LAS VEGAS – The scorecards varied widely, the passions raged wildly and, for a few minutes after the fight, there was even some unfounded confusion over whether the judges had flip-flopped their numbers and Oscar De La Hoya had actually beaten Floyd Mayweather Jr., not vice versa.
By the end, after all the celebrity sightings, all the combinations and crosses, after the pro-De La Hoya crowd chanted "bull----," after everyone poured out of the MGM Grand and into an electric environment on The Strip, this much was simple: Let's do it again.
Maybe in the fall. Maybe in a year.
Whatever and whenever, De La Hoya-Mayweather II ought be a mere formality now. Carve up the tens of millions and give boxing fans – old and new – another night to care, another fight to look forward to, another moment to matter.
"I told you I am retired (and) as of right now I sticking with my word," Mayweather said. "But I've got to talk with my team."
"Yeah, we'll see," De La Hoya said. "Obviously it's go back to the drawing board and talk it over."
Translation: This one should be as good as signed, sealed and delivered.
Mayweather isn't staying retired, not at age 30, not at the top of his game and with the legacy he is so concerned about still being built. He won this one fair and square, but he could use another chance at De La Hoya to finish off whatever lingering doubts are out there among fans.
Meanwhile, De La Hoya is too good of a businessman to leave this big payday sitting on the shelf, especially when he was so close to scoring the upset that would have been the most impressive victory of his career.
This wasn't the greatest fight of all time, but it was plenty good enough to leave everyone wanting more.
Especially for a sport that needed this shot in the arm, needed to remind everyone that it can deliver a Super Bowl-like atmosphere – from the corporate sponsors to the all-night parties to the Hollywood jetsetters.
Where else but boxing could you get John McCain, Mike Tyson and Jennifer Lopez all in the same room?
This was a show of force for the old-school sport, which went modern this week as Vegas was overrun by a youthful, celebrity-driven party crowd. Seven-thousand rank-and-file fans jammed Friday's weigh-in. Huge, corporate-sponsored parties busted out all over town – highlighted by Tecate beer's Friday blowout at the trendy, rooftop VooDoo Lounge high above the city.
Fight night brought out a who's who, dressed to the nines, lookers and hookers, athletes and actresses, singers and stars, their limos backed up for blocks on Tropicana. Tickets went as high as $10,000.
There were so many A-listers in attendance that before the fight they didn't have time to introduce them all, never getting around to the considerable likes of Will Ferrell, Dwyane Wade and Jim Carrey
Then Mayweather, in a clear shot at De La Hoya, even entered the ring wearing Mexican colors and a comically, oversized sombrero on Cinco de Mayo.
"I love all my Hispanic fans," he said, before claiming he probably only had 200 or 300 supporters out of the 16,700 in attendance.
Of course, he kept it real by having 50 Cent rap his intro live while accompanying him to the ring. "One of my best friends," Mayweather nodded.
By the opening bell, the arena was pure energy.
It was everything boxing – plagued by mismanagement, corruption and dull irrelevance – could have hoped for. There was no way to experience this entire scene and not realize that boxing still has that unique ability to pull off the major, monster event, that no matter what, no matter UFC, there is still, at the very least, a pulse here.
And then the fight delivered for the fans.
"I just wanted to make sure we gave the people what they wanted and I believe the fans were happy," De La Hoya said.
Not all were, of course. The debate over who really won and who really lost will rage on. Mayweather moved to 38-0 with the split decision, but here in pro-Oscar Vegas, there was plenty of differing opinions.
Even Mayweather's dad thought the judges got it wrong.
"I thought Oscar won the fight based on the point system," said Floyd Sr., who used to train De La Hoya (38-5) and has an off-again, on-again relationship with Floyd Jr. "My son had good defense but I thought Oscar pressed the fight."
Mayweather landed far more punches (207-122). De La Hoya landed far stronger ones. In the end, judge Jerry Ross' decision to give the 12th round to Mayweather – the other two judges gave it to De La Hoya – was the difference between a split decision and a draw.
"I didn't feel like a loser," De La Hoya said.
"I thought I was going to beat him by a bigger score," Mayweather said. "All the shots he was throwing, he was missing."
"He didn't hurt me," De La Hoya countered.
"He was trying to steal rounds at the end," Mayweather said. "But you can't steal rounds taking punches in the face."
You can see where this one is going. Another national press tour, another HBO reality series, another buildup that will bring out the average sport fan, bring out the big-money sponsors, bring out the pretty people to come to Vegas and party the weekend away.
This was just what boxing needed. Now it needs to do it again.
- Oscar De La Hoya