BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - Tuesday's kickoff press conference announcing Oscar De La Hoya's May 6 return to boxing against WBC 154-pound title-holder Ricardo Mayorga had all of the pomp and production of an actual prize fight, replete with fighter walk-ins and introductions, music and lights.
A small ballroom inside the Regent Beverly Wilshire hotel was transformed into a mini-arena Tuesday morning and punches almost were exchanged by the fighters. The same thing also nearly happened the previous day during a commercial shoot for the HBO pay-per-view event.
Cooler heads, however, did prevail, at least on De La Hoya's side. Mayorga held back his fists but not his tongue, unleashing a profanity-laced tirade for the majority of the presser that overshadowed even his loquacious promoter Don King, who hasn't worked with De La Hoya since the Golden Boy's record-breaking showdown with Felix Trinidad in September 1999.
De La Hoya-Trinidad set the pay-per-view record for a non-heavyweight boxing event, selling 1.4 million buys and generating more than $70 million in revenue. The second-highest non-heavyweight pay-per-view event was De La Hoya's challenge to middleweight champ Bernard Hopkins in 2004, which drew 1 million pay-per-view buys.
De La Hoya's Southern California rivalries with Fernando Vargas and "Sugar" Shane Mosley (the rematch) both collected around 900,000 pay-per-view buys in '02 and '03. De La Hoya, who HBO PPV boss Mark Taffet estimates has generated around $500 million in the combined pay-per-view events of his career, took last year off. During that time, no pay-per-view event attracted more than 450,000 buys.
To say that De La Hoya was missed by HBO and the rest of the boxing industry is an understatement. The question is, can De La Hoya, who is coming off a loss (to Hopkins) and a long period of inactivity attract more than 500,000 buys by fighting a wild banger who is only one fight removed from one of the worst ring beat downs in recent memory (the eight-round stoppage to Trinidad in October of '04)?
Mayorga (27-5-1, 22 knockouts) does a good job of "playing the dozens," or trading barbs, King says. And, the Nicaraguan, who held the welterweight championship in '03, is a natural-born showman.
And hey, pro-wrestling-style tirades in boxing have a history of not only drawing attention to a particular fighter but also to a particular event. Interest in this weekend's fight between Vargas and Mosley was lukewarm until Vargas verbally blasted Mosley at the final press conference and made a $100,000 bet that he would knock out his foe.
Vargas lost the bet, but his antics may have sparked late attention to the fight from the mainstream sports media, and the show did close to 400,000 buys - a success in today's pay-per-view climate.
However, where Vargas' brand of showmanship is of the R-rated variety, Mayorga's is the X-rated "strictly street" version.
"This clown has disrespected me," Mayorga, clad in a matador suit, told the assembled press, disdainfully pointing to a stoic, seated De La Hoya. "He speaks to the media about fighting in September as if he doesn't have a fight in May."
Mayorga has a legitimate gripe here. De La Hoya has reserved a Sept. 16 date with HBO for what he has told reporters will be his farewell fight. Of course, Mayorga vowed to make May 6 De La Hoya's farewell fight, and then took his podium time into the gutter.
"You see his eye," he said, "I'm going to detach his retina!
"Oscar, you were a great champion, but I'm going to prove that you have nothing in your tank. I'm the champ and you're going to be my b----."
The promoters of De La Hoya-Mayorga are calling the fight "Danger Zone," but perhaps a better title for the event is "The Golden Boy vs. The Gutter Mouth."
De La Hoya, looking more and more perturbed as his opponent ranted and raved in Spanish about him, finally stood up. Mayorga gave him an immediate shove, which caused the promoters and the fighters' handlers to step between the two combatants.
"This ain't no game," King said to Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer. "Richard, you got a powder keg here."
"He's certainly the most disrespectful and rude person I've ever met," a visibly bothered Schaefer said.
However, Mayorga, who stood up on his chair and yelled out insults just when things began to cool off, wasn't done.
"Remember, I'm the champ!" Mayorga said as he grabbed his crotch. "You don't even know how to represent your own people. Mexicans in East L.A. are telling me to kick your ass."
De La Hoya's trainer, Floyd Mayweather Sr., had heard enough. Mayweather took the podium and fired back at Mayorga, profanities included.
Mayorga seemed both perplexed and amused by the middle-aged former fighter-turned trainer, but it didn't take long for him to gather his reserves for a few verbal shots at Mayweather.
"My trainer, Stacey Mckinley, is from Michigan and he said that when you were a fighter, you fought like a coward."
"I'm a coward? I'm a coward!?" Mayweather said to both McKinnley and Mayorga. "Come say that to my face."
Mayweather then turned his back to Mayorga.
"You see, he ain't as tough as you think he is, you see I got my back to him, he ain't gonna do nothin'."
"Oh I got your back, brotha, I'm not gonna let that happen," King said, cackling.
But the course of the press conference did not appear to be a laughing matter to De La Hoya, whose facial expression changed from stoic to agitated to angry as Mayorga's tirade continued.
"I've never had any anger or disrespect toward nobody, except one man and he got knocked out," De La Hoya said, referencing the "Bad Blood" he had with Vargas. "[Mayorga's] throwing fuel on the flame, that's all.
"I'm going to knock you out, believe it," De La Hoya said, looking directly at Mayorga. Then he spoke these words in Spanish:
"You have disrespected me, my wife and my people; believe me, I'm going to knock you out."