Countdown: De La Hoya versus Mayweather

floyd mayweather jr.06.03.07 - By Geoffrey Ciani: The most highly anticipated match-up of the year is just two months away. That, of course, being the Cinco de Mayo showdown between pound-for-pound king, Floyd Mayweather, Jr., and boxing’s biggest attraction, Oscar De La Hoya. When this fight was first announced back in November of last year, it seemed light years away; now we’re just two months out, and the bout is just as intriguing as it was then.

What’s interesting are the unknowns. In particular, there are two unknowns that make this fight very difficult to pick a winner. (1) How much does De La Hoya have left? (2) Will Mayweather be able to overcome De La Hoya’s natural advantages in size and strength? If one had the answer to these two questions he’d stand a much better chance at accurately predicting how this fight might unfold.

Regarding how much De La Hoya has left, it’s very difficult to say, because The Golden Boy has fought just three times since 2004. Two of those bouts were at middleweight, when De La Hoya squared off against Felix Sturm and Bernard Hopkins. To me, the only thing those fights proved was that Oscar had no business fighting at middleweight. Against Sturm, he looked soft, slow, and weak as he was repeatedly being tagged by simple but effective fundamental techniques. Although De La Hoya wound up winning a very controversial decision in this one, he didn’t look good.

He looked a little better fighting Hopkins—that is, until he was brutally stopped in the ninth when Hopkins connected with a vicious body punch that sent De La Hoya crashing to the canvas in agony. De La Hoya did not beat the count, and this was the first and only time he was stopped inside the distance during his professional career. Even though De La Hoya looked better against Hopkins, it’s difficult to assess how much better he actually was. In fairness, he looked to be in better shape and appeared to be a little sharper, but De La Hoya has always been a fast starter, whereas, Hopkins has always been a strong finisher. To me, it was obvious in the middle rounds that Hopkins was just heating up as De La Hoya began to tire. In recent years De La Hoya has had a tendency to become winded down the stretch, due to overexerting himself early.

De La Hoya has only fought once since the Hopkins loss, and that was Cinco de Mayo weekend of last year when he faced Ricardo Mayorga. What made this bout interesting was that it was coming off of De La Hoya’s longest period of inactivity. What did he have left? Well, it appeared he had quite a bit more left than many suspected, as he proceeded to make easy work of Mayorga. The move back down to 154 was smart, and it seemed the year off did him a lot of good. The problem is, it’s difficult to gauge how much he has left based on that performance alone. Mayorga’s a pretty decent fighter, but he’s always been inconsistent and in no way rivals the skills and smarts of Mayweather.

So how much does De La Hoya have left?

Regarding Mayweather, he is undoubtedly the most talented fighter in the world today, but talent alone doesn’t guarantee victory—especially when one ventures into uncharted territory as Mayweather is about to do. Having never fought in the Junior Middleweight division, it’s impossible to tell how Mayweather will adjust to the added weight. De La Hoya represents the biggest and strongest foe he will ever have faced. Not only that, but De La Hoya was once an elite fighter himself and has been an outstanding fighter throughout his entire career. So Mayweather isn’t just making his debut in a new weight class; he’s doing so against a foe who has been amongst the most talented pugilists in the sport for over a decade.

Complicating matters further, Mayweather never really beat a top fighter at welterweight. Having just three fights in that division, he had respectable wins against Shambra Mitchell, Zab Judah, and Carlos Baldomir. Make no mistake, though, these were not the best of the best in the division when Floyd fought them. Mitchell was stopped in three by Kostya Tszyu just a year prior, Judah had lost his previous fight against Carlos Baldomir, and Baldomir was never an elite welterweight, despite having wins against Judah and Arturo Gatti. The point being, Mayweather didn’t exactly clean out the division. In fact, he never even fought the best challenges in the division—guys like Miguel Cotto or Antonio Margarito.

Also, the size difference in his bout with Judah appeared to be somewhat more of an obstacle for Floyd than many anticipated. This advantagein size combined with Judah being quick enough not to be overwhelmed by Floyd’s speed made Mayweather appear a bit uncomfortable in the early-going. After a few rounds, Mayweather was able to make adjustments to neutralize Judah’s size. To his credit, Mayweather is one of the smartest fighters in the world today. On the flipside, however, Judah is one of the dumbest fighters and was incapable or unwilling to make adjustments of his own. Like Judah, De La Hoya is fast enough that Floyd’s speed advantage shouldn’t be overwhelming; unlike Judah, De La Hoya is a very smart fighter capable of making adjustments.

Can Mayweather overcome De La Hoya’s advantages in size and strength?

I really have no idea how this fight is going to unfold, but I suspect it will be competitive, and dare I say—exciting. Today is March 5, and we’re now just two months away. It will be interesting to monitor the hype leading us to this celebration of Mexican Independence.

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Article posted on 07.03.2007

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