Oscar De La Hoya vs. Ricardo Mayorga? Will El Matador tarnish the Golden Boy’s return?

03.11.05 - By Gabriel DeCrease - The only problem with Oscar De La Hoya is that he is not as good-looking as me. -Ricardo Mayorga ---- Perennial fan-favorite and clean-cut megastar Oscar De La Hoya will make his return to the ring on May 6th of next year in a big-budget tangle with pugilism’s quintessential anti-hero Ricardo Mayorga. The Golden Boy is clearly looking to come back with a vengeance, and has chosen a dangerous bridge to cross on the way to what will likely be his last attempt at a title reign.. But Oscar knows that styles make fights and watchable characters sell tickets and pay-per-view units. And these two are proven commodities. Despite his recent losses, and his horrific showing against Felix Sturm, De La Hoya remains the only guy in the sport with crossover appeal as a clean-cut media machine. On the other hand, Mayorga appeals to some part of almost every boxing fan. He’s the guy fans love to hate, and the reckless anti-hero purists root for in spite of themselves. If The Golden Boy was looking to put together a fight that will get everyone’s strict attention, he has done it. There’s even a good bet an alphabet strap will be on the line to add championship appeal to the already potent cocktail of saleable ingredients. All Mayorga needs to do is hold on to that dubiously won WBC light-middleweight strap, which seems to be Don King’s gift to him for fooling the public into thinking he had a prayer against Felix Trinidad. Or, perhaps, Mayorga will lose the belt and then win it back in a return over the next seven months. Anything is possible when throwing El Matador into the mix.

By fight time The Golden Boy will have been out of the ring for well over a year. His last fight was a high-profile knockout loss to Bernard Hopkins in which Oscar looked undersized, outgunned, and clueless as to how to effectively fend off the an unusually aggressive Hopkins. The loss was arguably his second, in two outings, when he dared tip the scales at 160-pounds. His aforementioned bout with Felix Sturm was a sham in which judges, under extreme pressure to maintain the integrity of The Golden Boy’s date with The Executioner, gave Oscar a narrow gift-decision. This judgment came after Sturm’s stiff jab had been practically attached to De La Hoya’s face for the entirety of the fight, while De La Hoya threw all his best punches into Sturm’s guard and occasionally at his elbows. Immediately before that debacle, Oscar suffered a unanimous decision loss to Shane Mosely. It was a close fight, and could have easily been judged in favor of either fighter. However, De La Hoya kicked up such a fuss over the decision that he supported his formal appeal to the commission with the findings of his own personally funded investigation into the accuracy of the scoring. He was so unwilling to accept defeat; he made Bernard Hopkins recent buzzing seem like the conduct of a gracious and humble loser. All this serves to indicate that while De La Hoya remains a favorite to fans and odds-makers alike, he has suffered in recent years, and is clearly not the fighter of his dominant prime, which subjectively seemed to this author to come between his 1995 clobbering of a tough Jesse James Leija and his 2001 shutout of a not-yet-battlebroken Arturo Gatti.

The fight between De La Hoya and Mayorga will ultimately be one in which the outcome will be determined as a host of looming, unanswered questions are ultimately elucidated. Sadly, it will not be until fight night that such clarity will come, punch-by-punch. One question that comes immediately to mind is this: Is Oscar now too business-minded to get serious about preparing for a potentially tough fight against a dangerous puncher? The Golden Boy has, over the last few years, proven that his interests extend far beyond his career as a fighter. He has dabbled in the music business, winning a Latin Grammy Award and starting a Latin Music Label along the Way. He has been involved in the creation of boxing television programs, and has quickly become one of the more formidable promoters in the fight game, partnering-up with his one-time conqueror Bernard Hopkins in the process. Most fighters are lucky to score autograph-signing gigs and work at shabby gyms after they retire, but De La Hoya is clearly cut from a different cloth. He has a Sugar Ray Leonard kind of way about him that tells us he’s as much a media-institution as he is a warrior. But does Oscar have it in him to return to the ring amidst his other ventures as successfully as Leonard? Watching De La Hoya throughout his training camp will give some initial sense of how dedicated he will be to sweating and bleeding himself down to prime cuts for his date with the Nicaraguan destroyer. But it will only be on fight night that his level of determination and focus will be revealed. If throughout camp he is jabbering on a cell phone trading stocks instead of sparring with top opposition trading hooks, he may well seal his own doom. As history has taught, a fighter cannot always be judged by his physical shape.

Another question that comes to mind concerns El Matador, and it is this: Does a thirtysomething Ricardo Mayorga run the risk of being tripped up by ring-wear and an unhealthy lifestyle in taking a fight that may well go all the way into the championship rounds? Mayorga has always had a surprising amount of gas in the tank in the late rounds of tough fights despite his purportedly beer-swilling, ciggie-toting habits and a career made by taking thirty square punches for every career ending blast he lands. He went the distance in the return against Forrest, and outfoxed him relatively cleanly all the way, and then fought hard to the finish against a tricky Cory Spinks who won with the aid of a few suspect point-deductions. But he is quickly approaching that age when old-school, hard-knocks brawlers often quickly fade. The seemingly indestructible rib-smashing brawler Mickey Ward went that way after his first fight with Arturo Gatti. And then three fights later Gatti wound-up looking the shot-horse against a near-flawless Floyd Mayweather. Even Gatti’s detractors and Pretty Boy Boosters must admit that an already overmatched Gatti got old overnight, which only made the mismatch more of a shutout than it might have been if the Arturo Gatti of yesteryear had showed up (the one who battled Gabriel Ruelas to a vicious knockout win, took Wilson Rodriguez apart, and battled Tracy Patterson to a unanimous decision victory). Mayorga is cut from the same cloth, and after the hellacious beating he took at the persistent, rapid-firing hands of Felix Trinidad his stamina is surely drawn into question. Even if Mayorga’s hard-drinking sideshow is partly a publicity stunt, he is no naturalist and has certainly had a few wars with the bottle that would rival his wars in the ring, and that takes a toll—no matter how durable the fighter. De La Hoya is smart and knows his best strategy is to stylishly outbox Mayorga and only move aggressively forward once he has drawn a drained Mayorga into deep water. Ricardo’s conditioning will thus be a significant factor in the fight. His activity between now and then will also be crucial. If he can stay dedicated in training camp and score easy win or two, he will give himself the best chance of getting the drop of Oscar. But a war for Mayorga, or a lackluster cap that finds him dumping weight before a fight will be disastrous.

The fight itself should prove to be an exciting clash of very different styles. Mayorga will almost certainly go after De La Hoya with huge, wild shots from the opening bell, as is his habit. And he should do just that. If he can catch Oscar looking and establish control by hurting The Golden Boy, the fight is his for the taking. Oscar became quickly wary of Hopkins the moment he was wobbled by a hard clean shot, and, from that point, gave the fight away in the name of self-preservation. Any student of the game could see that Oscar did not try very hard to beat the count after tasting the canvas against Hopkins. Mayorga is one of those guys who is more than willing to die in the ring, and almost relishes the opportunity to eat leather. He has many times, and most recently to his discredit, invited opponents to take a free shot at his well-hammered noggin. So if he can force heavy action in the early going, it could be a short night for El Matador, and a kiss goodnight for Oscar. De La Hoya has a good chin, but any sign of danger, and he may well be looking for the bottom of a ten count rather than walking into more pretty-face-threatening punishment. A sustained war is a near-impossibility. De La Hoya has become too careful in his Golden Years, and Mayorga is too strong to trade with. Oscar needs to control the tempo from the outset. If he can retreat from the initial Mayorga-madness behind quick combos and a solid defense he will frustrate Mayorga and create an opportunity to trap him into the slow-wear of a technical mismatch. Think Mayorga versus Trinidad, but take out the knockdowns and add a standing TKO against the ropes late in the 11th round.

The date is set, and the public is already salivating. This matchup is one that has been a long time coming. Both mean face similar obstacles as age and the cost of a true-to-self lifestyle threaten their respective careers. Which makes a man weaker in the ring: a soft-and-easy life of luxury and complacency, or a fast-driving, thrill-seeking, shot-pounding, smoldering trip toward oblivion? Can Ricardo Mayorga once again shock the world by demolishing a respected champion? Or will style and technical acumen tame another savage brawler? The world will know come the sixth of May 2006.

Or will it? Mayorga is as unpredictable as a hyena on mescaline and The Golden Boy has a look on his face these days that says My retirement is in full swing, not my left hook. Perhaps the best question to be asking is whether or not this fight will ever actually happen.

Article posted on 04.11.2005

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