LAS VEGAS -- Floyd Mayweather Jr. wanted to give Oscar De La Hoya a beating. He had to settle for just getting a win.
Mayweather won one of boxing's richest fights ever Saturday night by using his superb defensive skills and superior speed to take a 12-round split decision and win the WBC 154-pound title in his first fight at that weight.
The fight was billed as one that would save boxing, and while it didn't do that, it was an entertaining battle between two proud champions who fought hard from the opening bell through the end of the final round.
The fight ended with the sellout crowd on its feet roaring and two fighters trading punches wildly at the final bell. They then stopped and embraced each other.
Mayweather was favored on one scorecard 116-112 and 115-113 on a second. De La Hoya was ahead 115-113 on the third scorecard. ESPN.com's Dan Rafael had Mayweather winning 116-112, as did The Associated Press.
"It was easy work for me," Mayweather said. "He was rough and tough, but he couldn't beat the best."
In the end, Mayweather was simply faster and more slippery in a bout where neither fighter managed to hurt the other and neither went down.
Still, De La Hoya did enough to impress at least one judge, and thought he did enough to win the fight.
"I landed the harder, crisper punches," De La Hoya said. "I felt when I landed my punches I could see I was hurting him. If I hadn't pressed the fight, there would be no fight."
Mayweather's estranged father also thought De La Hoya did enough to win.
"I thought Oscar won the fight on points, threw more punches and was more aggressive," said Floyd Mayweather Sr., who used to train De La Hoya. "My son had good defense and caught a lot of his punches, but I still thought Oscar pressed enough to win the fight."
Ringside punching stats favored Mayweather heavily, crediting him with landing 207 of 481 punches to 122 of 587 for De La Hoya. Mayweather also landed more power punches than De La Hoya, outscoring him 138-82.
Mayweather said before the fight that De La Hoya would fade as the fight went on, and it seemed as though he did. Two judges gave Mayweather four of the last five rounds, making the difference in what turned out to be a closely scored fight.
The sellout crowd of 16,200 at the MGM Grand Garden arena cheered everything De La Hoya did and booed when the decision was announced. It was the third loss in the past five fights for De La Hoya, who also served as the promoter for the bout.
Mayweather had predicted he would dominate De La Hoya and give him a beating, but De La Hoya took his best punches and came back with enough of his own to make it a close fight. De La Hoya appeared staggered by a right hand with 20 seconds left in the fight, but finished with a flurry as the crowd erupted in delight.
Mayweather remained unbeaten in 38 fights and won a title in his fifth weight class, moving up from welterweight to challenge De La
Hoya in a fight that earned De La Hoya at least $25 million and Mayweather at least $10 million. The $19 million live gate was a record for the sport, and there were predictions the pay-per-view sales would make the fight boxing's richest ever.
The money, though, didn't matter once Mayweather climbed into the ring wearing a sombrero, mocking De La Hoya's Mexican American heritage on Cinco de Mayo. And it didn't matter once the first bell sounded and De La Hoya began his strategy of trying to box
Mayweather into a corner or along the ropes.
The crowd cheered wildly every time De La Hoya got Mayweather on the ropes and flailed away. But the punches mostly missed, and
Mayweather hopped away, often giving De La Hoya a parting shot to the head in the process.
Mayweather was a 2-1 favorite when the fight was made, but money poured in on De La Hoya and he was a 3-2 underdog by fight time. Still, there was no doubt who the favorite was among the crowd of celebrities and high rollers who paid $2,000 for ringside seats to watch the spectacle.
De La Hoya was the aggressor throughout the fight, and he managed to get through Mayweather's defenses in the early rounds as Mayweather moved away and counterpunched without great effect. Every time Mayweather went near the ropes, De La Hoya tried to trap him there and land a flurry of punches to the body and head.
De La Hoya wanted to get Mayweather into a brawl, but he was having no part of it, content to pick his spots and land counterpunches. In the fifth round, however, the fight seemed to shift into a different gear as Mayweather stood his ground and landed some hard combinations to the head.
"He's getting tired. He's getting tired," Mayweather's trainer and uncle, Roger Mayweather, told his fighter after the round.
It was a night of ebb and flow, with both boxers fighting in flurries and both having their moments. The pro-De La Hoya crowd roared loudly anytime he threw a big punch, while Mayweather smiled at his opponent every time De La Hoya landed a punch that got any reaction from his fans.