LAS VEGAS -- This one was bizarre even by boxing's loose standards.
Junior middleweight title-holder Ricardo Mayorga, unhappy with his $2 million purse, threatened Wednesday to pull out of Saturday night's defense against Oscar De La Hoya unless he is paid $8 million, leaving the HBO PPV fight in limbo.
But Mayorga waited until Wednesday's final news conference was over to make his announcement. Moments after the news conference had broken up, Mayorga picked up his microphone and said he wasn't going to fight unless he got the money he thought had been promised to him.
Although the fight figures to go on as planned, it was the end of what had already been a surreal scene.
The news conference inside the MGM Grand's Fox Theater began almost two hours late with no word as to why. When it did, De La Hoya, his camp, undercard fighters, their teams and casino executives all took their seats.
Mayorga, his team and his promoter, Don King, were absent, but they carried on the program with barely a reference to the missing champion.
"Don King has some issues to work out with his fighter," Golden Boy Promotions' Richard Schaefer said without disclosing details. "I hope Don and his fighter will come to their senses. It's a contract dispute I am told."
Later, Schaefer tried to make light of the situation when he noted the absence of the notoriously long-winded King.
"See how short the press conference is when Don King is not here," Schaefer joked.
A few minutes later, though, Mayorga, his crew and King entered the room and took their places at the dais and participated in the rest of the news conference as though there was no problem.
Mayorga predicted a knockout inside of six rounds and presented De La Hoya with a skirt with the words "Golden Girl" stitched across it, a reference to his "Golden Boy" nickname.
But when the news conference ended, Mayorga abruptly announced his displeasure with his purse and threatened not to fight.
"If I don't get my money, I'm not going to fight. I'm going to make what I deserve," Mayorga said, speaking through attorney and translator Tony Gonzalez.
Mayorga said he signed a contract for $2 million but that King had promised him $8 million, which King denied.
"I wanted to sign a contract for $8 million. I signed one for a lesser amount to lure Oscar into the fight," Mayorga said. "I want what was initially told to me. I'm not going to fight for free. What I am being offered at this point is not what I was offered verbally, and that's what I want them to live up to. Everyone is here to make their fair share. That's what I am worth [$8 million]. [Felix] Trinidad took all the money in our fight and I don't want that to happen to me this time. There's only so many times in my career I can fight mega fights."
King said he was unaware of any issue until arriving in Las Vegas from Cleveland, where he is caring for his ailing wife.
"I think he's a good fighter and he should go in there and beat Oscar De La Hoya," King said. "First I ever heard of this was today when I got here. Whatever it is, I want him to keep his mind on fighting. It's someone probably whispering in his ear. But Oscar ain't gonna pay that and that's not what the deal was."
Schaefer called Mayorga's tactics "extortion."
"He threw out a number, $8 million, and said if he doesn't get that he's not going to fight," Schaefer said. "Well, that's extortion. You don't do that. In my opinion, that's extortion and that's illegal. This is a Don King-Mayorga issue. Don King has to live up to that contract he signed with us to deliver the services of Mayorga. Obviously, if he doesn't, there could be a tremendous claim against Don King."
Although Schaefer said a confidentiality clause in the contract prevented him from disclosing the amount of money that Golden Boy is paying King to deliver Mayorga, he said it was far less than $8 million.
Whatever figure King is receiving, it is up to him and Mayorga to agree on how to divide it.
The news conference was delayed while the sides tried to iron things out. Mayorga, who has verbally attacked De La Hoya throughout a contentious promotion, uncharacteristically went to De La Hoya personally to explain things to him.
"We shook hands and I was still ready like he was going to throw a punch at me," De La Hoya said. "He started saying, 'We're two great warriors, I know you're not chicken, you have what it takes, that's why you're fighting me.' Then he brought up the money. He started mentioning figures and numbers and I was like, 'Hey, that's your problem and Don King's problem,' and I walked away."
When asked what he thought Mayorga wanted him to do, De La Hoya made light of a difficult situation.
"Maybe pull out my checkbook and write a check? My wife is not here, she has the checkbook," De La Hoya joked. "Let them deal with it. All I care is that he steps up into the ring. It is mind boggling, but let them take care of it."
De La Hoya said he wasn't going to let the uncertainty of the fight get to him.
"I don't even think about it. I don't even care about it. This is nothing new," he said. "Things like this happen to get to me, to get inside my head. I am just so focused I am not even thinking about it. It's just a ploy. It has to be. There is too much at stake. He's trained three months of his life for this opportunity and he's not going to lose it. I know he's not. We're in great shape and we're going to fight."
De La Hoya also said he thought Mayorga is nervous as the biggest fight of his career approaches.
"Events like this make people nervous," De La Hoya said. "A lot of times you can be beat outside the ring before a fight. It's nerves. I don't know what he's thinking, but he's nervous. I'm just expecting him to be in the ring. I have no doubt whatsoever. I'm here. I'm fighting. It's going to happen."
De La Hoya dealt with a similar situation in 2004. He was appearing on a doubleheader with then-undisputed middleweight champ Bernard Hopkins, also at the MGM, as a prelude to their showdown later that year.
Hopkins, unhappy with the selection of Joe Cortez as referee, said he would pull out of the fight, and even packed his bags and headed for the airport. Eventually, Hopkins was calmed and the fight took place. Schaefer expects the same to happen in this case.
"I have to believe that Ricardo eventually will understand that his future depends on this," Schaefer said. "I don't know what goes through his crazy mind but I have no doubt that this fight will go on. Remember a few fights ago when Bernard Hopkins packed his bags and threatened to pull out? I said the same thing and eventually he came to his senses. But in the crazy world of boxing, these are the kinds of things we have to live with. It gives you guys [the media] more stories to write.
"Bernard packed his bags and everyone was going crazy. He was going to the airport. I saw his whole team with their suitcases packed, but I still had no doubt he would fight and I have no doubt Mayorga will fight."
Said Mayorga, "I think it can be resolved. If it's not resolved, there won't be a fight."