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Bill Dwyre

Boxing's full-court press

With De La Hoya leading the charge, the sport has stopped ignoring its competitors and is going all out to sell itself again.

May 03, 2008|Bill Dwyre

Tonight, in a soccer stadium at the Home Depot Center in Carson, a boxing promotion will be interrupted by an actual boxing match. For an hour or so, the selling will rest while the product performs.

But soon, presuming Oscar De La Hoya doesn't wander into one of Steve Forbes' fists and remain on the mat for 10 seconds or more, the promotion machine will crank up again.

Don't mistake this for smug sarcasm. (Heaven forbid.) It is more a statement on the current health of a sport that, had it chosen to ignore its competition and not make use of its best resource, could have slipped even deeper into the hinterlands of public consciousness.

They'll have 27,000 people watching in person and HBO cameras cranking for millions more. The purpose is to thrust the "Golden Boy," De La Hoya, back into the limelight so that, when he takes on Floyd Mayweather Jr. in September, that match will have some credibility.

With credibility comes pay-per-view buys, the gold standard of the sport. When Mayweather beat De La Hoya in May 2007, the gold standard was raised to a record 2.4 million buys.

Is 3 million impossible? At $49.95 each, do the math and you will understand what is at stake.

It is interesting to be able to toss out numbers like this when, not long ago, boxing was mostly sitting around as the various mixed martial arts events scratched and pulled hair and kicked their way into great popularity. Boxing could have waited for that to wear thin and go away, or go away itself when it didn't.

Boxing has stopped waiting and put on a full-court press.

If it seems as if this event has been coming for months, that's because, well, it has been coming for months. The hype was a screech before the ink was dry on the contract.

This is an exercise in furthering a brand, the De La Hoya and Golden Boy Promotions brand. We live in an age where style trumps substance and image is reality, making everything about brand. If this boxing match is competitive, has redeeming qualities, that will be a bonus. If not, no harm.

Forbes is a nice young man who has a chance to take some money and run. Good for him.

He won an obscure title eight years ago, failed to make weight in a later fight, and lost in the final of a TV show called "The Contender." One Las Vegas line favored De La Hoya at 18-1, an unheard-of spread in a sport where flying fists can destroy predictability.

Forbes' nickname is "Two Pound" because that's what he weighed at birth. Somebody should have told him about jockeys.

Give De La Hoya credit. He could have gotten his win at some hotel in Las Vegas, surrounded by the usual suspects and their fat wallets. But he, and his partner at Golden Boy, Richard Schaefer, took a different stance on this one. All the cheap seats at Home Depot, the $25 and $50 ones, are gone. Presumably, people who never got a chance to see this kind of event in person are getting one now.

The "free TV" part of the promotion was slightly less genuine. You have to have HBO to get it, and you have to pay to have HBO. The "free" part meant no pay-per-view.

De La Hoya is 35, his best jabs and hooks behind him. Even though he hasn't been hit a lot in a career with 30 knockouts in his 38-5 record, it makes little sense healthwise for him to continue to risk having his brain look like cauliflower ears.

But business has trumped health for the moment. The Pollyanna view would say that De La Hoya, still the biggest name and attraction in the sport, has taken a bullet for boxing. He stops fighting and Joe Sixpack stops caring and becomes a convert to the kicking and hair pulling.

Right now, De La Hoya is 50% boxing trunks and 50% pinstripe suit. Might even be 40-60. This fight is a Golden Boy partnership with AEG, the Staples Center people who own the Home Depot Center. De La Hoya and Schaefer now figuratively sit at the table with billionaire Phil Anschutz. Heady company. Smart business. Golden Boy has fighters, AEG has stadiums.

De La Hoya recently purchased 50% of the Houston Dynamo of Major League Soccer, the longtime toy of Anschutz, who owns the Galaxy and the other 50% of the Dynamo. The Galaxy and Chivas USA play in the Home Depot Center stadium where De La Hoya will fight Forbes.

De La Hoya, who never wears advertising on his boxing trunks, will wear a Houston Dynamo logo tonight.

One of the sponsors of the fight is Tecate beer, which sells a can with De La Hoya's picture on it and will pay for a couple of months' subscription to HBO when you buy some De La Hoya cans.

Wednesday, during a news conference at Cafe Pinot -- a white-tablecloth-and-rose-garden restaurant where boxing writers normally would have been turned away at the door for their general undesirability -- it was announced that Staples Center would add to its statues of Magic Johnson and Wayne Gretzky with one of Oscar De La Hoya.

They need a title plaque: Three Rich Businessmen Who Played Sports.

The promotions cross and the products mingle and pretty soon, you have no idea whose hand is in whose pocket and why. But you do know one thing: Boxing is now responding to its declining public numbers, and to a tough competitor, by coming out swinging.

All that's left to keep the bandwagon rolling is for De La Hoya to beat up a guy who should have been a jockey.

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Bill Dwyre can be reached at bill.dwyre@latimes.com. For previous columns, go to latimes.com/dwyre.

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TONIGHT

Oscar De La Hoya vs. Steve Forbes

at Home Depot Center, 7 p.m., HBO

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