CHICAGO, October 2, 2008 – Oscar De La Hoya has still got it. As media people armed with cameras and recorders crowded around him at a table on the 91st floor of the Sears Tower, a window washer outside smiled and shaded his eyes to peer in, his platform rising slowly onto the next floor. It wasn’t long before the platform descended and, several minutes later, rose again for a third pass.
The question remains, despite obvious advantages in size and power, does he still have the goods to overcome a faster “pound for pound” superstar looking to leave his own indelible stamp on the sport?
They’re an odd looking pair seated atop the dais in dark suit jackets and jeans, the taller chiseled De La Hoya with the messy forward hair and an impish grin winking and waving at members in the audience and the broad-faced, mustache and goateed Pacquiao looking all business, breaking into a smile now and again. This is the second stop in a multi-city press tour that commenced on Wednesday at the Statue of Liberty in New York City.
Having completed “one on one” interviews, Oscar De La Hoya and World Boxing Council Lightweight Champion Manny Pacquiao adjourned to the Sky Deck where a slick, bass-thumping multimedia presentation on large flat screen TVs and ring announcer Thomas Treiber ushered in the principals. Taking it from there, promoter Bob Arum and De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotion’s CEO Richard Schaefer joined a handful of sponsors and the fighters’ respective camps in pitching the upcoming De La Hoya-Pacquiao showdown at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on December 6th.
Dubbed “The Dream Match,” it pits the 35 year-old 1993 Gold Medal winner and multiple title winning De La Hoya (39-5, 30 KO’s) from East Los Angeles against multi-weight class Filipino superstar and “Pound for Pound” title claimant Pacquiao (47-3, 35 KO’s), 29 – who once waged an unsuccessful campaign for the office of President in his native Philippines, where it’s said that all crime stops during his matches. They will fight at 147 lbs. as welterweights. Although De La Hoya is nearly through as a fighter while Pacquiao is at the height of his powers, for some it represents a calculated business move by De La Hoya, who at 5’ 10 ½” possesses a four inch height and five inch reach advantage. And more power.
Currently, the odds are –210 for De La Hoya and +175 for Pacquiao, according to Arum.
That stands to reason. Only last March, Pacquiao fought at the 130 pound weight class in winning a close victory over Juan Manuel Marquez and, on June 28th, fought at 135 lbs. in stopping David Diaz for his WBC crown. Although by fight time in his bout versus Diaz he weighed 147, this will be the first time Pacquiao will have actually fought in this weight class. In contrast, De La Hoya fought at 154 lbs. in losing a close decision to Floyd Mayweather, Jr. in May 2007 and at 150 lbs. in his dominating decision win over Steve Forbes this last May. With weigh-ins conducted a day before and the common practice of fighters putting back on as much as 10 pounds or more by fight time, it’s not unrealistic that De La Hoya may weigh 154 or 160 when that first bell rings.
The eloquent Arum cites two boxing axioms: When you pit a good big man against a good little man, the big man wins; and speed kills—the faster fighter is going to win.
In regard to the “size matters” argument, Arum says, “There have been great fighters who have gone from featherweight up to middleweight,” citing the great Henry Armstrong, who had held three weight class titles simultaneously – the featherweight, lightweight and welterweight crowns – and suffered a controversial draw with Ceferino Garcia in a bid for the middleweight crown. He mentioned Billy Conn, a light heavyweight who fought Joe Louis for the heavyweight title as being exemplary of the more common practice of smaller fighters moving up in weight class to challenge for championships.
“Your great Champion, Barney Ross, the lightweight champion of the world, went up to welterweight and won the welterweight championship!” Arum said triumphantly. And if that wasn’t enough, to the laughter of all, he conjured up Scripture, citing David versus Goliath, in which the smaller man prevailed.
Addressing the speed argument, Arum said, “Manny Pacquiao has the fastest hands and, if you don’t believe that, ask David [Diaz]!”
Say what you will about Arum being a master of spin, he’s not alone in picking Pacquiao as the winner. Celebrity ringside announcer and former trainer of Mike Tyson and Michael Moorer, Teddy Atlas recently declared on ESPN2 Friday Night Fights that he foresees a Pacquiao victory. Moreover, at one point in negotiations for the fight, Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddy Roach – who also trained De La Hoya for one bout – offered to forego his training fee if Pacquiao lost, so confident was he of his charge’s chances.
Add to that the fact that De La Hoya is coming down to a weight class he hasn’t fought at since March 2000, when he dismantled Arturo Gatti in five rounds, and high profile mishaps by the likes of Roy Jones Jr. and Chris Byrd after dropping down in weight (as well as Antonio Tarver’s lethargic performance after cutting a lot of weight after acting in the movie, Rocky Balboa) and you have fodder for intrigue.
“Oscar’s a great worker and he trains very hard and Manny Pacquiao, he’s a machine. I think the biggest advantage we have in this fight [is] Manny Pacquiao will be the sharpest [coming into this] fight this year,” Roach said. “I don’t think Oscar’s fought four times in four years. And [in terms of] activity, [Manny is] too, too sharp—it’ll get you well oiled and not rested. So, Pacquiao’s going to win this one, and I’ll see you all there!”
Referring to De La Hoya and Pacquiao as “the two fighters now in boxing,” Ignacio “Nacho” Beristain (who trained opponent Juan Manuel Marquez in two of Pacquiao’s toughest fight and is training De La Hoya for this bout) said by way of interpreter, “What I can tell you is we as a team…are going to be working together to bring Oscar De La Hoya to victory like always. He’s a great champion. He’s a great fighter, and you will see a great match.”
Introducing Pacquiao to the audience, Bob Arum drew loud laughter as he relayed a farcical anecdote of Pacquiao visiting the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and, after waving to admirers on the trading floor, was informed that he’d purchased a costly portfolio of futures contracts, including a large sum of pork bellies.
After thanking Arum and a litany of others for their support, Pacquiao said, “This fight…will be a great, great fight on December 6th because it’s going to be history [for] me to win the fight and to give an honor to my country and fighting for the glory and honor for my country. I know the Filipino people are [riding] on my back with their prayers and support, and I believe I can win the fight on December 6th…I’ll do my best for my people out there and train hard this fight…it’s going to be a one time, big, big fight in boxing!”
“Bob now has me worried,” said De La Hoya taking his turn. “I’m going to place a call in to the commission to make sure that there are no slingshots or rocks allowed in the ring. Obviously David with the slingshots and rocks beat up Goliath!”
“Whoever thought in America,” De La Hoya said, “that a kid from East L.A. – a humble kid from East L.A. – can be at the Statue of Liberty with Manny Pacquiao promoting this dream fight? I mean, immigrants who were coming from Europe to look for that American dream, whoever thought that a kid from East L.A. can live that dream?”
“We’re, here now, in Chicago, in the tallest building in the United States. Whoever thought that Chicago could have this iconic building? We’re going down to Houston to the Space Center – whoever thought we could land on the moon? Those are dreams, dreams that people have. And now, Manny, did you ever dream you would fight me?”
Laughing, he said, “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d fight Manny.”
“This is what the fight is all about. I’m not going to fall for the ‘oh, he’s nice’ and ‘people tell me this and that.’ No, no! I know it’s going to be a fight because you know what they say – you have to watch out for the quiet ones!” (Both he and Pacquiao laugh.)
“I’m really looking forward to this event because it’s not just every year that you get this type of event,” De La Hoya said. “No, it’s every ten years, it’s every 20 years that you get this type of event,” he says. “The whole world is talking, and to have this type of challenge in front of me – the best fighter, pound for pound in the world, is just another motivation for me.”