De La Hoya, Mayweather; Who's Going To Lead The Evolution?
by Gabriel Montoya (Oct 28, 2006)
People always say that boxing is dying. That it’s on its last legs. The UFC is going to overtake it. To paraphrase that old joke about the guy with the dead cat, boxing is on the roof. With pay-per-views that feature mismatches designed to up the excitement factor for a network’s newest, brightest star; promoter wars; fighters fighting at unnatural weights, no American Heavyweight Hopeful on the horizon; terrible decisions; mandatory title defenses that apparently mean something other than ‘you have to fight this guy next’; no television network interested in or effectively able to sustain boxing for free; and the old guard aging and the new guard balking at the biggest challenges, boxing is not quite knocked out, but it certainly is on the ropes, and the ref is looking close. This sport needs a shot in the arm or at the very least some smelling salts.
In the past 50 years, boxing has evolved out of the backrooms of the mob, away from the glory days of ABC’s Wide World of Sports, and into the PPV days of the 1980s to the present day. Free boxing is a thing of the past (unless you have at least basic cable), and PPVs aren’t reserved for the best or most dangerous match-ups. Cast out of the mainstream sports world, boxing is in need of a drastic change.
We could start with the elimination of the alphabelt gangs, or making a universal league with one belt and one champion, but those are obvious fixes and too long-term to implement tomorrow. But open scoring is a quick fix that could be the first step towards truly cleaning up the sport. It would remove dinosaur judges who get it wrong as often as they get it right. It would push so much controversy out the door. Essentially, open scoring would let all concerned (the fans, the fighters and commentators) know the score after each round. We could eliminate booing chants of ‘bullshit’, fighters running uncompetitively through the final rounds because they think they are winning, and hometown decisions. Armed with a scoring system for the judges themselves similar to the NFL’s policy (i.e., screw up enough scores and you don’t
get the big fights anymore), open scoring could quickly move boxing back into the mainstream, on an even playing field with other major sports. Removing the mystery of an outcome removes the feeling that the outcome is somewhat arbitrary or tainted by one force or another. While we’re at it, we could throw in an extra round for both ten and twelve round fights. That way we can eliminate the dreaded draw, and again, add clarity. Lost forever would be the split screen drama of a decision announced; but gained would be fights with clearer outcomes, and most important of all, credibility for the sport and accountability for all involved.
What boxing needs most of all is a sense of direction. A leader. Someone who will take us out of the past and into the living rooms of boxing’s next generation of fans. A human exemplar of all that is good about boxing. A mixture of grace and fury with a devil-may-care attitude when it comes to choosing opponents against whom to test his mettle. In short, we need Floyd Mayweather, Jr. Now I realize we already have him. We just need for him to stop comparing himself to all-time greats and start trying to surpass their achievements.
Watching Floyd Mayweather, Jr. must be what it was like to be front row center watching Charlie Parker explore his genius. The value of their brilliance doesn't merely reside in the fact that they are showing us something we’ve never seen before; it’s also in the sad truth that we will never see it again. The fluidity of improvisation that comes from mastery of technique is like a near-death experience that awakens us, the audience, to the grandeur of what it means to be alive. Such are the moments that you not only cherish forever, but also can spend a lifetime starving for. Talent meeting skill is a rare commodity indeed; unfortunately, wasted talent is not so rare.
With a myriad of great match-ups that would surely send him to the upper echelon of Canastota, Mayweather has instead chosen a safer and less active route in the past three years. Yes, Carlos Baldomir is the linear Champ as well as the WBC titlist. No, he isn’t ‘Pretty Risky’ or the best challenge out there. With names like Hatton, Cotto, Margarito, Cintron, Quintana, Collazo, Williams, Wright, and De La Hoya on the horizon, Mayweather could return us to the days when everyone knew when Oscar, Tyson, or Sugar Ray was going to fight. All Mayweather has to do is lead us into the glory days. At almost thirty years of age, he has just enough time to take his story into legend status and us for a great ride. I understand the need to get paid and take care of you first and foremost especially in the gladiatorial flesh trade that is boxing. More power to the fighters, as far as I'm concerned. However a fighter like Mayweather, a once-every-twenty-years athlete who has the talent to accentuate his technique and the smile to go with his killer instinct, should be setting the gold standard instead of waiting for the gold to appear. Fighting twice a year won’t get it done; neither will waiting for The Golden Payday to call your cell.
The mythical pound-for-pound title that Mayweather lays claim to was invented for a man it was said could, all things being equal size-wise, beat any man on the planet. Now there have been a few fighters throughout history who have been able to make that claim. However, the reason that it was not only bestowed on Sugar Ray Robinson but also created for him was simple all things being equal, Sugar Ray Robinson would have fought anyone on the planet multiple times if that’s what it took to prove his point. To be the best, you first have to fight the best. Does that make sense? Because I know it will make dollars, and it will draw legions of fans back to the sport.
Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions is another potential shining light in the dark world of boxing. De La Hoya as a promoter puts the biggest face in boxing in the foreground as the sport enters a new age. He brings a visibility and excitement to the game, the way Michael Jordan made you watch the Wizards simply by being their G.M. Like Jordan, De La Hoya is faced with a blessing and a curse. He has the clout to call all his shots, but lacks the experience to temper his aggressive enthusiasm as he becomes perhaps one of the three most powerful names in boxing. His mistakes, like Jordan's, will be amplified simply because he is The Golden Boy. So we get PPVs like Barrera/Fana that underwhelmed, and situations like the recent fallout over Golden Boy Promotion’s signings of Manny Pacquiao and Diego Corrales. With experience, time, and a roster that could fill several brilliant cards top to bottom, GBP has all the tools to take the sport to a new level. Hopefully, with great resources come great fights. The Barrera-Juarez II card was a sign of improvement. With an undercard that produced a fight of the year candidate as well as all action lead in bouts, that card was one of the best in recent memory. The less-impressive Latin Glory card was hopefully an aberration (to their credit GBP ran into unexpected bad luck when headliner Juan Manuel Marquez’s opponent was unable to enter the country), although looking back at the Barrera/Fana and Barrera/Peden PPV cards which were not even close to PPV worthy, there does appear to be a pattern.
For De La Hoya to begin his promise to clean up the sport of boxing, he first has to eliminate all behavior that resembles his predecessors'. Eliminate unnecessary PPVs. Push the titlists he has on his roster towards unification fights sooner, rather than later. If Don King and Bob Arum couldn’t get open scoring through in Nevada, perhaps De La Hoya can succeed where they failed. I have no doubt Oscar De La Hoya will be around as a promoter for a long time. Mayweather’s time as a fighter is limited. In my opinion, what they both do with that respective time is of the utmost importance to boxing’s future. Boxing is in a process of change. Whether it's for better or worse remains to be seen.