Mayweather, De La Hoya spar over legacies

LAS VEGAS – Roger Mayweather is stretched out on a couch in the lobby of the Mayweather Boxing Club, awaiting his nephew’s arrival.

Between swills from a can of sweet iced tea, the veteran trainer rolls his eyes and sighs.

He’s told that Oscar De La Hoya, the president of Golden Boy Promotions, has questioned the caliber of Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s opponents and his recent accomplishments in the ring.

Mayweather Jr. is 41-0 with 25 knockouts, is one of the two best fighters in the world, along with Manny Pacquiao, and is 15-0 against men who have held a major world championship at some stage in their careers. He hasn’t fought a man who hasn’t held a title since 2005.

Yet, there are questions. Always, there are questions. Roger, who has trained his nephew for 17 years, used to rant and rave in such conversations. But just a few days before Floyd returns to the ring Sept. 17, for the first time in 16 months, to challenge Victor Ortiz for the World Boxing Council welterweight title at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, the normally feisty trainer turned philosophical.

“When you are on top like Floyd has been, they have to make something up to try to bring him down,” Roger said. “Ask Oscar, or ask any guy in boxing, if he wanted to trade and have the career that Floyd has had. I guarantee you that every one of them would say yes. Floyd don’t have to apologize for nothing.”

As great as he’s been and as many accolades as he’s earned, though, there has always been criticism lobbed at Mayweather. De La Hoya, who lost a split decision to Mayweather in 2007 in a fight that set a pay-per-view sales record with 2.45 million units sold, insisted that Ortiz has a far better shot to win than the 7-1 odds at the time would indicate.

Part of the reason, the Golden Boy said, is that Mayweather hasn’t been facing prime fighters. For the last decade, he said, they were either on the down sides of their careers or moving up in weight.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. works out in front of media before his Sept. 17 fight.
(Getty Images)

That might be an indictment more of De La Hoya’s Golden Boy stable than anything else, given that Mayweather has hired Golden Boy to promote his last four fights. Still, De La Hoya was adamant that it has been nearly a decade, perhaps longer, since “Pretty Boy” Floyd has faced a quality opponent in his prime.

“Victor is different than a lot of these guys Mayweather has been facing,” De La Hoya said. “Victor is 24. He’s a young guy who is hungry, determined, desperate to win. Mayweather is facing a prime fighter, a true welterweight in his prime. And let’s be honest here: Mayweather hasn’t been a guy in his prime in a long time, maybe since he was at lightweight, maybe since he fought [Diego] ‘Chico’ Corrales.”

Mayweather knocked out the late Corrales on Jan. 20, 2001, a fight that led some in boxing to tab him as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. The bout was a match of a pair of unbeaten super featherweight champions, but the then-24-0 Mayweather simply overwhelmed the 33-0 Corrales. Mayweather knocked Corrales down five times and stopped him in the 10th in what still stands as the finest effort of his career.

Mayweather has fought 16 times since the Corrales fight and only three men in that span – Phillip N’dou, DeMarcus Corley and Henry Bruseles – never were world champions. In 2003, Top Rank, which then promoted Mayweather, wanted to pit him against Julio Diaz, who would later in his career win a world title, but HBO instead chose the unknown N’dou.

That’s not good enough for De La Hoya, though, who insisted there are different kinds of world champions.

“You could talk to as many experts as you want to and I don’t think you’ll find one who won’t tell you that Victor is dangerous,” De La Hoya said. “He’s younger than Mayweather. When is the last time that Floyd fought an elite fighter in his prime? If it wasn’t Corrales, it was [Jose Luis] Castillo [in 2002].

“Look at who he fought. He fought me, and I was 34. There is a young 34 and an old 34, and I was definitely an old 34 when we fought. He fought [Juan Manuel] Marquez, but come on, let’s be serious: Marquez was no welterweight. He was a lightweight. Ricky Hatton? I love Ricky Hatton, but let’s be serious, Ricky Hatton wasn’t the best out there.”

It’s kind of revisionist history to hear De La Hoya talk that way, particularly since he was leading a campaign for Marquez, insisting he would upset Mayweather. Still, it’s a criticism that has been lobbed at Mayweather since he left the super featherweight division.

De La Hoya took it to an extreme and even questioned those who refer to Mayweather as great at this stage of Mayweather’s career.

“I think we have to wait and see whether that is appropriate,” he said. “Great is a big word, and in my opinion, we throw it around too easily. I am guilty of that myself. There are a lot of guys we call great, but to be great, you have to fight the best who are out there. Mayweather has been on hiatus for many years of fighting the best at welterweight.

“Now, he’s facing a young, tough, hungry and prime guy. We’ll see how that goes. He’s an extremely talented fighter with a lot of accomplishments, but great is a very big word.”

Mayweather, hardly to be unexpected, didn’t particularly see eye-to-eye with De La Hoya. He refused to apologize for his choice of opponents and noted that the media heaped praise upon Pacquiao for defeating many of the same guys he did.

Mayweather fought De La Hoya on May 5, 2007. Pacquiao then stopped De La Hoya 19 months later, on Dec. 6, 2008. Mayweather knocked out Hatton in the 10th round on Dec. 7, 2007, when Hatton was 43-0. Pacquiao knocked Hatton out in the second on May 2, 2009.

Mayweather blew out Shane Mosley on May 1, 2010 and Pacquiao blew out Mosley this past May 7. Pacquiao had faced Marquez twice, going 1-0-1 against him, before Mayweather fought the great Mexican on Sept. 19, 2009. Pacquiao and Marquez will meet again on Nov. 12.

“Was Oscar in rehab when he said that?” Mayweather asked, taking a jab at De La Hoya’s recent stint in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. “Was he coked out when he said it? Was he drinking alcohol when he said it? Tell me what he was doing, because we know what he did.

“Come on, this is a guy who dresses in drag. I don’t worry about what Oscar De La Hoya says. He’s the same guy when we fought, he chose my gloves, he chose the ring, he chose the weight class. It wasn’t like that when he fought Pacquiao at 145 and there was a [penalty clause] of $3 million a pound [overweight]. I don’t care. I don’t got nothing against Oscar. He can say what he wants to say. My record speaks for itself.”

Mayweather will be elected on the first ballot to the International Boxing Hall of Fame regardless of what happens in the rest of his career. He could fail to win another fight and still be a first-ballot pick.

The bigger impact is to his legacy and his position among the all-time greats when his career is finally over. And that is how fighting guys in their prime like Ortiz will help him. The more wins he has over prime and dangerous fighters, the better his career looks when historians pick it apart years from now.

Sugar Ray Robinson stands the test of time because he defeated a small army of Hall of Famers and world champions.

There aren’t enough good fighters alive for Mayweather to beat to even put him into a conversation with Robinson.

Robinson, though, is without peer in boxing history, a murderous puncher and a brilliant boxer.

If Mayweather defeats Ortiz on Sept. 17 and then Pacquiao down the line, there will be no question that he’ll be without peer in his era. Being the best in his era is all that can be asked of a boxer.

If Mayweather beats Ortiz, then faces and defeats Pacquiao, the critics will be forced to stand down.

Floyd Mayweather Jr., finally, will have answered any and all questions.

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Kevin Iole covers boxing and mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Kevin a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Thursday, Sep 8, 2011