This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.
Count me among the masses who used to be ardent fight fans. Until maybe 15, 20 years ago, we used to get up for at least two, if not three or four marquis matches every year. My buddies and I would get excited for weeks before a Hagler/Hearns or a Leonard/Duran bout. We'd get into Vegas or Atlantic City or New Orleans, wherever, a couple of days before the fight and ride the adrenaline wave as time for the opening bell grew near. It was fun to analyze and argue the merits of the two fighters, even more fun to lay a wager on the outcome. You felt you followed the sport so closely day to day that you had a highly educated guess as to how the match would unfold. And yet you knew you had no idea what would transpire in the ring. That's the beauty of boxing, when it's right.
Two lion-hearted equals face each other, virtually naked, no high-tech equipment involved. They've trained a la Rocky, to the bone of exhaustion. And now they will dance and weave, throw artful jabs and hooks, take in wisdom and drive from their corner, both determined to survive as last man standing. When boxing's right, it's the ultimate test of character. But boxing's been so wrong, for so long, that literally millions of us have mourned the death of the sport and moved on. In their greed over the years, the sport's promoters have created four sanctioning bodies and 17 weight divisions. The fan never really knows who the true champion of the world is any more because it is rare to be able to manoevre all the promotional elements for a unification bout that actually brings the two best in a particular weight division together on one night. The financial politics of the sport are such that the two best are kept away from each other literally for years, so that everybody can make money on build-up fights, purportedly teasing us with that eventual dangling carrot of a championship unification bout.
I admit I must not be a hard-core fan. Those are the guys who know the flyweights, the featherweights, the bantamweights. They study the sweet science. They're willing to get up to Detroit, down to Houston. They follow the action in the small gyms around the country. Now those fans have seen their share of good, even fights, even in these barren boxing times. It was only the marquis fights that drew me...and the masses. Well, hallelujah, this Saturday night it will be flashback time. The MGM Grand in Las Vegas hosts a fight that smacks of all the glamour, all the hype, and hopefully all the athletic equality of yesteryear.
Oscar de la Hoya, without question the sole superstar of the sport since Sugar Ray Leonard, steps into the ring Saturday night against the most skilled fighter on the planet today, Floyd Mayweather. Golden Boy de la Hoya versus Pretty Boy Mayweather. Two bonified champs. I'm calling around and pumping my friends to get a raucous pay-per-view party together.
This will most likely be de la Hoya's last fight. He's 34 now and hasn't had a bout since last May. There is no doubt that Oscar is past his golden boy prime, when he was Olympic champion, went undefeated at 31-and-0 his first seven years as a pro, and beat the considerable likes of Cesar Chavez and Pernell Whitaker. But, unlike the heavyweights of this current era who stick around past common sense and blatantly continue overweight and undertrained for the pay days, de la Hoya has been throwing himself into top form at his training camp in Puerto Rico. He won't show quite the speed of the technically smooth Mayweather, but de la Hoya is a crafty professional, his pride still in tact.
Tickets for this fight sold out in three hours and brought in $19 million in arena sales. It will be broadcast to 176 countries. More pay-per-view buys have already gone down for any fight since people tuned in to see Mike Tyson bite half of Evander Holyfield's ear off in 1997. The thrill is back. The adrenaline is flowing once again.
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.