Rivals are making the rounds
The third of 11 stops on the promotional tour was over.
Sure, “The World Awaits” Oscar De La Hoya’s fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. on May 5 in Las Vegas. But at the moment, De La Hoya was awaiting dinner.
The boxers, hoping to boost the pay-per-view TV audience for the sold-out fight, had just completed a rousing appearance in front of about 3,000 commuters last week at Union Station in Washington, D.C., when they were pointed to a nearby restaurant.
De La Hoya ordered salmon.
“The food was taking a long time to come,” said Richard Schaefer, chief executive of De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions, which is paying for the cross-country media blitz. “We had to ask the waiter, ‘Where’s the food?’
“Very embarrassed, he told us, ‘I’m sorry. Floyd stole Oscar’s plate off the tray.’ ”
Tickets for the fight sold out in three hours, establishing a Las Vegas record live gate of more than $19 million, and the pay-per-view totals are expected to establish the bout as boxing’s most lucrative.
But the cross-country tour, scheduled to end today at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, has been, in the best traditions of boxing promotions, punctuated with finger pointing, swearing sessions and public and private apologies.
Much of the “action” was captured by HBO cameras for a prime-time series beginning April 15.
Here’s a round-by-round recap, and an unofficial scorecard.
* Round 1: New York City, the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
Mayweather (37-0, 24 knockouts) is more than a 2-1 favorite to win the 152-pound fight for De La Hoya’s junior-middleweight belt, and he wants to show why. Taking off his sweatsuit and T-shirt, Mayweather poses before a standing-room-only crowd, revealing a muscular frame and a ripped stomach. De La Hoya is wearing a suit, and ultimately flashes his abs.
Mayweather has beaten De La Hoya to the punch, however, and emphasizes that point by pressing his fingers upon De La Hoya as they stare, nose to nose, for photographers.
Later, De La Hoya gets stuck in traffic on the way to the stock exchange, and Mayweather rings the closing bell alone.
* Round 2: Philadelphia, Temple University.
De La Hoya (38-4, 30 KOs) is widely regarded as the country’s most popular boxing champion and also has become a promoter whose fighters include former middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins. Hopkins returns to his hometown with his promoter, giving the Olympic champion from East Los Angeles a surge of applause.
Mayweather isn’t touching this time, but he does dispense trash talk.
“Save your sparks for May 5,” Hopkins advises.
* Round 3: Washington, D.C., Union Station.
De La Hoya has brought boxing gloves, hand wraps and a journal for the tour’s Eastern seaboard train ride. Suddenly, the items are missing.
Accusatory looks are directed toward Mayweather’s group, and the items are returned.
De La Hoya says later at the train station, “This is not good for me; it’s not good for boxing. Let’s talk and say what we’re going to do, thank the people and hype the fight. You don’t have to act like a brat. I’m hating it inside.”
Winner: De La Hoya
* Round 4: Chicago, University of Illinois Chicago.
A large pro-De La Hoya crowd shows up and the boxer’s new trainer, Freddie Roach, draws a larger ovation than the son of the man he replaced, Floyd Mayweather Sr.
“Floyd’s never been in a promotion like this, and I think the pro-Oscar stuff is getting under his skin,” Schaefer says. “It’s quite overwhelming, and he’s been doing things like trying to bring his few fans up on stage -- which started a near brawl with security guards -- and removing Oscar’s nametag from the stage.”
Winner: De La Hoya
* Round 5: Detroit, Cobo Center.
This is a homecoming, of sorts, for Mayweather, who hails from Grand Rapids, Mich.
Some local reporters admire Mayweather’s performance in selling the fight, although De La Hoya tells the Grand Rapids Press, “You don’t see Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan doing things like that.... His father told me that he’s still a kid. And he is.”
* Round 6: Miami, Bayside Marketplace Marina.
Another well-attended show draws praise from legendary trainer Angelo Dundee that the great barnstorming days of boxing have triumphantly returned. But Mayweather is seething because Golden Boy Promotions will not let him use its leased Gulfstream jet for a weekend flight back to Las Vegas for his 30th birthday party.
Instead, Golden Boy pays for a commercial flight.
Says Schaefer, “I don’t know how he could make any comment about us being cheap on this tour. We’ve spent almost $1 million on it, flying him on a Gulfstream, having him stay in the Waldorf in New York, the Ritz-Carlton in Houston, the Shore Club in Miami. I don’t know how the word cheap could ever come to mind.”
Winner: De La Hoya
* Round 7: Houston, Jones Plaza.
His birthday party over, Mayweather criticizes Golden Boy publicly, then Mayweather and Schaefer engage in a verbal barrage. Schaefer accuses Mayweather of making “threatening remarks” while criticizing the talent in Golden Boy’s stable.
“Why didn’t you tell that to Hopkins in Philadelphia?” Schaefer says he asked Mayweather.
* Round 8: Dallas, American Airlines Center.
After telling the Dallas Morning News that he has been treated poorly and calling Golden Boy “sneaky,” Mayweather apologizes. Schaefer and De La Hoya accept.
Mayweather’s Gulfstream leaves Texas first en route to San Francisco, but De La Hoya’s Gulfstream ends up passing Mayweather’s near 30,000 feet.
De La Hoya’s pilot radios Mayweather’s to break the news, and the De La Hoya camp laughs heartily.
* Round 9: San Francisco, City Hall.
People 15 to 20 deep line the streets as De La Hoya’s car approaches.
“I’ve never seen anything like this; this fight is bigger than [De La Hoya vs.] Trinidad,” Schaefer says of the previously richest non-heavyweight bout. “I think Floyd’s OK, now. He realizes I’m trying to make this the biggest fight ever.”
OK or not, Mayweather stands up and dances to the crowd’s chants of “Oscar! Oscar!”
* Round 10: Las Vegas, MGM Grand Hotel
“It gets old, a guy like Floyd talking trash out of his head,” De La Hoya says, reflecting on the tour.
“He obviously has no clue, no idea what he has done. This is all fuel for me. I have the experience to keep my composure and stay focused. He can never get in my head.”
De La Hoya also is critical of Mayweather’s treatment of fans.
“He’s supposed to be an ambassador, a champion, the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world [but] the things he’s done have been amateurish,” De La Hoya says. “We’re doing this to build up the hype. Signing five autographs and leaving is not going to do the job.”
Mayweather, according to his publicist, is not available for comment.
Long estranged from Mayweather Sr., Mayweather Jr. is surprisingly joined on the dais by his father at the MGM Grand.
Winner: De La Hoya, who leads, four rounds to three, with three rounds even, heading to Hollywood.