April 20, 2007

Golden Boy vs. Pretty Boy, Who Will Be The Man?

Part Four: Styles and Stamina

By Greg Goodrich

On May 5, 2007, Oscar de la Hoya (38-4) will defend his WBC Jr. Middleweight title against reigning pound for pound kingpin and defending WBC Welterweight champion Floyd Mayweather, Jr. (37-0). This historic bout captioned ‘The World Awaits’ is scheduled for 12 rounds, and will be held at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.

If the phrase ‘passive aggressive’ depicted a person’s fighting strategy instead of describing a syndrome people fight, Oscar de la Hoya could be described as such. De La Hoya has been trained by at least six different trainers. Each have had the distinction of adding something to the mix, though all but one have been accused of nullifying Oscar’s boxing  acumen, and having caused developmental weaknesses in his fight game. 

Roberto Alcazar (a family friend) trained Oscar early in his professional career from November 1992 until February 1995 (ending with a victory over John John Molina, who caused Oscar more than a few stylistic problems). He added some nice things to Oscar’s repertoire, primarily utilizing Oscar’s height, reach, size, and strength advantages. In seventeen bouts and less than three years, De La Hoya won two titles; made three successful defenses: and registered fifteen knockouts. 

Shortly thereafter, team De La Hoya issued a press release stressing the need to expand De La Hoya’s offensive machination. Alcazar was replaced by the legend-ary Jesus ‘the Professor’ Rivera just in time for De La Hoya’s first mega fight versus Rafael Ruelas.

Rivera trained De La Hoya to be a well adjusted (outside the ring person) and well rounded offensive fighter and defensive boxer. Rivera assisted De La Hoya in seven bouts, spanning three years (February 1995 until April 1997). During that time, Oscar won the WBC Jr. Welterweight and Welterweight titles from Julio Cesar Chavez and Pernell Whitaker.

However, another plot twist transpired in Oscar’s training regime. Oscar had knocked out three quality fighters in the 135 pound lightweight division: Rafael Ruelas (TKO 2), Genaro Hernandez (TKO 6) and Jesse James Lejia (TKO 2). His domination continued in three 140 pound jr. welterweight fights as well: a non-title bout versus Daryl Tyson (KO 2); a title winning, career defining victory versus Julio Chavez (TKO 4): and a title defense against Miguel Angel Gonzalez (W12). De La Hoya again moved up in weight and laid claim to Whitaker’s World Welterweight title.

Nonetheless, he was forced to fight the distance, and was oftentimes befuddled by ‘Sweet Pea’s’ defensive mastery. That was enough to convince De La Hoya he needed a specialist himself. Emmanuel Steward was brought on board to train Oscar De La Hoya, and in effect, to make him more technically sound, fluid in punching and to utilize the jab with a right cross combination. Emmanuel trained Oscar for two fights(David Kamau, a second round TKO and Hector Camacho, a 12 round unanimous decision victory).

Gil Clancy was hired next to trained de la Hoya (in coordination with chief trainer Roberto Alcazar, who was rehired). Clancy came out of ‘training retirement’ to assist de la Hoya, and to better utilize his reach, thus coordinating his pressing left hook and stabilizing his back foot once he fired punches. Gil Clancy was brought in for the Wilfredo Rivera fight in December 1997, and worked with Oscar for six fights, spanning nearly two years. During this stretch, De La Hoya came into his own, both at the box office and fought numerous ‘career defining fights’ in successive order.

Clancy was fired after De La Hoya’s musingly lost the Felix Trinidad bout, (in a tactical decision baffling all boxing critics, De La Hoya outboxed Trinidad for eight rounds, only to run the last four). Oscar Suarez (the former trainer of Naseem Hamed and Acelino Freitas) was brought in to assist de la Hoya in two 2000 bouts versus Shane Mosley and Derrell Coley. His specialty was defense, and ironically, de la Hoya needed none of such in both bouts. However, he too was fired after de la Hoya lost to Mosley in June 2000. A lack of ‘game planning’ and ‘strategic corner coaching’ was cited in again making a change in trainers.

Floyd Mayweather, Sr. came on board and began training de la Hoya for the Arturo Gatti bout in March 2001 and trained ‘the Golden Boy’ until May 2006 (culminating with his devastating defeat of Ricardo Mayorga to reclaim the WBC Jr. Middleweight title). All was not well in the Golden Boy camp, as Floyd wanted 2 million dollars to train him to defeat his son Floyd Mayweather, Jr.; and Oscar de la Hoya felt the elder Mayweather would have conflicted loyalties. Mayweather of course worked with De La Hoya to improve his defensive posturing and to better utilize feints, shoulder rolls and the right hand, counter punch cross.

Hence, Freddie Roach (best known for training James Toney and Manny Pacquiao) came on board in March 2007 and is with De La Hoya to assist in combination punching and better stamina. All in all, it is very hard to tell if any of these changes have actually made Oscar de la Hoya a better or worse fighter. What is known is that he will need each and every one of the specific skill sets that all of his trainers have tried to incorporate into his fighting style to meet and defeat Floyd Mayweather, Jr.

Oscar’s having multiple trainers has fundamentally altered his aggressive nature, and has oftentimes left him less than offensively effective and ascetically pleasing. His style is so hard to define because it has not been very easy trying to refine it over the years! His most effective style is that of aggressive boxer, utilizing a sharp jab, effective right cross and his vicious, text book left hook, all fired off the ball of the feet.

As far as Oscar’s stamina, he appeared flat in the second half of the Trinidad bout; and faded in the last three rounds in the Whitaker, Mosley I bout, Castillejo, Mosley II rematch, Strum and Hopkins fights. For him to be effective in this particular match up, he will have to be able to box Mayweather, fight inside, to control the tempo, force Mayweather to be the aggressor, and to throw enough combinations to keep Floyd off balance.

Floyd Mayweather, Jr. on the other hand has had three trainers his entire professional boxing career. First, his father Floyd Mayweather, Sr. trained ‘little Floyd’ for his first four fights in 1996 and 1997, and then was unfortunately incarcerated for the next four years. Next up in the training segue was uncle Roger Mayweather, who has trained Floyd for all of his fights since then (a total of 32, minus the Carlos Baldomir fight when friend, advisor and confidant Leonard Ellerbe took over chief training duties).

Floyd Mayweather, Jr. is a text book, traditional orthodox boxer, who utilizes speed, reflexes and proper technique to out-fight, out-smart, out-box and out-think all of his opponents. His ability to punch in fluidity is only rivaled by his extremely nimble footwork which affords him the opportunity to hit and not be hit, plus constantly change punching combinations, shot selections and maintain ring generalship. His speed, coordination and reflect timing is rivaled only by contemporary fighters Roy Jones, Jr. and ‘Sugar’ Shane Mosley. He is that fast, that good and that skilled. He is the pound for pound champion in boxing today because he has earned the distinctions and all that entails.

Floyd, Jr. has certainly flourished in his uncle’s offensive scheme and wisely has implemented his father’s more cautious, counter punching techniques of defensive mastery. The overall stability in Mayweather’s camp is a crucial advantage that weighs heavily in his favor versus De La Hoya. The fact that his father Floyd, Sr. who trained De La Hoya for six years, recently assisted Floyd, Jr. in three weeks of training. One does not have to surmise what he was passing along to ‘the Pretty Boy’ about ‘the Golden Boy.’

The fact that Oscar De La Hoya has had many trainers doesn’t negate the fact that he will be at a distinct tactical disadvantage versus Mayweather, Jr.; nor does it guarantee that he will not be able to overpower his smaller foe, and beat him in a methodical styled bout combining boxing, fighting and out-hustling.

It says here that Floyd’s superior conditioning, and stable corner will enable him to best utilize his own distinct advantages over De La Hoya, which obviously are speed, skill and a set boxing style which has not been fundamentally altered throughout his professional boxing career. In short, Oscar has to at least match Mayweather’s corner in sage advice, strategic adjustments in between rounds: and of course, be able to out-hit Mayweather, not necessarily out-think or out-box him. That being said, one thing that keeps getting overlooked (and downplayed) is that both Oscar and Floyd started at junior lightweight, and have progressed four divisions upward (from 130 pounds to 154 pounds). I really think the size advantage of de la Hoya- and the speed disadvantage versus Mayweather- is secondary in importance to whether Floyd can carry the weight of 154 pounds, and maintain his power, speed and elusively. He may find the same issues await him that De La Hoya encountered at both junior middleweight and middleweight.

Part Five to Follow: Speed and Size of Oscar de la Hoya and Floyd Mayweather, Jr.

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