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Boxers Take the Red Line

Subhed: Pretty Boy, Golden Boy, the Executioner, Tuff Juice, and Mister 50 come to Union Station

So this Mayweather-De La Hoya hoo-ha was your typical understated boxing event. Actually, there was a fair bit of screaming and booing and cheering and playing of Carmina Burana. At one point, The Executioner (Bernard Hopkins) made a solemn, full-throated promise: "Let me tell you something, somebody is gonna have a headache after May 5." This particular fight is so huge, their promises come due three months early. Just the press conference was enough to give me a headache.

The point of the whole exercise was to convince us that De La Hoya and Mayweather don't like each other. Like, a lot. And that the fight is thus more worthy of our attention. They tried very hard to convince us of this fact. Like, while De La Hoya was making his speech, Mayweather signed autographs, and then strode in front of the podium to sign autographs in De La Hoya's face, and then ripped his shirt off and posed off to the side. To my eyes, De La Hoya's laugh was sort of genuine, an appreciation for the bare-chested swagfest taking place in front of us. But no, De La Hoya assured us later, he really hates this guy, with whom he'll now visit eight more cities to promote this fight and try to convince people to buy it on pay-per-view. Trust me, if hating Mayweather is wrong, De La Hoya don't want to be right. These quotes are taken from the press conference and from after-interviews.

Mayweather: "I'm gonna look you right in the face when I tell you this: I'm gonna take my time, I'm gonna go out there and I'm gonna give you a brutal beating. A brutal beating."

De La Hoya: "He can trash talk all he want, but come May 5 we'll see who's gonna be feeling all the pain."

Mayweather: "You can fall on your face, you can fall on your a$$, you can fall on your back. Hold on [grabs a flag], or maybe you can do like this [waves flag in surrender]."

De La Hoya: "He has no idea what he's getting himself into. No idea. Just talk and talk and talk and talk. Just keep doing it. I urge you, please, keep going, keep going."

Mayweather: "I'm telling you, Oscar is the type of guy that will give you an interview, shake your hand, say 'hi' to you, and as soon as you turn your back he's giving you the middle finger, talking about 'I don't like him, forget him.' All his interviews are fake. He's fake as a person. He's the only fighter I know that wears makeup."

De La Hoya: "It's a joke now.... I respect him as a fighter because I respect every fighter. It takes a lot to be a fighter inside that ring, and I respect that. But all that other stuff he's doing and all the trash talking, I mean, it just goes in one ear and right out the other."

Mayweather: "I don't mean to be rude or anything, this may be news, but what Oscar eat don't make me [er, go to the bathroom]. I'm my own boss....Over there, that's a fake story; over here, you gonna get the real, raw and uncut Floyd Mayweather, the best, the top dog, the creme de la creme."

De La Hoya: "We ultimately, genuinely don't like each other, and I feel that, I truly feel that inside. That's really what I needed, what I want when I go into a fight. This guy, he's like a little kid, man. He's a little brat, you know, and his daddy once told me my son needs a spanking. I'm gonna give him that spanking May 5."

Etc. There was a dramatic moment when one of the emcee types told us it might not be a good idea to have the guys pose together but that he was gonna do it anyway, and then--shock! unreal!--while they stared at each other their people jabbered, and there was mild pushing, and someone stepped in and said break it up, although what exactly was being broken up was unclear. The point is, really, they really don't like each other, really.

"Ain't nothing about me a show," Mayweather said, when I asked. "This is me. This is real. This is real. This ain't no WWF. This is boxing. This is real."

Also, the Mayweather camp evidently wanted to start a race war in Union Station; advisor and D.C. native Leonard Ellerbe pointed out that De La Hoya's fans would be celebrating Cinco de Mayo on May 5, and that the Mayweather camp wants all fans, but "by Floyd happening to be an African-American superstar, and he's a superstar within his own community, we want every African-American fan to come out and support Floyd." Plus Mayweather kept dropping "Chocolate City" references. He didn't say anything about gentrification.

While some members of the Spanish-language media were squarely on De La Hoya's side--and truly, you haven't witnessed the media at its finest until you've been to a boxing press conference--Mayweather won the Washington Wizards vote, 2-0. Caron Butler and DeShawn Stevenson stood and cheered his arrival, and Mayweather stopped to hug Butler on the runway, and they all posed for photos together, and Butler shadow-boxed a bit when Mayweather took the stage, and pounded his chest when Mayweather said "D.C, stand up, talk to me."

"Supporting Floyd Mayweather, that's what I'm doing here," Butler told me. "The struggle, that's the connection, the struggle. I saw him out at All-Star weekend, I played pool with him at Alonzo Mourning's gathering and it was great seeing him. We vibed a little bit, and I'm just happy for him. I knew the press conference was here in D.C. and I just wanted to let him know that we at the Washington Wizards, we support him."

I asked whether that support was unanimous.

"No doubt," Butler said. "Because we respect the struggle, we all been through adversity in our life. Look at my man, he's here, he's got that little edge to himself. He's ready, man. He got the most swag ever. You see when he came up on the mic, he laughed it up before he even started talking? Phenomenal. Phenomenal swag."

And really, it's an apt phrase. If I'm gonna lavish endless publicity on the Wizards for all their no-talking-to-DeShawn Stevenson rules, their Hibachi nonsense, their high-priced shootouts, their million-dollar parties and their various swagfests, there's no reason not to lavish publicity on this Mayweather stuff. Gilbert perhaps does a better job of selling his brand of sports-as-comic-entertainment as genuine, but these guys got off some decent-enough lines, and you couldn't help but laugh when Mayweather ripped off his shirt and started posing while De La Hoya tried to speak at the podium. And no matter how many times they say how much they hate each other, the show is still the show.

"UFC has basically taken over," Bernard Hopkins was saying afterward. "We've got a shot with this fight to bring back [the] glory days. This is what we need in boxing."

Incidentally, part of Mayweather's critique was that De La Hoya is fake, doesn't really connect with his fans, doesn't want to mingle with them, shake their hands, sign their autographs, etc. I know nothing about this, but I can verify that Mayweather autographed a pretzel wrapper from Auntie Anne's. Now there's a real Union Station moment for you.

By Dan Steinberg  |  February 21, 2007; 5:51 PM ET
Categories:  Fighting Sports , Wizards  
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