Flashback Friday

Flashback Friday | This Is the Danger Zone: Oscar De La Hoya vs. Ricardo Mayorga

“Simply put, I really just don’t like him. I just don’t like him on a personal level. I’ve always had disdain toward him and especially now that he’s going to fight with me. I want to stop his heart. I not only want to stop him, I want to stop his heart or detach his retina, one of the two. I really want to do damage to him.”

From Managua, Nicaragua, Ricardo Mayorga was the reigning WBC Super Welterweight champion. After “El Matador” signed to defend his title for the first time against “The Golden BoyOscar De La Hoya, Mayorga had instantly worked himself in to a rage.

From East Los Angeles, the experienced De La Hoya was not unfamiliar with this type of behavior. Calmly, he retorted, “Show some respect here. This guy is pumping me up so much. He has just got under my skin. He hasn’t got into my head, but he’s got under my skin, and he made me train as hard as I can to really teach him a lesson.”

The pre-fight banter didn’t end there. Mayorga would go on to launch into another verbal tirade, one that nearly became physical, at a photo shoot promoting the fight.

The confrontation became heated when Mayorga called De La Hoya a “faggot” and a “bitch.” He later slapped De La Hoya on the head at a press conference then put the icing on the cake by insulting his wife.

Like him or not, Mayorga had gotten De La Hoya’s attention. No longer just a fight for the title, things had become personal very quickly.
The bout was scheduled for May 6, 2006 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Many sports fans had turned their attention to the bout having seen much of the pre-fight buildup. The Winter Olympics had concluded months earlier while the NBA and NHL postseason were just getting underway.

Outside the world of sports, many were following the trial of captured former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein as military operations continued in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

In leading up to May 6, promotional posters proclaimed “This Is the Danger Zone,” feeding off the animosity that had been building between the two.

Mayorga, 33, would face an opponent who had been out of the ring 20 months, the longest stretch of inactivity in De La Hoya’s entire career.

The Golden Boy had last fought in September of 2004 having moved up in weight to face Middleweight kingpin Bernard Hopkins. After eight rounds of spirited back and forth action, Hopkins sent De La Hoya packing with a wicked left hand to the body in the ninth round.

It was the first time in De La Hoya’s career that he had been stopped.

Meanwhile, Mayorga was building a reputation as a wild man having beaten Vernon Forrest twice and tangling with Felix Trinidad and Corey Spinks. Often undisciplined in the ring, Mayorga fiercely came at you from all angles and directions.

After his first bout with Forrest, he boldly fired up a cigarette in the ring while being interviewed by Larry Merchant. Months later he found himself on the cover of Ring Magazine with the title, “The Craziest Man in the Sport: Mayorga Lights Up Boxing.”

Fan interest was high as many wondered out loud how De La Hoya, also 33, would deal with this unbridled force after such a long layoff. Mayorga was clearly under his skin and succeeded in making the contest so belligerently personal.

As fight night approached, each fighter weighed in a half pound under the 154-pound limit and were visibly in sensational shape. The fight, scheduled for 12 rounds, was aired live on HBO pay-per-view with Merchant, Jim Lampley and Emanuel Steward calling the blow-by-blow action.

De La Hoya (37-4, 29 KOs), coming in as the challenger, entered the ring first. Wearing blue and led by trainer Floyd Mayweather Sr., a pro-De La Hoya crowd of over 13,000 fans greeted him.

The champion, draped in all black and looking like Darth Vader, entered next. Led by his trainer Stacy McKinley, Mayorga (27-5-1, 22 KOs) was greeted by small pockets of supporters scattered through the arena.

There was little doubt that on this night he had cast himself as the villain.

Ring announcer Michael Buffer introduced the fighters and referee Jay Nady provided final instructions.

Round 1 began with both meeting head on and a firefight quickly ensued. At 5’11,” De La Hoya owned a two-inch height and a three-inch reach advantage over the champion. El Matador swung wildly with hooks and uppercuts as De La Hoya held his ground and countered.

Less than one minute into the fight and both fighters standing in the center of the ring, each reloaded and launched a second assault at one another. While Mayorga’s right hand was en route, De La Hoya fired and landed a missile in the form of a short, crisp, devastating left hook.

As the impact thudded through the MGM Grand, Mayorga’s chin snapped as he dropped to the canvas in a heap. The crowd rose and roared while Lampley howled, “A right cross followed by a sensational left hook! That was a perfect shot!”

The champion climbed to his feet and tried to reestablish himself. De La Hoya continued to block most of Mayorga’s punches while landing many of his own clean power punches, shaking Mayorga again before the round ended.

Lampley sarcastically inquired, “Where’s the 20 month layoff!? Where’s all the ring rust!?”

While the crowd groaned and awed at the replays of the knockdown, De La Hoya sat in his corner. An incensed Mayweather Sr. climbed into the ring, “Look man. Look man, you can knock this son-of-a-bitch out right now!”

The challenger was in command early and his trainer rode him like a thoroughbred.

Mayorga tried to attack in Rounds 2 and 3 but was met by De La Hoya who was getting his punches off first and countering beautifully, particularly with his left hook.

As Mayweather Sr. had requested, De La Hoya began using his left jab more in the fourth round, snapping Mayorga’s head back and keeping him on the outside. Still dangerous and bravely trying to advance, Mayorga continued to attack and occasionally landed to the head and the body.

As the minutes elapsed, the tide was now turning as De La Hoya was now becoming the aggressor. Pursuing the champion who was now moving backward more than he was coming forward, De La Hoya was proving that he was the superior boxer as he had firmly established the pace and flow of the bout.

Entering the sixth round, Mayorga remained conscious of De La Hoya’s punching power as he tried to pick his spots to bang away at the challenger.

Just over a minute into the round, the two traded bombs at close quarters. Mayorga’s legs buckled as De la Hoya opened up a full onslaught of hooks to the head and body. The champion staggered into the ropes and crumbled to the canvas.

The crowd seated at ringside rose to its feet as Lampley shrieked, “Down goes Mayorga again! Second time down in the fight!”

Mayorga’s face was masked with discouragement. However hurt and disillusioned he was, he rose and elected to trade toe to toe with De La Hoya.

Driving Mayorga against the ropes, De La Hoya evolved into a category five hurricane and dealt the champion a ferocious onslaught. As Nady leaped in to stop the bout, a defenseless Mayorga again withered to the canvas as Merchant exclaimed, “It’s over! It’s all over! This fight is over! A great performance by Oscar De La Hoya!”

The bout was stopped at 1:25 of the sixth round. At the time of the stoppage, De La Hoya was up comfortably on all three of the judge’s scorecards.

His usual classy self, De la Hoya sought out and hugged Mayorga after the bout. The two stood and spoke in Mayorga’s corner for several minutes.

In discussing the bout with Merchant in the post-fight interview, De La Hoya explained, “The fact that he was talking so much, the fact that he even talked about my wife, he motivated me so much.”

De La Hoya continued on his conversation with Mayorga after he embraced him, “He gave me props and said you have what it takes.”

The LA Times reported the following morning that Mayorga apologized to De La Hoya for his pre-fight behavior. “You are a great fighter, a great champion. I apologize for everything I said to you.”

On the night of May 6, the bully was tamed and a new champion was crowned.

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