Manos de Oro-A look back at Oscar De La Hoya's 1995 rampage

08.09.05 - By John Way: Even now, a decade after his emphatic win over Genaro Hernandez, Oscar De La Hoya is talking about another run at a world title. And people are listening! It's a testament to "The Golden Boy's" longevity that he's still a marquee attraction after four loses and long gaps of inactivity. Even after contemporaries like Ike Quarty, Julio Cesar Chavez, and Felix Trinidad have retired, un-retired and retired some more, De La Hoya is pondering possible mega-fights against Winky Wright, Ricardo Mayorga, Zab Judah, or Fernando Vargas. In fact, he's darn near even money or better with any fighter south of 160lbs. Will any of these fights go further than the negotiating table? Not likely, but its still fun to imagine.

Don't fool yourselves; despite anything that trainer Floyd Mayweather Sr. might say in regards to Ponce De Leon's fountain of youth, Oscar is long past peak form. In fact, the best fight of his career is ten years in his rear-view mirror, as of September 9, the night he kayoed Hernandez.

Sure, you can make an argument for his off-the-deck effort versus Quartey, or historic battles against Fernando Vargas and Pernell Whitaker. But when it boils right down, what you saw on September 9th 1995 was one of the most impressive displays of pugilistic skill ever, even if some of that talent has severely eroded recently. A diorama of the sweet science so complete and destructive, even the most grizzled old-schoolers had to admitted that the performance was exceptional. Usually when two great fighters hit their prime on the same night in the same ring, the results are spectacular, producing wars like Hagler versus Hearns, or Frazier versus Quarry. Not the case this time, as De La Hoya meted out a fearsome beating, with cold, calculated intensity, stylistically similar to fellow multi-division champion, Roberto Duran; a comparison which will be returned to later.

Powerful, smart, and hard working, Genaro Hernandez was a solid, if not sensational performer, struggling on the three occasions when he stepped up against Hall of Fame Level opponents. Besides De La Hoya, he would later edge African great Azuma Nelson in a split decision affair, and in the last fight of his career, poor Hernandez got slapped silly by Floyd Mayweather jr. for eight cruel rounds. Before his match with California's favorite son, "Chicanito" proved his worth by defending the WBA junior lightweight title eight times against battle tested opposition. With his promising career treading water, the charming Hernandez took a leap of faith by hopping up to 135lbs. in pursuit of De La Hoya down the yellow brick road, looking for a juicy payday. He found out the hard (and painful) way just how formidable his opponent was.

For De La Hoya, things weren't always quite as shiny as his gilded nickname would have you believe. A converted southpaw, he lost his mother to cancer early in life, after which he was raised by his hyper-critical father, who placed cruel expectations of greatness on his son's shoulders. Reportedly forced to sustain himself on an orange a day to make weight, his years of hard work paid off with an Olympic championship in 1992. Turning professional after only a brief hiatus from boxing, he managed to beat men like Jeff Mayweather, Troy Dorsey, and Jimmi Bredahl before he'd even won a dozen fights. Soon after snatching the WBO junior lightweight crown from Bredahl, he packed on five pounds to dominate A-List guys like Jorge Paez, John John Molina, and Rafael Ruelas et al. With seemingly impossible speed, and some serious crunch in his punch, he dispatched Paez and Ruelas in two rounds apiece, while rock hard Molina managed to make a respectable effort in losing a lopsided decision. Four years before his first loss, the rising superstar was looking steadily more invincible.

When the smoke cleared from the scene, the courageous Hernandez, bruised, battered, and forlorn set about rebuilding his career, while De La Hoya was effectively established as "the man" at lightweight. Several months later he would hand classy James Leija and Darryl Tyson the worst beatings of their respective careers, each fight ending before six full minutes of action had transpired. Next, he won the WBC junior welterweight crown by handing living legend Julio Cesar Chavez a one way ticket out of world class contention via a savage series of cuts around the eyes. His four round win over "The Lion of Culican" was probably the high water mark of his fistic career, as Oscar would later see his reputation dented by controversial wins over Whitaker and Quartey before suffering his first loss.

With his career almost certainly approaching its end, experts and fans alike will try to define Oscar's place on charts of all-time greatness. Chances are that you won't hear many people mention his early years at 130 and 135lbs. Why? Frankly, there isn't a specific answer, though it probably has to do with the fact that De La Hoya was more intriguing later on once he became a vulnerable human being like the rest of us. Such was the case with previously mentioned lightweight great, Roberto Duran, who save for ten rounds against Esteban DeJesus early in his career, look totally invincible at his original weight. Notching up the longest title reign in lightweight history, he also registered twelve defenses, earning him an almost undisputed spot as the greatest lightweight in history. While popular with the Hispanic crowd, he didn't become the household name that he is today until after his losses to Sugar Ray Leonard, Wilfred Benitez, and Marvin Hagler. People like to relate to their favorite athletes, which is difficult when a sports figure seems wholly unbeatable, as was the case with Oscar and Roberto.

Aside from Duran, how many lightweights where superior from De La Hoya from a historical standpoint? After one sifts through names like Joe Brown, Joe Gans, Benny Leonard, and Whitaker the list seems to dry up quickly. You could even argue by virtue of competition that Oscar might even edge Brown, placing him about halfway down the all time great list. An appropriate top ten might look something like:

Roberto Duran
2.)Benny Leonard
3.)Joe Gans
4.)Pernell Whitaker
5.)Joe Brown
6.)Oscar De La Hoya
7.)Carlos Ortiz
8.)Ike Williams
9.)Beau Jack
10.)Henry Armstrong

At any rate, I think De La Hoya deserves a big congratulations for remaining on the world scene ten years after his greatest performance. The list above is designed to stimulate thoughts and discussion, not to suggest that "The Golden Boy" is an all around better fighter than any of the boxers rated bellow him e.g. Henry Armstrong. Comments are welcome below.

Article posted on 08.09.2005

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