EMANUEL STEWARD once said that of all the fighters he had trained, none strived for greatness the way Oscar De La Hoya did.
Steward is no longer with De La Hoya, of course, but for Oscar the fire still burns.
Inactive for 20 months following his body-punch loss to Bernard Hopkins, De La Hoya had assumed the role of a part-time fighter. Now, following his sixth-round stoppage over Nicaraguan hardman Ricardo Mayorga, De La Hoya, as incredible as it may seem, is again the biggest draw in the sport.
At worst his display to dethrone WBC light-middleweight champion Mayorga here was superb, at best it was sensational. Quite frankly, De La Hoya has never looked better.
But before assuming the Golden Boy is fully back, consider that Felix Trinidad turned in a similar display against Mayorga after a comparable layoff. Yet in Tito’s next fight, he could scarcely touch Winky Wright.
To the 13,076 fans inside the MGM’s Grand Garden Arena on May 6, 2006, the fight featured hero versus villain. When De La Hoya was introduced, the crowd cheered wildly. In contrast, boos rang down on Mayorga at the mention of his name.
To fight Ricardo means having to endure abuse in the lead-up to the fight. The vulgarity of the man led Oscar to comment that he never wanted to punish an opponent as badly. Yet three days before the show things took a strange twist when Mayorga threatened to pull out. Ricardo, who was pencilled in to receive $2m, claimed he had been promised $8m by his promoter Don King. Mayorga took his case directly to De La Hoya.
It created a situation unlike any other in boxing history. As the show’s promoter (Golden Boy Promotions), De La Hoya felt an obligation to sort out the mess, but at the same time his mindset had to be one strictly of a fighter.
Their meeting was brief. Mayorga apologised for the things he had said to Oscar, but before the conversation could go any further De La Hoya’s people whisked their man away.
Even the latter was not sure what to make of the entire episode. “I think Mayorga was trying to play with my head,” De La Hoya surmised. Certainly, no more money was made available.
The body language a fighter displays can often be deceiving, but in this case it rang true. From the moment they walked down the aisle to the ring, De La Hoya seemed resolute and determined for the task that lay ahead. Mayorga’s brash cockiness was missing.
Ricardo, 10st 13 1/2lbs as was De La Hoya, came out swinging but missed widely. Oscar’s advantage in speed was evident right away in this scheduled 12-rounder. So was his willingness to stand and trade.
About a minute in De La Hoya delivered a thunderbolt when a right followed by a superb, “hidden” left hook to the chin dropped Mayorga heavily. As referee Jay Nady counted, Oscar looked like a cobra set to pounce upon his prey.
To his credit, Mayorga rose at four and warded off De La Hoya’s efforts at a quick victory, but he was hurt again late in the round.
At the bell the Los Angeles fighter stared at Mayorga. He now not only held physical advantages, but a psychological one as well.
Some of Mayorga’s looping rights landed on his opponent’s right ear, reddening it in the second. De La Hoya, now 38-4 (30), unloaded one barrage that hurt Mayorga in the corner. Oscar’s speed continued to prove the difference, but Mayorga had the last say in the round when he landed a hard left hook to the body.
The Nicaraguan’s most promising moment came in the third. A couple of right uppercuts shook up De La Hoya, who fired back to rock Mayorga, now 28-6-1 (23), with hard blows of his own.
De La Hoya outboxed Mayorga in the fourth but took some good body blows.
By the fifth it had become clear Mayorga would need a stoppage. In command, De La Hoya was turning his left hooks over beautifully and bringing the jab into play more. Quick flurries to Mayorga’s body looked impressive as well. A cautiously aggressive Mayorga was warned twice for rabbit punching.
A big left hook started Ricardo’s downfall in the sixth. Oscar pounced, forcing Mayorga to the strands and unleashing an attack that dropped him for eight. Mayorga seemed reluctant to get up and was definitely hurt… had a sick look.
When the action resumed, De La Hoya kept the champion on the ropes and opened up. He fired away furiously with straight blows while Mayorga tried to respond with wide hooks.
De La Hoya simply overpowered Mayorga with a series of flush shots that put him down a third time. At that precise moment referee Nady stopped it at 1-21 of the round.
A delirious De La Hoya had been pulling back and lost his balance. This, along with the ref barging in, caused him to tumble to the canvas as well. The difference was Mayorga was finished and Oscar wasn’t.
De La Hoya was comfortably ahead at the time: Duane Ford 50-44, Guido Cavalieri 49-46 and Paul Smith 49-45. Two judges gave Mayorga the third and one the fourth.
Oscar: My next move will shock you
THE fight was good, but I enjoyed the post-fight press conference even more.
In one breath De La Hoya said he would announce his next move in a couple of weeks and that it would shock us all. In the next Oscar acknowledged that he had not made up his mind.
This much is certain: when De La Hoya’s career is thriving, he becomes the central figure in and around his weight class. For economic reasons more than anything else, everyone wants to box him.
Contrary to what has been reported elsewhere, De La Hoya did not injure his rotator cuff during the fight. He said he’d had the injury for three years and that it might necessitate surgery but that hoped to avoid that.
It was later revealed he had damaged his left forearm in the fight. This could affect his plans to box again on September 16.
Whatever, the fight everyone wants to see is De La Hoya versus Floyd Mayweather Jnr, who was in the crowd, but Oscar said it wouldn’t happen. He cited Floyd Mayweather Snr as the reason, saying his trainer told him he would not work in the corner opposite his son.
Previously, Mayweather Snr had said he would. De La Hoya said he would not fight the younger Mayweather without Snr in the corner.
Confusing? Consider this: with uncle Roger Mayweather on a one-year suspension, Floyd Jnr will need a head trainer. Is his feud with his father healed enough to accept him back? And if he does, what happens when Roger eventually returns?
And if the Mayweather situation needs more intrigue, he is now a free agent. The way Oscar was praising him at the press conference as the best fighter in the world pound for pound made you wonder if the blockbuster announcement was that he had signed Floyd for GBP.
Antonio Margarito had his picture taken with Mayweather [below]. Margarito looked angry and ignored Mayweather. A smiling Floyd tapped Margarito’s fist in a sign of respect after the photo was taken. Oscar was asked if he would box Margarito. He praised him, but Margarito did not seem to be in his future.
Winky Wright was there and through an aide put out a challenge to Oscar. De La Hoya said he would consider it, but following the loss to Hopkins had made it clear he had no plans to box at middleweight again. This would seem to rule out him taking on the winner of Wright-Jermain Taylor, which happens next month.
Maybe Oscar is eyeing the Shane Mosley-Fernando Vargas winner. Oscar and Shane are now buddies and GBP partners, but no one says it has to be a grudge match.
De La Hoya is 0-2 versus Mosley. Having another go at Mosley might appeal to De La Hoya’s competitive instincts. And if Vargas should beat Shane in July, a bout with De La Hoya would do huge business.
Last but not least is the possibility of Ricky Hatton emerging as the main man in the De La Hoya sweepstakes. That is provided Hatton beats Luis Collazo tomorrow.