Boxing's salvation show

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

LAS VEGAS – Everyone wants Saturday's Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Oscar De La Hoya fight to save boxing.

This could only happen if the excitement and publicity of the fight somehow convinces the most athletic 10- to 12-year olds in North America to give up on basketball, football and baseball and go find the local gym.

Boxing's problems are even greater than just thieving promoters, chaotic sanctioning bodies and long-term health problems – a triumvirate of trouble, no doubt. But it starts with the fact the best American athletes no longer want any part of this sport.

There is no great heavyweight champion anymore, everyone agrees. And that's mainly because someone like Dwyane Wade – all 6-4, 216 pounds of his athletic self – is playing basketball, where he is earning huge money without getting whacked in the head and then stolen from.

Mayweather claims as long as America has ghettos, it will have boxers, but that's not necessarily true. The sport of choice in those neighborhoods is no longer boxing. And why would it be?

Even guys Mayweather's size – 5-8, 154 pounds – would rather spend their time trying to be Allen Iverson, trying to get a basketball scholarship to some mid-major college, than box. Heck, even Mayweather is an unabashed NBA fan who only got into boxing because his father was a fighter.

Even honest promoters, if there are any, have nothing to work with.

Until the great athletes and personalities such as Mayweather and De La Hoya return to the sport, all the corruption hardly matters. Americans want to watch sports with Americans. Swiss tennis star Roger Federer is as great a champion as that sport has ever known, but without an American rival it has sunk into obscurity here in the States.

Which is where the prevailing fear concerning Saturday's mega fight, the night boxing returns to center stage and, perhaps, inspires some future stars, comes into play – this might turn out boring.

The expected strategies here are pretty simple. Mayweather, smaller, quicker and in better condition, will try to jab and move and extend this fight into the late rounds where he'll score a decision or TKO on a worn-out De La Hoya.

The last thing he is going to try is to stand and punch it out with De La Hoya, his tough chin and tougher left hook.

That's the fight the fans – particularly casual ones who are flocking to this heavily hyped matchup – want to see. But it would make little sense to Mayweather.

At Friday's weigh-in here, Mayweather came in at a slim 150 pounds, about his natural weight. De La Hoya hit the maximum at 154. But between then and the opening bell, De La Hoya will pack on at least another 10 pounds, jumping to an expected 165 to 167. Mayweather might not be able to add a pound, so he could be giving up 10 percent body weight, not to mention over two inches for this one.

He isn't going to stand and slug. He is going to try to put together a technically beautiful performance and hit De La Hoya in bursts, the way he did last year when he gave up 12 pounds to Carlos Baldomir and still won easily.

"Weight doesn't win fights," Mayweather said. "Skill wins fights. With me, I'm a smart fighter."

But will skill and smarts get everyone excited about boxing?

"Oscar is going to have a big, big problem hitting little Floyd," said Floyd Mayweather Sr., who has trained both men. "But if Oscar hits him on the chin, (Mayweather) has got problems."

So for all the talk by Floyd Jr. – "I'm going to dominate him" – there could be an excitement let down. Unless, of course, De La Hoya can hit him on that chin and score the big upset.

One thing about Mayweather, he's been criticized by many for his constant jabbering that has rubbed some the wrong way and helped make De La Hoya the clear fan favorite here – the weigh-in crowd was overwhelmingly pro-Oscar.

"I think he's a role model people look up to and I don't think he takes that into consideration," said Freddie Roach, De La Hoya's trainer. "I think it's shameful."

No question the guy is myopic, money obsessed and patently politically incorrect. But he is also promoting a lifestyle of success that resonates with many of those would-be athletes.

People do look up to him and if boxing is lucky it will be a generation of young athletes who see that Mayweather has the same success that the ball players do, that he isn't some broke, crazy guy like Mike Tyson, or sick old man like Muhammad Ali.

What Mayweather has done, no matter how much the establishment might dislike it, has been good for boxing's future.

Of course, mostly it's been good for his future. The 30-year-old has been the pound-for-pound champion for years, but has generated more publicity in the last month than all of his previous 13 world title fights.

When this is over – barring a mismatch – there will be a rematch. This will be the biggest money fight ever. Even if the rematch only generates half of that, it will be a monster take. No one in boxing can afford to leave that kind of cash on the table. So they won't.

But at some point, Mayweather can now move forward alone. He can generate his own hype for a fight with a lesser name boxer – say Sugar Shane Mosley.

This fight can't save boxing, but it can offer a reprieve and, if Mayweather and De La Hoya have captured the imagination of American kids, perhaps, some time for them to develop.

But it sure would help if Mayweather stood and fought a little Saturday, stood and gave everyone something to get excited about.

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