Pacquiao vs. De La Hoya: An Analysis of a Legacy

pac vs de la hoya14.10.08 - by Shawn O'Donnell - When the Pacquiao- De La Hoya fight first was announced most boxing insiders viewed it as a huge mismatch and a large cash grab. Experts overwhelming believe that De La Hoya will dominate the much smaller Pacquiao. Normally I would agree with most of the aficionados in the game, but there are several elements in this fight that have swayed my opinion. I have learned from my years of being involved in boxing that the only way to accurately predict a fight is if you have an inside look at the training camps. I don't have the luxury of being up and close to the action, but what I can propose are scenarios and facts that exist. I believe this fight will be decided upon the issues of weight, activity, psychology and sticking to a solid game plan. This may give some direction as to what outcome this fight might have..

The single most significant piece to this fight is the weight. Manny Pacquiao has ascended from 106 pounds to a new fighting weight of 147 pounds. Much has been said of this massive increase, but lets judge it in perspective. When Pacquiao debuted as a professional fighter, at sixteen years of age, he fought at a weight of 106 pounds. This will equate to an increase of 41 pounds to his current twenty nine year old frame. When most fighters gain this much weight in their career they compromise movement and speed. If we look at fighters such as Duran, Tyson and Frazier they became less effective fighters as they moved up in weight. A large part of this has to do with the distribution of the weight over their torso. When these fighters added weight, it was mainly around their mid-sections. This impeded their ability to move,bend and get leverage to deliver their punches. A few years back, I had Pacquiao pegged as an energy fighter that would add weight to his frame and become less effective because of the previously stated reason. I was wrong. I believe that Manny Pacquiao is a physical anomaly. After watching him fight David Diaz this year, I was amazed that Pacquiao was rock hard at this weight and seemed just as fast and relentless as ever. When I asked Freddie Roach, Pacquiao's trainer, about this he replied, “Manny is just filling out and adding more muscle to his body. He has really powerful legs and a large back for his size. He is just adding size to these areas.” Although Pacquiao turned pro at a body weight of 106 pounds, we must consider that Pacquiao was still a boy at that phase of his life. Not to mention the fact that poverty and improper nutrition kept Pacquiao below his natural weight. With maturity and the exposure to better food and training methods, Pacquiao gained weight in a way that has enhanced his athletic performance.

When I talked to Roach, he had just finished a tour of the country to promote the fight and was eager to talk about the issue of weight. “ Manny currently weighs 153 going into training camp. When we get to fight time we will weigh about 147. This is the exact weight he came in at the night of the Diaz fight. For us it will be a matter of weighing in and not worrying about anything. I see De La Hoya as the one having the difficulty in weight. He looks light right now, but it will be hard for him to keep his weight down that low for several months.” Roach made a point that is worth expanding on. De La Hoya has not fought at the 147 limit for eight years now. This might prove to be a difficult undertaking for him. If we look back in boxing history, the reality of fighters cutting weight in their mid thirties does not seem to favour a victorious outcome for De La Hoya. Roy Jones, Ray Leonard, Riddick Bowe, Chris Byrd and a plethora of other fighters have littered fistic history with abysmal performances after cutting weight in their thirties.

If we examine this scientifically, De La Hoya will have to shed extra weight to fight at this limit. The excess weight will probably be lost in terms of muscle mass, which is something De La Hoya cannot afford to lose. Standing at 5 '10 ½ in tall he is a lean fighter. If he strips away muscle mass, it will probably come from his torso, which is the protective buffer to his Achilles Heel: his mid-section. Punishing sparring sessions,coupled with inactivity and unnatural weight loss will make De La Hoya's mid section an especially sensitive target. Although he has a cast iron chin, his ability to take body shots has always hampered him. Look at the Hopkins, Vargas, and Mosley bouts and you will clearly see that Oscar was put in considerable jeopardy after being hit to the body. This point isn't lost on Roach either. “It is no secret that we are going to go the body. Getting in close and doing some damage will be apart of the plan, but we are also going to force him to fight three minutes of every round. This is what we did with Barrera and we will do the same to De La Hoya”.This could spell big trouble for Oscar.

De La Hoya has been plagued by a tendency of fading in fights. This is a dilemma that he has also publicly acknowledged. He has faded badly in the second half of his fights with Quartey, Trinidad,Sturm,Whittaker, Mosley and Mayweather. In an effort to address this issue he took a tune-up fight with veteran fighter Steve Forbes. De La Hoya won that fight quite convincingly and he came away with the notion that he had solved his stamina issue; in reality that problem still exists. Forbes rarely put any meaningful pressure on De La Hoya, and he isn't the type of fighter that incites fear in the hearts of those that he faces. Pacquiao is of a rare breed in this business, he is a relentless puncher; always searching and keeping alert for the right moment to unleash his fury. His shark like fighting style is what makes most fighters come unhinged, and coming unhinged from a fight plan is something De la Hoya is well acquainted with.

During his super fight with Floyd Mayweather De La Hoya was initially controlling the action with patience and clinical boxing skills. However, during the second half of this fight he mysteriously abandoned his jab. He began to mix it up and engaged in sloppy exchanges, in which the much fresher Mayweather picked him apart. One could chalk it up to a tactical error, but if we examine the Trinidad fight, he made a similar mistake as well. During this fight he abandoned his boxing strategy and ended up losing a fight he was clearly ahead in. I could list several other fights where this has happened as well, but I would be rehearsing the same point. It is not just De La Hoya's game plan that comes off at the wheels, but his ability to use his physical advantages comes up short as well. In fights against Whittaker, Mosley and Mayweather, Oscar enjoyed a considerable advantage in reach. His opponents were able to negate that advantage through their speed. I see the Pacquiao fight in the same way. Although De La Hoya has a six inch reach advantage, the difference will prove to be negligible due to Pacquiao's incredible hand speed. De La Hoya's mental strength is one of his greatest assets, but it also one of his greatest liabilities. He can be stubborn and prideful, which often leads him into trouble.

De La Hoya has showed a propensity to engage in slugging when it is clearly not in his best interest to do so. He also wastes enormous amounts of energy with unnecessary movement. These bad habits make his fights much harder than they need to be. To be successful against Pacquiao he will have to utilize a clinical, patient boxing style devoid of inconsistencies. Eric Morales proved this the first time he fought Pacquiao. When Morales veered off this path and engaged Pacquiao in toe to toe action,he was stopped both times. Juan Manuel Marquez also employed a patient boxing style, which arguably gave him the advantage over Pacquiao in their two fights. De La Hoya and Marquez are master boxers;however, it is De La Hoya's tendency to resort to slugging that causes him distress in his fights. Will he do the same against Pacquiao? If he does, he will play right into Pacquiao's hands.

A key piece of this fight will not only revolve around the ability to box, but to exploit weakness. Pacquiao's outstanding weakness is that he has a tendency to be off balance when punching. In order for De La Hoya to take advantage of this he will have to fake and draw Manny off balance. This will require quick reflexes and precise timing. I believe that De La Hoya's age and inactivity will keep him “a day late and a dollar short” on this strategy. To time Pacquiao will not be easy either. He has incredible core strength, which allows him recapture his balance in a fraction of a second. In addition to this, De La Hoya has had only five fights since 2004. This isn't in keeping with a top pound for pound fighter's schedule- to keep sharp you have to be active.

De La Hoya is also working against his own DNA. When you get older your proprioceptive senses (reactivity and reflexes) begin to diminish. It will not be outwardly noticeable to the layman, but De La Hoya will notice the changes in a huge way. When he goes to fire off combinations, or move to avoid a punch, he will notice that there will be a significant disconnect between what the mind knows that it needs to do and what the body can actually perform. We saw signs of this during the last phases of the Mayweather fight. In order to shore this up, the Forbes fight was organized so that De La Hoya could work out his timing on a much slower opponent. However, the hardest thing to fight against is your own biological limitations. Freddie Roach's comment about “De La Hoya not being able to pull the trigger anymore” is not directed at his ability to punch hard per say, but more so his ability to execute a punch in a timely manner. Roach may prove to be right on the money when he speaks of this matter. De La Hoya can change fights through the actions of his iron will though. His primary tool for dealing with any form adversity is his psychological game plan. Will it be enough for this fight?

De Hoya has stated that Roach's comments have given him the motivation necessary to win this fight. Oscar uses these statements to fire up his sympathetic nervous system and keep it on the ready. Roach is very aware of this factor. “Right now Oscar has taken me aside and given me %$*# for my comments, but we are still relatively friendly. I anticipate that as fight time draws nearer it will get quite heated”.De La Hoya is motivated the most when he has inflammatory foils such as Vargas and Mayorga to push his buttons. Pacquiao is the opposite of these adversaries; he is a mild mannered character outside the ring that is respectful of his opponents abilities. Will this provide enough fuel to fire De La Hoya's psychological engine? If anyone has the motivation necessary to prove a point it is Pacquiao. According to Roach, Pacquiao is incensed with De la Hoya. Pacquiao was sued by Golden Boy Promotions over a contractual dispute regarding promotional rights. That lawsuit has eaten away his tolerance towards De La Hoya. If that is not enough motivation for him, Pacquiao has the added incentive of being his countries biggest celebrity.

Over ninety million Filipino people watch with baited breath whenever he fights. Pacquiao takes us back to the thirties when fighters represented the struggles and hopes of their cultures. He came from humble beginnings and has risen to great heights. Many people identify with him because of this, and as the calamity of the global credit crisis spreads, many Filipino people concerned about the future, will turn to Pacquiao to distract their worries.De La Hoya is probably the most popular boxer in the world, he has luke warm support from people of his own cultural heritage. Many Mexican fans resent him for beating the legendary Mexican fighter, Julio Cesar Chavez, and have not forgiven him that indiscretion. Although Pacquiao is labeled the “Mexacutioner” for beating Mexico's top professional fighters, he also draws upon that cultural fan base as well. Many Mexican fans simply admire Pacquiao's relentless aggression and combative skills. It is something that cuts across all cultural divides.

This fight may prove to be the largest grossing fight of all time, but there is something much larger up for grabs. De La Hoya wants to leave a legacy in place and feels that he can do so only by beating the professions top pound for pound fighter. Many fans point to the fact that De La Hoya is fighting a much smaller opponent that will not give him much of a challenge. I beg to differ though. De La Hoya has given himself considerable handicaps to deal with in this fight. His reduction in weight, inactivity and inability to stay focused in a fight will be his undoing in the end. If he can overcome these obstacles, he will accomplish a great feat. De La Hoya has risen to take on the best challenges of his time and for that he should be commended, but his time has passed. This sport does not dispense golden watches for service rendered to its greatest participants. To often we are left with contrary images of great fighters that held on to the past too long. And as De La Hoya so violently unseated Julio Cesar Chavez, he too will experience this sad right of passage at the hands of Pacquiao.

Article posted on 14.10.2008

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