- The Washington Times
Saturday, December 6, 2008

When Manny Pacquiao became a professional boxer, he fought at 106 pounds — less than a jockey.

Just a year ago, Pacquiao was the reigning 130-pound champion.

When Pacquiao was fighting at 125 pounds four years ago, Oscar De La Hoya was battling at 160 pounds.

Yet the two of them will meet Saturday night in Las Vegas in a pay-per-view novelty act.

What’s next, heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko against two featherweights at the same time?

There is no compelling reason for De La Hoya (39-5, 30 knockouts) and Pacquiao (47-3, 35) to fight, other than money. Now, that is hardly a crime in boxing, but generally there is some kind momentum that takes place that leads to a so-called big fight.

No one was calling for a De La Hoya-Pacquiao fight until De La Hoya called Pacquiao. And it is important to point out that the call De La Hoya made was the last one on his list.

He had a date to fill and money to make but no opponent that was either credible, or whom he could beat, or who could help him put the pay in pay-per-view.

De La Hoya had an opponent in mind who fit at least two of those three criteria — Floyd Mayweather Jr., who beat De La Hoya a year ago the first time they met.

The plan was for a rematch, even though if De La Hoya fought Mayweather 10 times, he would lose 10 times. While Mayweather easily handled De La Hoya for 12 rounds, he didn’t exactly give De La Hoya a beating and left enough doubt that De La Hoya might have a chance to win in a rematch.

Certainly there was money to be a made in a rematch. The first bout pulled in a record 2.4 million pay-per-view buys and grossed $120 million. Even with a drop-off in a second fight, it would still be a huge moneymaker.

That is the fight that is supposed to be taking place Saturday night — De La Hoya-Mayweather II. Ego, though, got in the way.

During the promotion for the first fight, Mayweather made it clear he believed he carried it, and to a certain extent he was right. HBO’s 24-7 preview shows, now a staple of its prefight hype, were never better than when Mayweather was the featured attraction, though it was De La Hoya who got the bigger share of the purse. Mayweather is far more interesting a character than the corporate Golden Boy.

So when Mayweather came out a winner in the first fight, it was clear he was on a mission to make sure that for the rematch, it would be Mayweather, not De La Hoya, who would demand and command the lion’s share of the proceeds.

That was the whole reason behind Mayweather’s WWE venture and his appearance on “Dancing with the Stars” - to increase his visibility and audience so he could walk into the negotiations for the rematch declaring that he, not De La Hoya, was the top dog in this promotion and would be paid accordingly.

That wasn’t going to happen. De La Hoya has been the biggest meal ticket in boxing history. His 18 pay-per-view fights have brought in more than $600 million in revenue. Despite the fact that he has lost three of his last six fights, De La Hoya is still the grease in the wheel of boxing, no matter how many tangos Mayweather has done on national television. When De La Hoya, 35, finally does retire, they can turn the lights out and close the door.

De La Hoya wasn’t about to take the lesser cut for the first time in his career even if the lesser cut would be very lucrative. So negotiations for a rematch broke down, and Mayweather tried to up the ante by announcing his retirement from boxing. He was counting on the likelihood there was no place for De La Hoya to make the kind of money he could in a rematch and would have little choice but to make the deal Mayweather wanted.

De La Hoya considered a series of possible moneymaking replacements — a retired Felix Trinidad, Roy Jones, Kelly Pavlik — but none fit the criteria for earnings (an outrageous $54.95 charge for this pay-per-view event) as well as the diminutive Pacquaio, an exciting and charismatic fighter with an international following.

That is how we came to this moment — a grown-up jockey facing a middleweight. They are supposed to be fighting at the 147-pound welterweight level — which Pacquiao, 29, has never fought at - but De La Hoya will be a middleweight by the time he steps into the ring. That sort of weight difference at this weight class has a huge impact on punches and punishment.

When I size up Saturday night’s fight, I think about the De La Hoya-Arturo Gatti fight seven years ago, the last time De La Hoya had to fight as a welterweight. Gatti, a former super lightweight champion, looked like a child compared with the 5-foot-10 De La Hoya when they stepped in the ring. Pacquaio, at 5-6, is a more talented fighter than Gatti was, but he is neither tougher nor more physical. De La Hoya stopped Gatti that night in five rounds.

I suspect Saturday night’s fight will be along those lines — perhaps a little more competitive. And instead of cashing in on a rematch, Floyd Mayweather may be shelling out $54.95 to watch. Maybe he’ll go dancing afterward.

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