2005 was a very important year for my development as a combat sports fan. I had grown up watching boxing with my father but the year I turned eighteen, I started to explore the history of the sport for my own and was watching every card I could get my eyes on, whether it was HBO, ESPN, Fox Sports, or whatever. But 2005 was conspicuous at the time for the absence of my favorite boxer at the time as well as the sports biggest star, Oscar De La Hoya.
“The Golden Boy” took 2005 off after a difficult 2004, which had seen the five division world champion move way too far up the scale to the middleweight division, where he struggled to a twelve round decision over an unheralded German named Felix Sturm and was knocked out for the first time in his career by a single body-shot from the then undisputed middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins. But finally it was announced that on May 4, 2006, De La Hoya would make his return against former unified welterweight champion and reigning WBC junior middleweight champion Ricardo Mayorga.
The build up to that fight, nearly fourteen years ago now, brings memories that inspire some strong similarities to this weekend’s fight between former UFC featherweight and lightweight champion Conor McGregor and longtime fan favorite Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone. Just as we saw fourteen years ago, the biggest star in the business is returning from a long layoff for a fight that will determine his future and is doing so against a fighter than many believe he should beat, but is still very, very dangerous.
To be fair to Cowboy, the comparison to Ricardo Mayorga is somewhat insulting, but not totally out of place. Like the beer drinking, somewhat vulgar, extreme sports loving Cowboy, Mayorga was a character and half.
He smoked cigarettes in the ring after victories, he was absolutely brazen in his insults, and one boxing writer said that he could speak English (Mayorga came from dirt poor conditions in Nicaragua) he would be as big a star as Mike Tyson. But as a fighter he was crude as they could come. He had a great chin and bone crunching power, but he swung wide, looped almost everything, hardly had any jab, and was easier to hit then some heavy bags.
But like Cowboy, Mayorga made for exciting fights and situations, and in the mid 2000s, he became the guy to call if you wanted an exciting comeback fight. When Puerto Rican icon Felix Trinidad came back from a two and half year layoff, Mayorga swung with him for eight years in incredible fight in Madison Square Garden. When Miguel Cotto was looking to rebuild his career after losing to Manny Pacquiao some years later, Mayorga got the call. Shane Mosley rang his name twice. But this fight with De La Hoya was something else.
De La Hoya and Mayorga nearly fought at press conferences, commercial shots, and weigh-ins. Mayorga referred to Oscar as a Mama’s Boy, a bitch, and a word we don’t say anymore. He even went after Oscar’s wife and newborn son, crossing lines even Conor hasn’t crossed in the past. In short, it went like the build up to a common Conor fight, the exact opposite of how the buildup to this fight has gone. Indeed Conor has shown Cowboy a whole lot of respect, and many expect Conor to the better for it.
Maybe someone should have suggested that to Mayorga, because he paid for all of the night of May 4, 2006, as Oscar dropped him with a perfect left hook in the first round, beat him up a little before finally dropping him again in the sixth before De La Hoya swarmed him on the ropes and overwhelmed him until Jay Nady stopped the fight. Mayorga, the much bigger man, walked straight to Oscar swinging wide, and while he landed a few shots in rounds four and five, he didn’t have much for the much better boxer.
It’s not too far from how some people think this fight could go. Cowboy seems poised to come forward with his usual Thaiesque style, straight at Conor, which seems ideal for Conor’s fast hands, angles, and big left. We are hoping Cowboy brings nuance and cage smarts, but much like Ricardo Mayorga was for most of his career, Cowboy is often his own worst enemy. Many seem to believe we are going down that road this Saturday night.
And while Oscar beat a ready-made opponent all those years ago, the fallout was Oscar faced Floyd Mayweather a year later in what was at that point the Biggest Fight in the History of Combat Sports, drawing 2.4 million pay per view buys. Conor McGregor hopes for a similar windfall with a win this Saturday.
And Cowboy is hoping like hell he can stop history from repeating itself…