LOS ANGELES — Oscar De La Hoya would prefer not to weigh in on Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s decision to box with UFC star Conor McGregor on Aug. 26. De La Hoya would like to distance himself from Mayweather, the boxer he lost to by split-decision in 2007 and someone he later promoted for 10 fights.
De La Hoya would rather tell the world about Canelo Alvarez, the top boxer under his Golden Boy Promotions banner, a super welterweight/middleweight star who’s only 27 years old and owns a 49-1-1 record, with 34 knockouts. His only loss came against Mayweather—there he is again—four years ago, when Alvarez was only 23 and Mayweather ranked first on most pound-for-pound lists.
On Sept. 16, Alvarez will meet the knockout artist Gennady “GGG” Golovkin at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, the very same venue that will host Mayweather-McGregor—there’s Floyd, again—three weeks earlier. De La Hoya is certain the bout he is promoting will be a better actual fight than the spectacle that will take place the month before. Stylistically, it’s easy to make that argument. Golovkin’s fists seem charged with superhuman power, while Alvarez likes to engage but as an expert counter-puncher. As boxing people always say, styles make fights. That’s one of the most true clichés in sports. “I believe this is the fight that’s really going to save boxing,” De La Hoya says from inside his office earlier this month. (Editors note: his bout against Mayweather—Floyd again!—was labeled “the fight to save boxing” on the cover of SI.)
Somehow, the conversation always returns to Mayweather. Before their bout 10 years ago, he mercilessly went after the boxer they called the Golden Boy. He stole De La Hoya’s luggage at one stop. He took the lunch for De La Hoya’s team at another. He even brought a live chicken onstage at one event to mock De La Hoya. All that marked the craziest Mayweather promotional tour—until he and McGregor spent part of July yelling insults at each other in three countries.
“I don’t know how it’s going to play out,” De La Hoya says. “You have Mayweather, who is the best boxer of his era, and then you have a guy who has no experience in boxing. Are we going to see one of those typical boring Mayweather fights? The usual 12-round decision? Or are we going to see McGregor maybe throw a flying kick and knock him out?”
He continues, “I guess that’s what people are so interested in.”
De La Hoya hated their promo tour as much as the writers who lambasted the homophobic, misogynistic and racist comments that were thrown around onstage. He says he felt embarrassed that “a boxer like Floyd could stoop to that level,” although he admits that “I lived it with him in 2007.”
He wonders if McGregor isn’t trying to do to Mayweather what Mayweather did to him. The pranks Mayweather pulled on De La Hoya worked to perfection. They made De La Hoya angry, made him want to hurt Mayweather, and rather than take the smart approach and try to box with Mayweather, De La Hoya instead wanted to attack him, which left him tired in the second-half of the fight—the half Mayweather won decisively. The antics worked in another way that changed the course of Mayweather’s career and boxing, as they led to a then-record 2.2 million Pay-Per-View buys. The sell became as important as the fights.
When Mayweather wanted the Sept. 16 date to fight McGregor at T-Mobile, he was told the venue had already been booked by the Canelo-GGG promotion. That he moved his fight in front of the other one, potentially drawing eyeballs and revenue his way, was not an accident. De La Hoya says that didn’t bother him. But his words seem to indicate otherwise. “Boxing is supposed to be a gentleman’s sport, you know,” he says. “You don’t just promote the Super Bowl and the NBA championship at the same time. Obviously his fight was intended to do take attention away from real boxing, from the biggest fight that boxing could have in recent years. It annoys me a little bit.”
There’s not much De La Hoya can do beyond hope Mayweather-McGregor is such a smashing success that all of boxing benefits from the additional attention. If that means more casual sports fans buy Canelo-GGG, then the events may ultimately prove to be symbiotic.
De La Hoya can then hope the new fans will see the beginning of a new era, post-Mayweather, post-Manny Pacquiao, post-Klitschko brothers. He notes that Alvarez is only 27; that he’s fighting Golovkin, a boxer so feared most top contenders have avoided him; and he says Alvarez is taking the kind of risks the ever-cautious Mayweather avoided in his 20-plus-year reign. “Canelo and I belong to a club not many fighters can get into,” De La Hoya says. “We’ll fight anybody. It’s like Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Mike Tyson—those are the fighters who took risks. We weren’t afraid to take a loss.” (De La Hoya lost six times in his career.)
That’s another shot at Mayweather, of course. But there is truth in what De La Hoya says. Although Golovkin is favored against Alvarez, their bout is expected to be close and could be won by either boxer. If it’s competitive, they’ll almost certainly fight again. They may even fight three times and trilogies in boxing often define the best careers. “Floyd is the best matchmaker in the history of boxing,” De La Hoya says, continuing his critique. “I’m glad just glad that a fighter like Canelo can come along and really show and prove to existing fight fans and new ones that this is what boxing is all about.”
He smiles at the possibility from a dark leather couch in his office, surrounded by walls filled with pictures of boxing history and signed gloves from fighters like Bernard Hopkins draped over lamps. “We’re always searching the next generation in boxing,” De La Hoya says. “But the best just naturally come along.”
“The new era is here,” he adds, “and that era is called Canelo Alvarez.”