Monday, June 30, 2008

:boxing: Decade's Best...So Far (2007 Edition) :: Boxing's Pound-4-Pound (Top 10) ::: #3 and #4

And now, #3 and #4...

*All record information comes courtesy of Boxing Records Archive.

3. Oscar De La Hoya

Overall Record (as of 2007): 38-5 (by KO: 30-1)
Decade Record (as of 2007): 7-4 (by KO: 5-1)
Notable Wins: Javier Castillejo (2001 – UD), Fernando Vargas (2002 - TKO11), Ricardo Mayorga (2006 – TKO6)
Notable Losses: Shane Mosley (2000, 2003 – SD, UD), Bernard Hopkins (2004 - KO9), Floyd Mayweather, Jr. (2007 – SD)
Championships: Welterweight (IBA), Light Middleweight (WBC, WBA, IBA), Middleweight (WBO)

Oscar De La Hoya is perhaps the best-known and most recognizable figure of the modern boxing era. A champion at multiple weight-classes, a stellar record and KO-win ratio, and incredible skills flanked by impressive hand speed and power has made “The Golden Boy,” a 1992 Olympic gold medalist at lightweight, one of the most formidable fighters in the sport. That being said, his win record from 2000 to 2007 has not been as illustrious as his moniker would suggest. De La Hoya’s first major test of 2000 came in the form of Shane Mosley, a hot sensation in the welterweight division and holder of two of its championship belts. Their meeting had been anticipated for some time, as both were among the top boxers at the time. The fight, which took place in June in De La Hoya’s “backyard” of Los Angeles, would prove to be his toughest to date, as Mosley swarmed him with his quicker speed and more powerful shots. De La Hoya managed to stay in the fight but was unable to effectively come up with an answer for the onslaught. He would lose not only the match (by split decision), but his own welterweight title as well.

Though the outcome stung him, De La Hoya would go on to score a relatively easy TKO win over Arturo Gatti and a unanimous decision victory over Javier Castillejo in 2001 to win the WBC Light Middleweight Championship. This particular win would lead to a long-brewing showdown with Fernando Vargas the next year—the division’s WBA and IBA Champion. Vargas had had a major beef with De La Hoya stemming from their days in the amateurs, constantly calling him out and making disparaging remarks about the fighter and him not being a “true” Mexican. Though De La Hoya had largely brushed off the insults for years, he finally became fed up and took up his challenge. The ensuing grudge match was fairly even for the first half, but De La Hoya pulled away and delivered a vicious 11th round TKO on his rival. After a TKO victory over Luis Ramon “Yory Boy” Campas in May 2003, he would have another chance at besting his archrival, Mosley. With all of his light middleweight titles on the line, he engaged Mosley in a closer, better-fought (though still difficult) bout that ended with a very controversial unanimous decision victory for the challenger.

Despite the second loss to Mosley, the disputed outcome helped cushion De La Hoya’s chance at landing a major showdown with the undisputed middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins. For the match to happen however, both men had to win their respective fights on the night of June 5, 2004 in Las Vegas, on the same card. Hopkins kept his end of the bargain with a victory over Robert Allen, but De La Hoya barely kept his in his fight against WBO Middleweight Champion Felix Sturm. The “Golden Boy” looked more like the “Pillsbury Doughboy”, uncharacteristically pudgy (usually thin and well-conditioned) and slow, and looking as if he did not prepare much for it. Sturm, though, was ready and took the fight to him from the get go. De La Hoya had to rely more on his experience and skill than he usually had to narrowly win the fight and his record sixth weight-class title (though the general consensus has been that it was a “gift” decision).

His lackluster showing did not improve his prospects against Hopkins, who many said was too big and too powerful for De La Hoya to handle, perhaps leading to the drumming of his life. Regardless, the fight took place as planned in September, with a focused, better conditioned, and more determined De La Hoya taking the unusual role of the aggressor against the stalwart champion. For all of the pre-fight concerns, De La Hoya did well in the beginning rounds and won the majority of them. By the fourth round, however, Hopkins’ game plan (and characteristic starting point) kicked in and he steady began to take over the fight. A sudden, hard liver shot in Round 9 sent De La Hoya to the canvas, where he couldn’t recover in time to beat the count, giving him his first loss by KO.

Focusing more on his promotion company, he would not fight again until 2006, when he decided to fight the brash trash-talking WBC Light Middleweight titlist Ricardo Mayorga. The champion spared no instance in insulting nearly every aspect of De La Hoya’s life and career, from his family and his manhood, to questioning his KO lost to Hopkins (who became a major business partner in his company afterwards) and even insulting his singing (though he received a Grammy nomination for in 2000). It was his remarks on his family that specifically angered De La Hoya, and it showed in their May match. He took great care to punish Mayorga badly and batter him at will when able, culminating in a knockdown in the first round and twice more in the sixth (complemented with a telling scowl after the second one) before the fight was stopped. De La Hoya would later ink a long-awaited showdown with the unbeaten top fighter Floyd Mayweather, Jr. for his first defense of his belt in 2007. Though nearing the end of his career and being cast as the underdog, he kept Mayweather at bay for the first part of the fight until Mayweather began to get the best of him and overtake much of the latter rounds, leading to split decision victory for the challenger.

In retrospect, De La Hoya lost many of his match-ups against other top-tiered, major opposition. However, it is also happens to be one of his highlights, as he only lost to the best and remained competitive against all of them, not getting totally routed or blown out like some other fighters on this list have in similar situations. In addition, nearly all of his losses on the judges’ scorecards were by one round, whereas his sole unanimous decision defeat (the second Mosley fight) was highly disputed one, and in the case of the Hopkins fight, he was ahead on one of the scorecards before being knocked out. His willingness to fight top opposition, even as he was on the downturn of his career, was commendable alone when compared to the gun-shy behavior shown by other boxers at or near his level. What keeps him from reaching the #1 or #2 slots is the fact that he did lose those bouts, regardless of how close he was. He may have fought the best, and he may have been one of the best, but he did not beat all of the best, and that has to be taken into account, ultimately. His accomplishments do garner him a good degree of acclamation, but not enough to be fairly considered the best boxer of the decade.

4. Marco Antonio Barrera

Overall Record (as of 2007): 63-6 (by KO: 42-1)
Decade Record (as of 2007): 14-4 (by KO: 6-1)
Notable Wins: Naseem Hamed (2001 – UD), Erik Morales (2002, 2004 – UD, MD), Johnny Tapia (2002 – UD), Kevin Kelley (2003 – TKO4), Paulie Ayala (2004 - TKO10), Rocky Juarez (2006 (twice) – SD, UD)
Notable Losses: Erik Morales (2000 – SD), Manny Pacquiao (2003, 2007 – TKO11, UD), Juan Manuel Marquez (2007 – UD)
Championships: Super Bantamweight (WBO), Featherweight (WBC, IBO), Super Featherweight (WBC, IBF)

Marco Antonio Barrera was never one to shy away from getting rough, yet at the same time, was equally capable of putting on a splendorous display of boxing talent and technique. Earlier in the decade, though, he was more of the brawling type, and he faced his first test of the new millennium in Erik Morales, the WBC and WBO champion at super bantamweight. It was a violent and furious encounter with neither fighter willing to give in one bit. The champ, in the eyes of the judges, was the better man that night and scored a controversial split decision. Despite the loss, he gained more recognition in the process and would move up in weight to fight the bombastic, flashy, (and talented) Naseem Hamed. The undefeated IBO lightweight champion was hardly ever at a loss for words and Barrera was certainly not sparred from his usual smack talk. Being the sizable underdog in the fight, Barrera made Hamed pay and shocked many by dismantling him across the breadth of the fight. His in-ring antics couldn’t save him from Barrera picking his flaws apart and sending him around the ring (including having his head shoved into the ring-post in the final round…for good measure) and into defeat with a unanimous decision.

The victory got Barrera back in the fold and would soon help him earn a rematch with Morales, now the WBC Lightweight Champion, in 2002. The fight was just as tenacious and action-filled as their classic before, but a more controlled Barrera had the upper hand this time around and claimed the unanimous decision victory (also a controversial ruling). After successful bouts against Johnny Tapia and Kevin Kelley, Barrera took on a young, relatively unknown fighter named Manny Pacquiao in 2003. The outcome, however, would yield arguably the worst outing of his career. The hungry 24-year-old Filipino brawler, whom Barrera said reminded him of himself at that age, thoroughly dominated despite going down in the first moments of the fight, overpowering him with substantial power, speed, and endurance until Barrera’s corner called off the match.

Perhaps it was the brain surgery (resulting in the insertion of metallic plates in his skull), issues going on in his personal life, or just one bad night, but Barrera found himself in a spot in his career similar to that after his second lost to Junior Jones in 1997. As questions about whether, after over 60 fights fought, it was time to hang up his gloves, Barrera opted to keep going. A victory over Paulie Ayala would lead to a third climatic bout against archrival Morales in 2004. In yet another close, classic battle, he defeated him again, this time via majority decision and with less controversy, along with the WBC Super Featherweight title in hand. The popularity of the trilogy and his recent triumph reinvigorated his career once more and carried over through two more victories in 2005. 2006 saw Barrera facing another hungry young fighter in Rocky Juarez, first in a tough May bout ending with a majority decision in his favor (despite a judge card error that first caused it to be a draw before a sudden recheck) and an easier, more dominating effort in September via unanimous decision.

The following year proved to be a major one for the veteran, as he took on Pacquiao’s own archrival, Juan Manuel Marquez, in March 2007 in hopes of getting a rematch against him, now a super featherweight champion and a top star in the sport (along with two back-to-back KO wins over Morales). Though Marquez was the favorite and won most of the rounds, Barrera put up a good fight and gave him all that he could handle in the unanimous decision lost. Despite the setback and the lost of his WBC belt, Marquez never took up the rematch, and instead, Barrera found himself with a chance to right things against his 2003 foe in November. While Pacquiao was a far better, and far more dangerous, fighter than he was back then, Barrera himself improved and was refreshed and invigorated, free of the various problems that plagued him during that time. As a result, he fought well as both engaged in a close, back-and-forth battle. Unfortunately, he was unable to avenge his earlier loss and was defeated once more by unanimous decision, and contemplated retirement post-fight. Should he ever decide to exit the ring for good, he will have done so as one of the greatest to have ever laced the gloves, from Mexico or anywhere else.

EDIT [07.02.08]: Oscar De La Hoya was only ahead on one of the cards, and not two, against Hopkins.

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