At times, over the last three months Oscar De La Hoya has almost seemed at an emotional loss when paired up for PR outings with the typhoon of irrationalism that is Ricardo Mayorga. You would swear there were moments when De La Hoya – decked out in his banker’s best suit of the day – just wanted to laugh in Mayorga’s face and ask him, “Are you for real?”
“He’s gotten under my skin, yes… but, he’s not gotten inside my head.” Surely, that’s THE quote of the last quarter of De La Hoya’s remarkable career. And as cryptically subtle a differentiation as you are likely to hear in sports. De La Hoya certainly picked the right ‘beatable’ fighter to make sure he’d be motivated enough to train for the fight. And Mayorga, so lacking in rudimentary skills could be thought of as ‘beatable’ and yet the veteran of boxing’s most conspicuous stages De La Hoya knows there’s just enough danger, enough raw an incalculable power in the random punching thrusts of the Nicaraguan that concentration will determine the outcome of the fight, as surely as speed or sustainable fortitude. Mayorga’s crazed but dangerous or so goes the shorthand for the rationale for the fight.
Of course, Oscar knows that Mayorga’s rant and raving bravado comes from the heart and a need to try to act out the role of the reckless intimidator, a man on the brink of derangement. “I’m not just saying I want to knock him out and humiliate him. I am saying I want to knock his nose bone into his head… and put him down forever… I have no respect for Oscar De La Hoya.” Nor it seems for Oscar’s marriage, Mexican heritage – his idol Julio Cesar Chavez certainly notwithstanding – and the entire championship career of Oscar De La Hoya. Mayorga, pressed to come up with reasons as to why he feels compelled to carry out the annihilation of “The Golden Boy” and his litany of rationalizations ends up being a mission to carrying out an act of sacrificial revenge for his felled hero Julio Cesar Chavez to just hating the American ring legend from the very instant he first saw him. Mayorga will be Mayorga.
“De La Hoya’s like the kid you see in the school yard and you don’t even know him… but you know you don’t like him.” Matching disgust with repugnance seems about the limit of Oscar De La Hoya’s emotional engagement leading into his odd-couple showdown, reportedly Oscar’s penultimate professional outing. We let pass the “I’m going to teach him a lesson… that’s why I will be punching him so hard.” For all of the dedicated messaging leading up to this burlesque happening in the making, De La Hoya doesn’t spend as much face time trying to convince anyone, let alone the media, he’s still vitally interested in fighting. The best he can summon, the need to be “fired up… for a challenge” doesn’t stimulate the imagination. De La Hoya vs. Mayorga may turn out to be a rousing fight, for as long as their respect fragilities can be buttressed, still, it radiates the sense of being the filmed version of a great novel, something in the conversion devoid of aura or authentication, the diminishing spectacle moving away from us before it’s happened. Basically, boxing fans want it to be Oscar’s September. And in the man, even the presentation of Oscar the boxing champion, gone are the solemn statements of renewable faith mouthed as promises to his adoring fans across the globe. He gives us casual reports on the training of his body, attentions to technical detailing and recouping proficiency are recited as if by memory, as if from a time before Trinidad.
“My speed is there… it clicked in about three weeks ago… all the speed and the power… all of it,” announced the golden one. And now even fit from five months of physical training, Oscar looks nearing middle age handsome, the boyish blush of his pink cheeks tanned brown, matured; the face has the look of distinction and portraiture, as if his athletic career was already history. Yes, that’s only him in a photograph; true enough.
The raucous figure of Floyd Mayweather Sr. has been calling upon his esteemed charge to pick his moments to “stand and fight” and not to run and run and gun against the bulling Mayorga. Never give your opponent visions of grandeur by allowing them to do what they do best or naturally. Mayweather wants De La Hoya’s artistry for moving into prudent hitting positions to be instantaneously backed up by some mean spirited, flat footed combinations. “If Mayorga thinks I am just going to run and box him… he’s in for a serious surprise!”
The truth of the matter of Oscar De La Hoya, in 2006, fighting twelve rounds at 154 against an enraged attacker such as Mayorga, is that he cannot move continuously for 12 rounds. Oscar will have to touch down, turn the beast, counter with malicious intent and find some saturating body shots to take the rampage out of Ricardo the Ruthless. Look for Oscar to target the body, and not only because he knows that Team Mayorga think that Hopkins provided them with the blueprint on how to dust De La Hoya. Work the body! Just which fighter manages to put the hammers to the other guy’s kitchen first should give boxing fans the first big indicator as to how the fight might turn out. We are careful not to say boxing match.
Tactically, Oscar has fought brilliantly and naively. His situational hitting behind a razor sharp jab disassembled vital parts of Pernell Whitaker’s defensive postures. However, employing Gil Clancy’s prevent-defense over the last 3 rounds against Felix Trinidad bordered on the inane. But we tempt trivializing Oscar’s overall approach to this fight, if we over state the negatives. For the most part, De La Hoya was proficient in registering his best boxing in the big moments, mostly because he turned from artist to mechanic and then savage. When the operative juncture came in his classic fights, Oscar just poured forth, wrath and desire crystallized into all out performance.
That’s the elemental De La Hoya that Oscar now senses he’s almost found during the latter stages of his training. You can fake ambition but seldom the warrior’s ego. And it was from the committed drive of ego that Oscar drove home the greatness of his championship prowess; his athletic boxing won him the status of legitimacy then excellence; yet, it was his hard core battling that put him above the talents of champions such as Ike Quartey and Fernando Vargas. In this new century, Oscar De La Hoya has mostly fought without that all-out desire to battle to the bitter end where winning comes down to fractional differentiations.
Dare we say Oscar’s trainer Floyd Mayweather Sr. has been reprogramming De La Hoya, a corporate entity athletic figure, who says he’s hot to break past the indifference of age and domestic satisfaction to find the limits and reasons to remain a surgical weapon in a boxing ring? Sure, we can say he’s trying to be more like his old self than older and wiser and looking for challenges in all the wrong places. Oscar remains the figure of the bright and brave man of means, who just happens to want to end the glorious saga of his unparallel career as a winner; “I want to go out as a world champion and on top.” Facing the end of his career, what else would Oscar De La Hoya say?
We can all appreciate that he needs Ricardo Mayorga to play the bull who might gorge the matador. What would the drama of the event be without the threat of all of this ending so completely out of the control of the great De La Hoya? For this to be as realistic as possible Ricardo Mayorga needed to actually put in the nine weeks he has trained without cigarettes or cigars – almost – and certainly no early evening beers. All boxing fans knew what Mayorga would say about De La Hoya being gay, an embarrassment to the sport and his people, and not worthy of being named in the same breath with Julio Cesar Chavez or Felix Trinidad. The true test was would Mayorga actually train as if actually were meaning to come to fight and win. Posturing and preening and playing the roll of the bully takes no affectation when you are convinced that boxing comes down to a battle of wills, all the rest being incidental. Mayorga, interestingly enough, is the guy who’s looking at all the externals, reading into De La Hoya all the disinformation and slanderous hype that’s ever been thrown as so much trash at him.
Trinidad always gave credence to the steel beneath the beatific smile of Oscar De La Hoya. The De La Hoya career was after all a career built on image projection and athletic substance, calculated language and sincerity of a kind when the emotions of the moment held sway. Despite his assurances, Oscar De La Hoya doesn’t have the speed of his youthful self and his mental compensations do not cancel out what’s been subtracted in this boxing repertoire. Once he fought past the logic of his artistry when necessary, now De La Hoya must pace himself just to dodge situational exhaustion. Where once he punished his way to victories as expected, now he drives himself to top up his biological offering to prove he’s truly capable of the grandeur of his name. Time and circumstance does that to a fighter; it’s part of the law of entropy.
It might be rash to say he’s now navigating past apprehensions, acting out the ethic of entertainment glamour because he’s less and less made for the part. Still, he knows he can win this fight with Ricardo Mayorga. Clearly, he and Floyd Mayweather understand exactly how the deed can and should be accomplished. If memories of losses to Trinidad and Mosley and Hopkins are abiding so are the demolitions of Arturo Gatti and Fernando Vargas, fights with greater parallels to his next ring challenge. OK, Oscar looks and sounds as if he means business, unlike the presentations he made to us in the lead up to his tremulous outing, at full middleweight, against the implacable Bernard Hopkins.
The soft-sell contradictions of De La Hoya Speak keep us listening, though compared to Hopkins and Toney and Jones – those other iconic figures of HIS era – Oscar comes off as merely politely political. And we understand these last two De La Hoya fights are all about buffing up the luster on his legacy to a high gloss finish, the master of universal consequences still in full-blooded command of boxing’s most conspicuous stage, the mega-fight. Oscar, we all suspect, will find a way to finish off his boxing career in style, with the grace and majesty befitting the station he’s adorned and forged for over a decade.
When the leather smashes into the skin, all bets are off. No matter because there would be no poetic justice in a Mayorga victory and would take the scrivened letters out of the great book of his life and spray bomb the death notices of his career everywhere. Oscar orchestrates, can he now conclusively decide the matter of winning? For Ricardo Mayorga, his task set to resuscitate his very existence in the sport and thus stave off financial ruin, will be coming at De La Hoya knowing his professional life depends on it. And we know that grace makes concessions to athletic aging. So yes, there is more than wiggle room for doubting on the final outcome of De La Hoya vs. Mayorga.
Evidently, Oscar doesn’t want to drift into retirement and the profession of promoter before coming full circle as a fighter, his basic persona and trade in full display. Still able to dare to risk, can De La Hoya fight his way out of trouble? That’s the question Mayorga will begin asking of the great man from the sounding of the first bell. If we are to believe Oscar one last time, he’s looking forward to proving he still has the perfect answers to all questions put violently to him. He wants to be Oscar inside and outside the ring, for two more fights.
Mayorga plans to play his part in the proceedings according to his own rules. He doesn’t except the premise that fighting Oscar means you are, after all, only allowed into Oscar’s golden presence by design.