LAS VEGAS – For about three months, Floyd Mayweather Jr. has put Oscar De La Hoya through hell.
And he probably will do so for another 36 minutes or so Saturday inside a boxing ring at the MGM Grand Garden when the pair meet in one of the most relentlessly hyped prize fights ever.
Mayweather has yearned for a crack at De La Hoya almost from the minute he turned professional following the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Both were then part of the Top Rank stable of fighters and Mayweather said he made it a point to avoid befriending De La Hoya.
"I knew we'd have to fight some day, so I didn't want to get close," said Mayweather, who swears he plans to retire after what could be the crowning achievement of an extraordinary career.
Though he's been regarded as the finest boxer alive for many years, Mayweather has still fought in De La Hoya's shadow for much of that time.
Mayweather chafed, often not so silently, as he awaited his shot at the fighter who is literally the Golden Boy.
And now that he has that shot, Mayweather plans to take advantage. He's harassed De La Hoya from the day the bout was signed, taunting him mercilessly, clearly agitating the reigning champion.
"He needs someone to humble him," De La Hoya said. "Everyone, at one point or another, has that humbling experience. I'm going to give it to him."
De La Hoya's best chance of delivering on his promise will be if he finds a way to land his vaunted left hook more often than every round or so.
Mayweather has a superb chin, but De La Hoya's shots are hard and thudding.
Welterweight champion Shane Mosley, who is a partner in De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions and who sparred with him in Puerto Rico, said he found himself not wanting to get hit, even with the 16-ounce sparring gloves.
Mosley, who has two wins over De La Hoya, said he doesn't think Mayweather realizes how hard De La Hoya hits.
"Oscar throws very sharp, crisp punches," Mosley said. "You feel those punches. Mayweather hasn't been hit by anyone who punches like Oscar."
But Mayweather hasn't been hit by anyone too much. In winning the linear welterweight title from Carlos Baldomir in his last outing, Mayweather limited Baldomir to just 79 punches landed and a connect percentage of an almost unheard of 12 percent.
None of Mayweather's last five opponents have landed 100 total punches or averaged as many as 10 connects a round.
He's not going to dominate De La Hoya that way, but the bout might be De La Hoya's most frustrating since his 1999 loss to Felix Trinidad, the last fight in Las Vegas that approached the kind of hype that Saturday's affair has received.
De La Hoya and Trinidad met as unbeaten welterweight champions that night, but De La Hoya was clearly the better boxer. But he lost his condition and couldn't find the last four rounds.
He was forced to circle and run and wound up dropping a majority decision.
He won't run from Mayweather, understanding his only chance to win is to attack. But he's going to pay a price for that strategy because, while Mayweather is hardly a one-punch knockout puncher, his blows carry plenty of sting of their own.
Few who have been in the ring with Mayweather have escaped without being temporarily disfigured.
"You feel Floyd's punches, you really do," said super welterweight contender Kofi Jantuah, who was Mayweather's chief sparring partner after once serving the same role for De La Hoya. “Big mistake by Oscar if he thinks Floyd can't hurt him.”
But in a fight he desperately wants to win, Mayweather is unlikely to take any risks and go for a knockout.
He'll use his superior hand and foot speed and his defensive acumen to frustrate De La Hoya and run away with a wide unanimous decision victory.
- Oscar De La Hoya