Monday, April 30, Noon ET

State of Boxing

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Michael Leahy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 30, 2007; 2:00 PM

Post writer Michael Leahy was online Monday, April 30 at noon ET to talk about the Oscar De La Hoya-Floyd Mayweather fight and evaluate where boxing stands as a sport in America, and where it goes from here.

A transcript follows.

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Michael Leahy: Hi. Thanks for joining today for a discussion of Saturday's De La Hoya-Mayweather fight and the state of boxing in general. No question will be deemed under-the-belt and wild haymakers are just fine. Saturday's fight should be fascinating, so let's go.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: How important is this fight do you think for boxing's future well-being? I know fans are excited now, but if the fight is a stinker, that could hurt the sport seriously, I think.

Michael Leahy: I think the fight is critically important. The pay-per-view audience will be huge in comparison with most fights over the last couple of years, and fans will be expecting fireworks. Tactically, it will be in De La Hoya's interest to be quite aggressive (he can't afford to get in a slick boxing match with the faster Mayweather), so the question becomes how will Mayweather respond. While a slick boxing display from Mayweather might be the ticket to an easy 12-round decision, it could terribly disillusion fans who are counting on something more for their 50 bucks. When Mayweather easily outpointed Carlos Baldomir to win the welterweight championship, no one could have argued that he delivered anything less than a masterful boxing performance. However, in failing to mix it up at any point with Baldomir, he likely alienated a good share of the audience. If the same thing happens with De La Hoya, it could harm Mayweather as a future draw.

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: De La Hoya has always had problems with fast fighters, and he's a little over the hill now, and his trainer for the last few years is training his opponent. Why should I think he has a chance against Mayweather?

Michael Leahy: De La Hoya's new trainer Freddie Roach believes that a confident Mayweather will trade bombs with De La Hoya at some point in the fight. If and when Mayweather does trade, Roach believes he may run into a big De La Hoya left hook or uppercut. If that happens, virtually every observer believes that De La Hoya (DLH) has a chance, given that Mayweather has never tasted that kind of power. On the other hand, DLH has never seen speed like Mayweather's, and DLH has had serious problems with fast fighters, as his fights with Shane Mosley revealed.

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Washington. D.C.: Do you think Mayweather's trash talking is going to get in De La Hoya's head, or, like in the Mayorga fight, will it just be fuel to the fire and ultimately help De La Hoya. Also do you know if the fight will be shown in any bars around the D.C. area?

Michael Leahy: DLH has endured so much trash-talking throughout his career that it is highly unlikely that he'll be negatively affected by Mayweather's talk. DLH is quite skilled at using such jibes as motivation. Think back on the Fernando Vargas fight in particular. DLH loved the motivation that Vargas' talk provided.

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Philadelphia: How do you see the fight possibly going? Will the Las Vegas judges favor one guy? That was a tremendous look at Oscar in your article. Will you do an article on Floyd too, because he's going to be the man in this fight.

Michael Leahy: Thanks for the nice words. I think this is a difficult fight for Oscar for a variety of reasons. He's 34; he's been relatively inactive (four fights in four years; and, again, he has always experienced difficulty with fast slick boxes. In addition to Mosley, Pernell Whitaker frustrated him much of the way during DLH's controversial decision victory over Whitaker. To have a real shot, I think Oscar must press Floyd from the outset, cut off the ring, muscle the smaller man on the inside, and hope at some point that Mayweather will trade with him.

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Falls Church, Va.: What do you think about boxers attempting to denigrate mixed martial arts by declaring that they could beat UFC champions (i.e Mayweather and Toney) when it's clear that an MMA fighter could beat a boxer in an MMA bout? Personally, I find it silly to think that boxing should try to compete with MMA. Football never competes with basketball in any meaningful way. Why is the sport of boxing even attempting to make it a competition?

Michael Leahy: Well, I don't think much at all is quite "clear" about the comparisons between the two sports. However, I do think you're right in pointing out that there ought to be a recognized apples-and-oranges distinction between the sports. Nobody compares boxing to wrestling. Having said that, I think boxing could take some valuable pointers from the clever ways that UFC in particular markets itself.

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Plano, Tex.: It seems to me that the last time there was really any kind of ongoing interest in boxing in this country, Mike Tyson was the heavyweight champ.

Do you see ANY hope for the heavyweight division in the near future -- i.e., an American contender who had a real shot at taking one of the belts? I am not talking about light-hitting technicians like Chris Byrd or James Ruiz, but someone with real knockout power and maybe some charisma as well?

Michael Leahy: This is a great question, which gets at the core of boxing's problem in this country. The sport is devoid of any great American heavyweights at the moment. Lamon Brewster, Shannon Briggs, Calvin Brock, and an aging James Toney and Hasim Rahman are never going to turn people on. Worse, ask the big sports fan if he can name the current heavyweight champions. A few people will get Wladimir Klitschko's name. But a NBA reserve is better known than Ruslen Chagaev and Oleg Maskaev, the other two heavyweight titlists.

The sport needs a better amateur program in America. Beyond that, we need network television back in the game to promote fighters in all weight classes. Remember that when boxing's heavyweight division floundered for a while in the post-Ali era, Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns, Roberto Duran and Marvin Hagler led the charge among the welterweight and middleweight divisions to keep interest in the sport alive.

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Denver: What's your prediction for the fight and why?

Michael Leahy: Mayweather by decision. I think his advantage in speed will likely prove decisive. If he boxes carefully, moving in and out, I think he'll generally frustrate Oscar, as Mosley did in their first fight. However, if he trades with Oscar and gets caught by one of those hooks, anything could happen.

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Charleston, S.C.: Do you think this could be De La Hoyas final fight if he suffers a bad loss or a K.O., and in the same scenario who would be next for Mayweather?

Michael Leahy: Yes, to the first part of your question. I can't envision DLH continuing if he loses badly. He's 34 and aware that fighters who hang around too long can get badly hurt. His wife wants him out, too.

Re Mayweather: If it's a thrilling fight, he'll have a lot of options. If it's a boring fight, his boxing office appeal will diminish. He could win this fight and still see his allure wane if he doesn't deliver an entertaining performance.

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Fairfax, Va.: Just wanted to say I enjoyed your article very much. Great reading.

From the article I found neither fighter very appealing - one's a publicity hound and the other some kind of bling-bling king.

I hope they knock each other out at the same time like in the cartoons.

Michael Leahy: It's a bling world. Mayweather knows it. He is quite content, as the story reflects, in playing the antihero here. I think he understands it fuels the pay-per-view gate and hopes that it will get into Oscar's head. He has dubbed himself the "villain" of the sport.

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Potomac, Md.: Great story on De La Hoya. That was fascinating about Shane Mosley being at the gym as a sparring partner and putting that bruise on Oscar. Has a big-name fighter ever sparred you think with someone of such a high caliber? I so agree with you about the difficulties of being Oscar's age when you're in the ring. Fighters are totally different between age 30 and 34 in the vast number of cases. I just hope that Oscar gets out of this just fine to enjoy his millions. Here are my questions if you can take the time to answer them. How do you think Oscar's career would have been different if he won those fights he lost? How do you think Oscar and Floyd would have done against the great fighters of other times? Do you have a prediction for this fight?

Michael Leahy: Had Oscar beaten Trinidad, Mosley and Hopkins, we would be referring to him as one of the all-time greats. He isn't in that class, unfortunately. The Mayweather fight will go a long ways toward determining whether Oscar goes down in history as a top-shelf fighter or as simply one of the great marketing forces in the sport.

Re how he would have done against past greats. I think someone like Ray Leonard in his prime would have had far too much speed for Oscar.

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Norfolk, Va.: That was a great story yesterday on Oscar De La Hoya. I read your Michael Jordan book a couple years ago and that was fantastic. I hope you'll do some more boxing stories, the sport needs it. What do you think of the idea of having boxing teams to stimulate interest in the sport? I'm kind of a fan of Ricky Hatton, but I don't know how far he can go. When you look at individual fighters do a few of them look like they might have the charisma to stir up interest. Again, really enjoyed it.

Michael Leahy: Thank you for the kind comment. I like the idea of boxing "teams." Was it the "Contender" series, or a like series, that recently experimented with this idea? I do like it. You could have America versus Britain, or America versus Russia, or a continent, etc. You could space the fights out over several weeks -- a fight a week.

Re England's Ricky Hatton. He has been thrilling in the junior welterweight division, but he showed real limitations as a welterweight. He also has a tendency to get involved in some debilitating wars in the ring, and balloon up in weight between fights. I don't think he is likely to have a long career, though he is certainly a talented fighter. He'll be in the ring soon against Jose Luis Castillo in a title fight.

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Alexandria, Va.: Any chance of the sanctioning organizations -- WBA, WBC, IBF, WBO -- consolidating? It's hard to take boxing seriously when there are three or four people all claiming to be "world champion."

Michael Leahy: You are so right to want to see this happen. It would change the face of boxing if there could be a single legitimate champion in each division. A championship, and in turn championship fights, would mean so much more.

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Washington, D.C.: I grew up a boxing fan, and more so than the sport having stars to market and sale the sport, the sport had talent that garnered interest from network TV, cable sports, HBO and the occasional mega pay-per-view fight. Now just about any fight worth its money is a pay per view fight. I already spend $90 a month for TV, another $50-65 for a fight is not in my interest. What's the real challenge to boxing now, is it lack of talent or bad marketing?

Michael Leahy: To get to your question at the end: I think it's largely bad marketing. You need some big "free" network fights on Saturday afternoons and in prime time to build interest in the sport. Remember the glory days of the '60s and '70 when you regularly saw fights on ABC and CBS. Fighters were huge stars then. When they finally got around to big theater and pay-per-view fights (Leonard vs. Duran, etc.), the relative take was huge. It was good for everybody involved.

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Springfield, Va.: Hi Michael, What is the state of America's amateur boxing program? I remember watching the Golden Glove tournaments on TV and following these boxers through the Olympics and their pro careers. It seems that boxing has not been emphasized during the coverage of the past few Olympic games. This certainly would account for some of boxing's lost luster.

Michael Leahy: To your last point: yes, the sport needs American Olympians to deliver at the next Olympics, and for American television to capture their stories. Both De La Hoya and Leonard were born as market attractions out of their Olympic triumphs.

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New Carrollton, Md.: The DeLa Hoya-Mayweather fight could be one of two things for Oscar: Either De La Hoya is looking for a huge pay day to finish his career, or this is a fight that could put him back into the discussion of all-time great fighters? Do you agree? Which of the two?

Michael Leahy: DLH wants both: the huge pay day and also respect in the history books. Remember, too, that he is building his career as a promoter; he wants this fight to be a lucrative success for Golden Boy Promotions. He really does want to supplant Arum and King as the sport's big mover and shaker.

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Las Vegas: Are there any decent fighters on the horizon or is this sport pretty much dead, as far as big money, big draw fights are concerned?

Michael Leahy: After De La Hoya-Mayweather, there will only be some middling fights for a while -- attractive fights, just not mega-fights. Fights that fall into this category include the June fight in Madison Square Garden between Zab Judah and Miguel Cotto for Cotto's welterweight crown. The Hatton-Castillo fight is also down the road. I think Manny Pacquiao is a marvelously entertaining fighter, but much of America still knows nothing about him. The sport needs to do a better job of promoting people like Pacquiao, Jermain Taylor, Winky Wright (an absolutely fabulous fighter), etc.

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Michael Leahy: Unfortunately, we've run out of time. I want to thank everyone involved for their interesting questions and comments. I'll look forward to chatting with you again soon.

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