Of all the boxing weapons Oscar De La Hoya possesses, none provide the six-division world champion’s arsenal more importantly than his pair of legs.
Those slim cross-country-like limbs have carried De La Hoya, 33, to victory numerous times en route to becoming the most profitable prizefighter in boxing history.
When he faces Ricardo Mayorga (28-5-1, 23 KOs) for the WBC junior middleweight title on Saturday May 6 at the MGM Grand, he’ll need those legs to help him avoid the felonious punching of the Nicaraguan.
It was his legs that powered him to victory over Julio Cesar Chavez back in 1996 and against Miguel Angel Gonzalez a year later. Those legs also enabled him to beat a murderer’s row of boxers like Pernell Whitaker, Ike Quartey, Oba Carr, Arturo Gatti, Fernando Vargas and win world titles in the junior lightweight, lightweight, junior welterweight, welterweight, junior middleweight and middleweight divisions.
Mayorga is no slouch himself with world titles in two weight divisions: welterweight and junior middleweight.
Once upon a time De La Hoya prepared his legs for battle worthiness in the 12,000 feet mountain elevations of Big Bear. Now it’s the sandy beaches of Puerto Rico.
Will his legs show up?
“I’ve been running continuously,” said De La Hoya (37-4, 29 KOs) while in Beverly Hills. “I never stop running. I run five miles a day.”
People talk about his mass array of boxing weapons that catapulted him to stardom after winning the gold medal at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.
“He has one of the best jabs anywhere,” said George Foreman, a former world champion and television boxing analyst.
Sugar Shane Mosley, who faced him twice and now a co-partner in Golden Boy Promotions, said, “His left hook is the best in the business.”
Others like Felix Trinidad commented on De La Hoya’s ability to take a punch to the chin.
But few talk about his legs.
Though De La Hoya’s hand speed is legendary and has provided him the margin of superiority in most of his fights, it’s his foot speed that provided him a means to dart in and out of danger like a mongoose fighting a cobra.
“Yeah, he’s quick on his feet,” said Mosley before facing De La Hoya a second time in 2003. “He moves around good.”
Before Floyd Mayweather Sr. joined the team as his primary boxing trainer, the East Los Angeles native used his legs to avoid the killer punches of Trinidad, Quartey and Chavez. Then, under new tutelage, De La Hoya learned another level of defense.
“You can use your legs to get in and out of trouble,” said Mayweather. “But sometimes you need to go into the trenches.”
Mayweather says that slipping, blocking, feinting and good old plain thinking are stratagems that can overcome or supplant athleticism.
“It’s not always the fastest man that wins,” said Mayweather, who began teaching his art of defense to De La Hoya beginning in 2001.
It’s not the original Mona Lisa
Since that first bout against Gatti, where the problems of learning a new technique and adapting it in real time during a fight looked somewhat ugly, De La Hoya has begun to exhibit piece by piece the teachings of his guru. It’s like watching a puzzle become a clearer picture of a famous painting.
No, it’s not the original Mona Lisa, but a version of the masterpiece.
The original: Floyd Mayweather Jr., who was trained by Mayweather Sr., stands in wait for a possible shot at the Golden Boy and a possible $15-20 million should De La Hoya survive Mayorga.
“Oscar’s going to beat Mayorga easy,” said Mayweather Jr. the new IBF welterweight title-holder.
The boxing world anxiously awaits the potential pairing between the former pound-for-pound king De La Hoya and the new reigning emperor Mayweather Jr. It’s almost as if most fans have suddenly become supporters of the East L.A. boxer because they want to see that jewel of a matchup.
“Who wouldn’t want to see that fight,” said Mayweather while in Los Angeles two months ago.
Mayorga for one.
“He’s disrespecting me,” said Mayorga of De La Hoya while in Los Angeles. “How can he talk about another fight when he’s fighting me? I’m going to kill him.”
Since bludgeoning Vernon Forrest with a sneak attack that caught most by surprise in January 2003, the Nicaraguan madcap has become accustomed to the limelight.
Mayorga should have learned his lesson against Tito Trinidad when the Puerto Rican turned all of the attention to his own self and gave El Matador a beat down. Mayorga retired soon after.
But boxers are a stubborn and egotistical sort. They can think of a million reasons why they lost a fight.
“I only trained one month for Trinidad,” Mayorga said. “It wasn’t enough time for a fighter of his caliber.”
For two months Mayorga has been preparing for his showdown with De La Hoya, a fighter he’s chased for more than two years. Even before his fight with Trinidad he wanted the Golden Boy.
“I’ll send him some diapers to his house so when he pisses in his pants he’ll be prepared,” said Mayorga in 2003.
Talk is cheap as most boxers will attest. But in some cases, it can spark a forest fire.
“It’s the motivation that gets me going now and Ricardo Mayorga has sparked that in me,” said De La Hoya. “He lit that fire in my belly and I’m full steam ahead.”
Running on the sandy shores of beautiful Puerto Rico is one thing. Being able to maintain stamina while firing punches and avoiding the onrush of the bull-like Mayorga is another.
When the legs go, they go suddenly, like an Indy car without fuel. Remember Roy Jones Jr.?
For 15 years Jones scooted around the ring without a peer like a hyper-speed leopard. None could match his hand or leg speed. But in March 1, 2003, when he moved up to heavyweight to meet John Ruiz, the legs seemed unsteady. Though he won the fight that capsulated his career, it was the pending sign of doom for Jones who has not raised his hands in victory since 2003.
“His legs are gone,” said Alton Merkerson, his trainer.
Jones had blitzed through adversaries with amazing speed and athleticism that allowed him to beat fighter after fighter. But when his legs went, there went his victories.
“He’s done,” said Mayweather Jr. “He ain’t got no legs.”
Now it’s De La Hoya’s turn. After a 20-month lay off since losing to Bernard Hopkins in a middleweight world championship match, he’s returning. But are his legs coming with him?
“I started training four months in advance to get the rust out to make sure that the timing and the power is there, the speed is there,” De La Hoya said during a conference call. “Just about three weeks ago is when I finally felt it click in me.”
The legs don’t lie.