The Well-Groomed Warrior

By Ted Spoon on March 7, 2013
The Well-Groomed Warrior
Splicing the roles of boxer and pin-up boy is a tough act, but De La Hoya pulled it off.

Oscar De La Hoya wasn’t remarkable at any one thing, but that’s no way to introduce a fighter who was excellent at many…

If a fisticuffs virgin arrived at the MGM Grand it would probably take some convincing that the suave-looking promoter used to touch gloves and come out fighting. Those better acquainted with Oscar De La Hoya know differently, but before we can be completely sincere about Mr. Pay-Per-View, a few grumbles must be vented. 

There is a grey tinge to those dazzling exploits.

We can forgive his all-too-apt moniker of the “Golden Boy” rubbing off on the judges, but that camera-friendly persona was guilty of trivializing bitter moments, like that first defeat against Trinidad. Just when a fighter is supposed to stamp his feet, at least seethe, Oscar was borderline jovial. Bottling his true feelings greatly detracted from the theater of the ring. It didn’t do him any good either.

Ugly scenes are guaranteed when veterans continually haul their bodies back into the ring, but when it was discovered that team Oscar had attempted to intravenously hydrate their fighter before duking it out with Manny Pacquiao, you could only slap your head is dismay.

With his left cheek nicely swollen, De La Hoya’s gaze meekly followed his seconds. The self-pity was palpable. This wasn’t a case of an old trooper being ground down, seeing Oscar hobble around the ring made it clear he shouldn’t have signed the contract.   

The six-division world champion did manage to preserve some of his dignity, falling mute when told “We’re gonna stop it,” a decision that’s usually barked at. Those silk slippers which had been on-and-off could finally become a permanent addition.

As a final jab, that knockout against Hopkins will probably never look kosher.

So, providing the diehards aren’t already typing something choice in the comments section, they should enjoy the rest of this article.

If you were to write a polemic on Oscar it would be silly to begin by knocking his opposition.

At a time when Roy Jones was content making cookie butter out of gatekeepers, whether his fault or not, Oscar was entering the dragons den nearly every other fight. In the space of just 16 months he engaged Ike Quartey, Felix Trinidad and Shane Mosley; the latter not to be confused with the old man who lost to Saul Alvarez, Oscar fought these guys back when roadwork felt like a staircase to immortality.   

Stormy encounters put a couple of dents in the bumper, but defeat didn’t come without fireworks. More to the point, anyone would be extended trying to cut through these fine competitors, even a young Ray Robinson.

Today we’re inundated with empty promises. Various champions speak of “going to war” or “giving the crowd what they want.” To Oscar’s credit you’d have to say, 80% of the time, the pretty boy from East L.A. delivered on his pre-fight ballyhoo; that sixth round with Quartey, the last round against Mosley—there were moments when the action was electric. 

Be it a question of stylistic variety, it’s a similar story. 

Rightly praised as Manny Pacquiao’s weight-hopping massacre is, if there is one gripe to be had it’s that his victims were generally of the face-first breed. By contrast, De La Hoya aimed his punches at targets that were hard to hit, armor-plated and made of dynamite. It was a distinguished era.

To suggest that Lamar Williams, lasting just 102 seconds, played much of a part in the cultivation process would be silly, but from bout number one you could sense this broad-shouldered lightweight had something special. 

As the cheers escalated you’d be forgiven for thinking you were at an Elvis concert. Splicing the roles of boxer and pin-up boy is a tough act, but Oscar pulled it off. No doubt his ability to make the girls flock to ringside would have got the thumbs up from Georges Carpentier. For the opponents it was a different story. There was a thug behind the pretty mask.

“De La Hoya looks like the kid next door, like a little school boy so they have a tendency to try and run over him…” went one of George Foreman’s musings. At the time John John Molina suddenly got fresh. 

Greeting the canvas for his troubles, George neatly concluded “…and that’s what happens.”

Twenty-two years of age, this was Oscar’s sixth world title fight, currently focused on reshaping the lightweight division. Like clockwork, Rafael Ruelas, Genaro Hernandez and Jesse James Leija were all butchered. It’s easy to forget these steps towards superstardom, but we’d do well to remember the imminent success of Hernandez and Leija.   

Being the big boy he was, Oscar got closer to his natural poundage with a move up to light-welterweight. There to welcome him was a grizzled Julio Cesar Chavez.

Given the bellicose tendencies of each man everybody looked forward to a good ruckus, but this time there was a compelling side story. With Oscar’s mixed parentage he had always represented Mexico and America. Under different circumstances these points would be rendered moot, but coming to the dance was a full-blooded Mexican.

It didn’t help that El Gran Campeon was a living legend.

Oscar’s choice to live directly outside of his L.A. roots only strengthened the view of this arrogant crossbreed, eager to ditch the ring for Hollywood. Flirting with the idea of an early retirement to study architecture was another hot topic. You could almost hear the lamentations from every aging gym rat.

What was Chavez’s 100th professional fight ended abruptly and unpleasantly. A nasty cut opened above the left eye from a jab, and after absorbing some crisp combinations in the fourth it was stopped on account of the injury. Oscar was jubilant about the result, but it was a little inconclusive. Worse yet, Chavez refused to give him credit. 

A decent win over Miguel Angel Gonzalez helped wash away the bad aftertaste. The next move was to allow few more pounds to sit on his frame, and that took Oscar to his premier weight.

In a terribly close fight, De La Hoya exercised his star power to wrest the WBC welterweight title away from Pernell Whitaker. With a surreal ability to avoid blows, Sweet Pea was the worst kind of fighter to shine against. The following three opponents helped put the new champion in favorable light.

Oscar wasn’t remarkable at any one thing, but that’s no way to introduce a fighter who was excellent at many.

Bowling over David Kamau wasn’t anything to write an essay on, but it did serve as a reminder; De La Hoya had a knack for turning sturdy legs into spaghetti. Dubbed a “triple hitter” by Larry Merchant, Oscar was no Hitman, but upon hearing those clubbing noises it felt natural to wince with the victim. The left hook was his showstopper, but that uppercut was pretty fearsome also.

The right was almost strong enough to consider Oscar a two-handed hitter, but its real use was in setting up pinpoint combinations. Three- to four-punch head-snappers were a party trick of his. 

Against a negative Hector Camacho, Oscar demonstrated his poise. It would have been easy to get frustrated with all that retreating and holding, but Oscar remained patient, picked his shots, and looked good in the process. 

Wilfredo Rivera got his chance to derail the golden express but his opponent’s punches proved to be sharp in the literal sense when a short uppercut sliced his brow. Moved by that fiery spirit, Oscar was refined on the front foot and convinced the doctor to intervene.

After chalking another one in the win tally, Oscar clamped down onto his mouthpiece for a “100% ready/zero excuses” Julio Cesar Chavez. Since the time of their first bout some of that sour opinion had become a little acidic, but times had changed. There was no going to be no frolicking with movie stars. The fresh-faced kid wanted to fight. 

Chavez obliged the tear-up and produced some spine-tingling rallies. This he did while eating that venom-tipped left. It was the kind of bout where the atmosphere renders the opposing fan bases transparent. In the eighth a left smash to the mouth had Chavez disenchanted about the prospect about coming out for more and he was retired.

After verbally lashing Larry Merchant for letting the word “quit” enter the conversation, the old lion conceded that Oscar “deserves my respect.” 

True to the champion’s word, more excitement was on the way.

Ike “Bazooka” Quartey, one of the three superpowers at 147 lbs., was physically and mentally primed for his moment of truth. A viper-like jab looked good on paper and caused trouble when millions tuned-in from around the world. Mutual respect was evident at the first bell, but by the sixth they exchanged knockdowns and ditched the rangefinders.

A stirring, hard-hitting contest unraveled, one which steadily went in the Ghanaian’s favor.

Safely removed from the drama of the night, it’s difficult to score this one for the 3-1 favorite, but Oscar’s last round heroics help make that split-decision victory easier to digest. Even if a loss was the outcome, the main question had been answered; De La Hoya was a pedigree.

Oba Carr helped keep the blood pumping, taking Oscar eleven rounds. In truth everybody was ecstatic for the superfight against IBF champion Felix Trinidad. Oscar had proven he could go to war and prevail. The next thing to prove to the world was that he could box.

Undoubtedly this was best strategy against the somewhat basic, wide-hooking Trinidad. From the get-go Oscar was on his toes, demonstrating neat footwork. He didn’t glide, but there was a good understanding of side-to-side movement, and this made it very difficult for Felix to pull the trigger.

Seven rounds in and the showdown was more like an exhibition, but something bad began to happen. The artist began to admire his work.

If I may, there is another gripe with Oscar, and it’s that he often disengaged after he felt his contributions were sufficient to take the round. We may believe Oscar’s ego became a problem when he realized that the biggest fight of his career was cake.

When the bout reached the tenth Oscar was bicycle-boxing, and it wasn’t pretty. Again George’s comments were proving prophetic when speaking on behalf of Oscar’s trainer Robert Alcazar, “He said box, but he should have said jab and box; don’t just try to win the fight by saving the fight.”

Unfortunately his mind was made up and he continued to circle while Trinidad plugged away. It was an error which ruined that perfect record. 

You can believe that a lesson was learnt, but shortly thereafter an ambitious Shane Mosley climbed up from lightweight and delivered a second black mark. This one was just, but as Jim Lampley had remarked during the Quartey sizzler, “It doesn’t matter who wins the fight.”

The action said it all. 

In 2002 an entertaining victory over Fernando Vargas deserved applause, but the 21st century portion of Oscar’s career played out like a battered vinyl. The Golden Boy was really a ‘90s fighter, and in the following years he took his awkward footsteps towards retirement.

We could acknowledge that game effort against Floyd Mayweather, but is it not better to imagine how a sprightly Oscar would have persecuted the defensive maestro?

Less than two years ago disappointing secrets went public with drug abuse and some risqué pictures in fishnet stockings. At first comical, it was easy to take pity on a man who presented himself as, in Amir Khan’s words, “such a sober figure.”

Now relegated to watch men tip the scales in front of the adoring, Oscar can only hope to never hear that little voice which fiendishly stirs the embers within. They say cheerfulness is a classic facade for a troubled soul, but presuming Oscar can remain close to his passion, he should be odds-on to lick his demons.

Still drawing off that star power, Golden Boy Promotions has invigorated boxing, and they’re sure to pull off future spectaculars. Life remains prosperous for the ex-champ.

Okay, so perhaps introducing rookies doesn’t quite thrill like trading in the dying moments.

All the same, it’s good to see Oscar can still flash that million dollar smile.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Oscar De La Hoya vs. John John Molina


Oscar De La Hoya vs. Julio Cesar Chavez I [1/4]

Oscar De La Hoya vs. Julio Cesar Chavez I [2/4]

Oscar De La Hoya vs. Julio Cesar Chavez I [3/4]

Oscar De La Hoya vs. Julio Cesar Chavez I [4/4]

Pernell Whitaker vs Oscar De La Hoya

Oscar De La Hoya vs Ike Quartey (Full Fight)

Oscar De La Hoya V Oba Carr

Legendary Nights - De La Hoya vs. Trinidad - 1 of 3

Legendary Nights - De La Hoya vs. Trinidad - 2 of 3

Legendary Nights - De La Hoya vs. Trinidad - 3 of 3

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  1. the thresher 02:38pm, 03/09/2013

    “...too bad he didn’t have a pillow to bite…” Watch that. You are approaching a dangerous neighborhood .....LOL

  2. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo (aka) Gimpel 05:39pm, 03/08/2013

    Ted Spoon-You got that right about the Hopkins kayo….it was a blatant and in your face, way over the top, lousy job of acting….pounding the canvas…too bad he didn’t have a pillow to bite….or at the least a ringside seat cushion! One more thing….with all of his talent and desire, if he hadn’t been blessed with that titanium jaw of his we wouldn’t be reading your finely crafted article about him…guaranteed!

  3. pugknows 10:23pm, 03/07/2013

    I agree with the Bull, this one made for a really enjoyable read.

  4. the thresher 06:40pm, 03/07/2013

    BTW, Ted, great use of short paragrhs to make your points and to make it reader friendly. Very nice bit of writing technique and one I can learn from.

  5. the thresher 05:55pm, 03/07/2013

    His net worth indicated that he won the war while many others won the battle.

  6. the thresher 05:26pm, 03/07/2013

    Oscar fought everyone and was stiffed against Mosley and Tito. By the time he fought Forbes, he could no longer pull the trigger.

  7. Clarence George 02:38pm, 03/07/2013

    Very nicely done, though when I first saw the headline I thought this was going to be an article on Pat Valentino!

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