Friday, December 05, 2008

:boxing: The Big Fight, The Big Risk, and The Big Pay Day:: De La Hoya vs Pacquiao

Oscar De La Hoya would have you believe that his upcoming duel with Manny Pacquiao was one of impeding epicness, a summit meeting long awaited between the two, in part fueled by his own sense of injustice at Pacquiao betraying him and reneging from a contract with Golden Boy Productions to be managed instead by rival Top Rank (his former promoter, before their (in)famous falling-out (on the other hand, De La Hoya does have a history of taking things personally before a match). In reality, it is all smoke-and-mirrors meant to hype a match that, by marquee, looks spectacular, but is really just a sizable mismatch dipping wholly in the Golden Boy's favor.

De La Hoya will certainly be going to the Hall of Fame, no question, but for most of this decade he has yet to claim victory in any of his biggest fights, be they against Sugar Shane Mosely (decisioned twice), Bernard Hopkins (KO'd), or Floyd Mayweather, Jr. (split decision), despite being competitive and close in all of them. With his career nearing the end, he has wanted to find that definitive fight to close his storied career on. For the man that has everything, from multiple championships at multiple weight classes, an Olympic gold medal, and a household name to ownership of the premiere boxing publication The Ring, one of the top promotion companies in the sport (with former rivals as business partners), and a place in Canastota soon (or Riverside, probably both), what do you get him for the holidays?

Enter Manny Pacquiao, the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world. The whirlwind from the Philippines made himself known to the world by destroying soon-to-be-Hall-of-Famer Marco Antonio Barrera in 2003 and cutting a large swath through the lower weight classes, defeating tough arch-rival Juan Manuel Marquez twice, beating Barrera once more in a decision win in 2007, and avenging a decision loss to Erik Morales by pummeling him to two KO victories along the way. A multiple weight class champion in his own right, his incredible speed, power, and stamina have complemented an improvement in fight tactics and skills over time that have turned Pacquiao from a feared brawler to a more feared well-rounded fighter. Pound-for-pound, as far as attributes are concerned, he could buzzsaw his way through De La Hoya, a la Barrera, or at the very least best him in a majority decision win.

That is, if it were at some mystical, evened-out level, since in truth, De La Hoya is much bigger physically than Pacquiao, not to mention much more experienced. While the Filipino possesses a great deal of physical gifts, he is moving up in weight once more, meaning the advantages he enjoyed at lower classes diminish the higher he goes. Part of this could be seen in his fight against lightweight champion David Diaz--his first at that level. Though he thoroughly demolished him and looked great doing it, the kind of bombs that would have floored a bantamweight in four rounds took nine to stop someone of Diaz's size.

Oscar De La Hoya, at welterweight (147 lbs--two classes above 135 lbs-limit at lightweight), would not only be a bigger opponent than Diaz, he would also be a far more elusive one and have much quicker hands than him. That would also allow him to trigger his left hook faster, leaving Pacquiao unable to neutralize it as well as he did Diaz's best punch. In terms of speed, De La Hoya may be slower, but Marquez showed that he was capable of competing with Pacquiao with slighty slower hands. As such, the Golden Boy possess some neatly fast hands himself, perhaps not at Marquez's level, but more than adequate to meet the demands of such a fight. He is also a far better, more seasoned fighter than either Diaz, Marquez, or Pacquiao himself, so even with the physical game taken away, he still has a definite advantage above the latter.

A fight with Manny Pacquiao seems like it's tailor-made for De La Hoya--a young, credible big name who not only has the looks of a great fighter, but also is beneath himself in terms of size and experience, that he can take the fight to him and give him a good thrashing to make the victory appear noteworthy and incredible. As much as everything is falling into De La Hoya's lap, there are still caveats to take to heart when concerning the Pacman. He still is a rambunctious fighter with a difficult style, blinding hand speed, substantial strength, and freakish stamina. The last attribute may perhaps be his best card against De La Hoya, as he has gotten tired in the latter rounds, which would undoubtedly open the door for Pacquiao in a tight match (unless, of course, the packing on of additional pounds affect his stamina and slows him down). He might also be the fastest and most skilled speed-&-volume puncher De La Hoya has faced, in terms of sheer output when both are combined. Since his power's impact will most likely be diminished at an upper weight of 147 lbs, he'll have to rely on that, his footwork, and whatever power he has that can damage De La Hoya, who can also take a good punch.

Speed, and how two ablely-handed fighters react to one another, have been key factors in recent fights, being the ultimate factor in Joe Calzaghe's win over fellow speedster Roy Jones, Jr. and its lack thereof playing a part in Paulie Malignaggi's trouncing at the hands of Ricky Hatton, who himself knows how to put together some fast combos. It will certainly play a sizable role if Pacquiao is unfazed by the difference in size and strength. Also of equal note is that this will be the lowest weight De La Hoya has fought at, so it remains to be seen if he will grow weaker as the fight goes on or if his own punches will lose any sort of zip that may come along with the slimming down required to meet weight.

I have always had a great deal of respect for Oscar De La Hoya concerning all he has accomplished and I definitely believe he deserves his spot in the Hall of Fame. I even gave serious thought to place him at No. 1 on HD's Decade Best P4P list (before ultimately settling on the third spot). All that being said, I have not been enamored over this fight taking place, since it benefits him far more than Manny Pacquiao given his many advantages over him, and that he was the one calling for it and dangled the big-pay-day check in front of him--all for what may amount to an easy fight night to look good against a smaller, but talented, big name opponent.

I also have not been pleased with the "cheesing" that he has been doing in posturing and making it look like an even level match-up, going as far as using the "revenge" angle mentioned at the beginning to hype the fight as something more than it is. There's nothing wrong with hype, and yes, it is a mega-fight, but if he wins, the victory is diluted due to the circumstances. Not too many boxing writers and critics are buying into what De La Hoya--the promoter, the boxer in the ring--is selling and see the fight for what it is. It is a big risk for not only the Filipino, but also one for De La Hoya, in which a loss of any kind to someone like him would only be egg on his face. However, though, the reward will be great for the winner. Pacquiao and his camp seem confident that they can beat the Golden Boy, which he does have a decent chance of doing, but De La Hoya knows what lays before him and there's little chance he'll let him ruin the plans he has set out.

Prediction: De La Hoya, TKO8 (if not bothered by the disadvantages and can hang with him, or if De La Hoya is overconfident, Pacquiao, TKO11). Even though he's fighting at the lowest weight of his career and Pacquiao at his highest--supposedly an "ideal" catch-weight situation--De La Hoya knows too well that the fight is stacked in his favor. He's quick, he has good power and stamina, he can take a hit, he's physically bigger, and he's more experienced than the other guy, a big name, smaller guy at the top of the pound-for-pound listings who's got just enough attributes and credentials to make the fight seem credible and put on a good show--if things were more evened-out on some mystical, leveled playing field. Pacquiao's no slouch, though, and despite mostly everything working against him, he always has his great speed and stamina to help him out. There's also the issue of De La Hoya fading late if the weight loss comes back to haunt him (same could be said for Pacquiao's weight gain), not to mention how, once again, two fast-handed fighters will handle each other in the heat of battle. The latter's gotten a bit better, but is still vulnerable to getting flustered, whereas the former has had trouble with such pugilists before (Mosley, Mayweather).

The fight itself should be a fast-paced and exciting one at first, with both getting a feel for one another at the beginning. After some even fighting in the fourth or as early as the second, there should be a clearer picture of the leader and by the eighth (or sooner), it should be definitive. De La Hoya will probably dictate the fight and dominate Pacquiao from the second round on, with the latter capturing two or three rounds before getting stopped late. I doubt he'll be allowed to make it to a decision, as De La Hoya will be looking to make a statement win out of him. However, Pacquiao thinks he can take him down, and for all of De La Hoya's machinations, it would be sweet poetic justice if he just so happens to pull it off. That's a tall order, though not an impossible one. De La Hoya has also been prone to being overconfident (see Felix Trinidad and Felix Sturm fights), so it should be interesting to see if that shows through here, and if so, how it will affect the fight.


Outcome: Pacquiao, TKO8. Well, right round, wrong fighter, with Manny Pacquiao totally stifling and dominating De La Hoya into submission at the end of the eighth round, as he retired from the fight and perhaps from the ring for the last time. Speed once again played a decisive role, along with age and Pacquiao's total package, which based on the reports, altogether overwhelmed the slower, older-looking Golden Boy throughout. With wins over Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Juan Manuel Marquez, and now over legend Oscar De La Hoya, Pacquiao not only has beaten the best fighters from one of the best, if the best, boxing countries in the world in Mexico, but has almost all but claimed a spot in the Hall(s) of Fame and in boxing lore. Ricky Hatton seems like the most likely next opponent for him in terms of future big fights, but count on arch-nemesis Marquez to continue breathing down his neck and chasing after him, looking for revenge over his two close and controversial losses to him.

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