, but that’s because he has the type of fights no one gets through without them. This is another of those fights and all history aside it’s not a tough fight to call. I hope I’m wrong but I wouldn’t be shocked if Mayweather wins nine rounds or more Saturday night. This won’t be a classic but it’s likely to be a clinic. Mayweather big on Saturday night.

The Whole Fraternity: For those wondering, the roll call of three-division champions is:
Bob Fitzsimmons – (160, 175, Heavyweight)
Tony Canzoneri – (126, 135, 140)
Barney Ross – (135, 140, 147)
Henry Armstrong – (126, 135, 147)
Emile Griffith – (147, 154, 160)
Ray Leonard – (147, 154, 160)
Oscar De la Hoya – (140, 147, 154)
Floyd Mayweather – (130, 135, 147); No fighter has ever won four lineal World titles.

The Ten Second Bell: There is more going on in Boxing than the superfight of course…German Felix Sturm’s middleweight win over Javier Castillejo should, but might not, set up a bout with German-based Armenian Artur Abraham. Abraham (22-0, 17 KO) is the forgotten man at 160 lbs. but with a win last year (and yes, I thought he deserved the win) over Edison Miranda it is he that remains Jermain Taylor’s true #1 contender…Max Kellerman was in good form last Saturday, reminding the world that Joel Casamayor is still the one true World Lightweight king. Ring Magazine may not be correct in all of their championship designations (they are historically wrong at 112 and 175), but they are dead right on Casamayor. However, as Juan Diaz’ manager Willie Savannah told me after the fight, it was Joel that turned the kid down for a March bout on Showtime. If entirely true, that could be a clear sign that the much older Cuban wants to be perhaps overpaid for what might be his cash out bout.

Of note, Savannah mentioned a wish-list bout with Marco Antonio Barrera on more than one occasion…Speaking of Diaz, so much for the senior’s circuit. All things equal, youth almost always rules the day. The young (23) lightweight titlist from Houston is in position to be the dominant American superstar in the sport sooner rather than later. He’s all class outside the ring and all character in it. Every real fan should hope he’s as good as he looks…You could see Acelino Freitas looking for a way out against Diaz as early as the fourth round with continuous looks to the referee for help. When he found himself alone, he quit. The fact that he rode around on the shoulders of his corner men to celebrate it was despicable.

Don King, who has put on a slew of quality shows in the last two years but been noticeably absent from HBO, was in rare form after the Diaz win. “They got to deal with us again,” King roared. Two guesses as to who ‘they’ are…When asked how it felt to be part of the best fight on HBO in probably eight months, Diaz said, “I can’t see the fight (so to find out how good it was) I’ll watch the tape later.” Trust me Juan. It was a great fight.

Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]
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