How it will all go down and why
Scouting report ingredients: Get Don Steinberg to watch 552 rounds of boxing and write about key moves. Get EA Sports to simulate fight highlights before they've happened. Blend. Read.
To help forecast the Oscar De La Hoya-Floyd Mayweather fight, Don Steinberg watched video of every professional fight ever waged by either boxer. That's 42 bouts for De La Hoya since his pro debut, in 1992, and 37 for Mayweather since his first fight in 1996. That's 79 fights in all, 552 rounds of boxing, 27 hours of ring action -- not counting replays.
The result of this couch-potato marathon: a revealing prefight analysis that gets beyond the trash talk and backstage melodrama to examine, in detail, how De La Hoya and Mayweather will match up as boxers in the ring. In addition, we dropped Mayweather into the EA Sports Fight Night Round 3 to create an entire virtual fight (voiced by Brian Kenny) between the two combatants incorporating the scouting report below to give a complete picture of how it will go down.
Oscar De La Hoya might need to follow a strategy articulated by Carlos Hernandez, who fought Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2001. Hernandez said the nimble and dangerous Mayweather was a cat, so he needed to be a dog. Hernandez tried to bull Mayweather into the ropes and hound him up close. It worked in theory, but Mayweather was simply better and won easily.
De La Hoya has to be part dog, part mouse. He must close the distance, minimizing Floyd's options for escaping and counterpunching, and especially try to drive Mayweather to the ropes, where his defensive style can be a liability against an accurate puncher.
But De La Hoya can't risk his usual style of standing flatfooted in front of his opponent with his hands reaching out, walking forward in small steps, parrying for openings. That's worked against many opponents who just stood there and ate De La Hoya's leather, from Julio Cesar Chavez (1996 and 1998) to Fernando Vargas (2003) and Ricardo Mayorga (2006). But Mayweather plasters opponents who wade into his territory without enough aggression, including the tough Diego Corrales (2001).
So any time that he is not unleashing the hounds of hell, De La Hoya must dart in and out like a mouse, sticking and moving, as he did masterfully against Felix Trinidad (1999). He's been at his best when loose and bouncing.
De La Hoya is naturally left-handed but boxes in an orthodox style, with his strong left hand out front. He has taken opponents out with his fast, short left hook and a hybrid hook/uppercut thrown at a three-quarter angle that he has called his "45" (for 45 degrees). He often leads with a looping or straight right, which sets up the left. When it lands, this "two-one" combo can precede a devastating back-and-forth flurry, with lefts and rights alternately winging in shots as opponents wither. De La Hoya beat his first big-name opponent in 1993 -- Mayweather's uncle Jazzy Jeff Mayweather -- with a hard, arcing overhand right, followed by a crushing left uppercut/hook.
De La Hoya will want to work one other punch strongly into his mix. His biggest problems have been in catching speedy opponents such as Shane Mosley, Pernell Whitaker and Ike Quartey. Mayweather could be the fastest yet. De La Hoya could take a cue from Vernon Forrest, who defused Mosley's speed (twice) on the strength of a good stiff jab.
Defense is a natural language for Floyd Mayweather Jr., whose father started teaching him to slip punches and move gracefully around other, usually bigger boxers when he was a toddler. He easily makes opponents miss, then punishes them for it with his own attacks. But his confident defensive style, with his left hand almost always held low, leaves him with at least one point of vulnerability.
In center ring, he jukes his head elusively, bends at the waist in all directions, and jumps straight back, with both hands in front of him, to avoid attacks. In his very first fight (a Round 2 TKO of Robert Apodaca), he bent back to watch Apodaca miss an overhand right (the type that De La Hoya throws) and came back with a left hook to the head, followed by a left hook to the midsection. The body shot knocked Apodaca out. It landed in about the same spot where Bernard Hopkins' body shot put De La Hoya down for the count in 2004.
A classic boxing defensive stance is to hold both gloves high and tight to the head, almost like earmuffs, to absorb blows, as Winky Wright does. Mayweather's normal posture, by contrast, is to keep his right glove snuggled to his cheek like a pillow but to hold his left arm low, bent like an L, the glove swinging at his beltline.
When fists fly at him, instead of lifting his left glove for protection, he tends to turn sideways and roll his left shoulder up high to deflect shots, wriggling and muscling away if necessary. But this defense loses a dimension when opponents drive Mayweather to the ropes. The few fighters who have been able to get him there -- notably Jose Luis Castillo, but also the tough Jesus Chavez and even Goya Vargas and Phillip N'Dou -- have had success landing shots to a wide-open head. It's an opening De La Hoya could exploit with his strong right.
Opponents can stand before Floyd Mayweather, hands up and ready, calculating their next move, and suddenly out of nowhere they are being pelted with punches in the face and body. Diego Corrales learned the hard way in 2001. Corrales crept forward without enough activity -- the way De La Hoya sometimes does -- and Mayweather picked him apart, knocking him down five times. Mayweather is extraordinarily fast, often whipping two or three power punches in the time it might take another boxer to deliver one. He lunges to throw shots from both hands in a way that can seem like he's flying.
Mayweather's signature attack is a quick double left hook -- the first one usually thrown high to an opponent's ear and the second starting very low and hitting the midsection, as if he is passing his glove under a wire. He works this digging combination every fight, and it can be devastating.
Mayweather delivers the double hook with picture-book prettiness, but it can leave him open. He steps his left foot out very wide to set himself and deliver the second hook, exposing his entire body. If De La Hoya can step away from the second hook, he could have a wide open -- although split-second -- opportunity to shoot in a hard left hook or jab of his own.
De La Hoya never became a defensive specialist because he never needed to. Over the years, he has tried different defensive tactics the way a chubby heavyweight might experiment with different diets. Standing somewhat square to his opponents, often flat-footed, his most consistent defensive move is to try to catch incoming punches with his gloves. It wasn't until he was taken 12 hard rounds by John John Molina in 1995 (De La Hoya's 17th fight) that he went back to the gym to train specifically on defense. For his next fights, against Rafael Ruelas and Genaro Hernandez, De La Hoya was moving his head and bending at the waist to avoid punches much more effectively, which let him counterattack better, stepping back to avoid shots and then returning fire. He won both of those by early stoppage.
When he hired Floyd Mayweather Sr. as a trainer after his first loss to Shane Mosley, De La Hoya started rolling his left shoulder up in defense, reminiscent of Mayweather Jr. That didn't last. De La Hoya also has tried a crab-style defense with his hands crossed in front of his body. He has been superb sticking and moving, as he was against Trinidad, but seems to lack the will to do it for a whole fight. For the most part, De La Hoya's best defense has been the threat that he will hit an opponent back.
Cuts and bruises have ended the night for many De La Hoya and Mayweather opponents, but neither of them has suffered an injury that sabotaged a ring performance. Still, each boxer has had lingering body-part issues, and they're both in their 30s. So far, both have been able to adapt when hurting, even against tough opponents.
Mayweather has nursed tender hands since his merciless January 2001 beating of Diego Corrales. Mayweather brought what he called "two messed-up hands" into his next fight, against Carlos Hernandez in May 2001. The hands were injected with Novocain, but he winced throughout the fight, and when he tagged Hernandez with a hard right in the sixth round, it hurt Mayweather's hand so much that he bent over in pain, and his glove brushed the canvas. It was ruled a knockdown -- the only knockdown against Mayweather in his pro career, though it really wasn't legitimate.
Mayweather blamed his near loss to Jose Luis Castillo in their first match (April 2002) to his fighting with two broken ribs and an injured shoulder. Mayweather was less elusive than usual, and Castillo was able to trap him on the ropes and pound in some shots.
Mayweather hurt his right hand again in his fight against Zab Judah (April 2006). And in his most recent fight, Mayweather battered Carlos Baldomir (November 2006) but did not put him away. He complained his hands hurt during the fight. After the 12-round win, he suggested he might retire.
De La Hoya's health
De La Hoya has coped with recurring hand and shoulder injuries that have delayed his training but never undone him in a fight.
His left wrist was repaired surgically in November 2001, and a left-hand injury delayed his next fight, against Fernando Vargas in September 2002. He had no problem ending the Vargas match with a furious two-fisted finish. Still, De La Hoya hurt his left wrist again in his next fight, a May 2003 TKO of Yory Boy Campas.
De La Hoya's January 1997 bout against Miguel Angel Gonzalez was delayed due to a training-camp shoulder injury, and it became the first time De La Hoya had to go 12 rounds to win by decision. Most recently, he hurt his left shoulder while beating Ricardo Mayorga in May 2006. He says he's OK now.
Cuts (mostly, an occasional bloody nose) haven't hurt De La Hoya. He's had swelling under his left eye in late rounds against thumpers such as Julio Cesar Chavez and Felix Trinidad.
Historically, when De La Hoya gets you in trouble, you are done. He's been a spectacular finisher. Few fighters kick up the energy as predictably and effectively as De La Hoya does when the "10 seconds left" clapper sounds to conclude a round. And, although he has been accused of fading in the later rounds of some fights, when he smells an opportunity for the kill, or needs to make a major statement, De La Hoya finds a higher gear.
Sensing his 1999 fight with Ike Quartey was close, De La Hoya came out and scored a 12th-round knockdown. When he got Vargas in trouble in the 11th round of their fight, he ended Vargas with a 15-punch barrage. He showed he still can close in style against Mayorga in 2006, unfurling a barrage of at least 20 consecutive shots on a defenseless Mayorga before referee Jay Nady stopped it. Mayweather won't be so vulnerable, but if Oscar creates a chance to end it, he will explode.
Known for combining power with spectacular hand speed, Mayweather has finished off many opponents with a blizzard of punishment. But putting aside his six-round destruction of Arturo Gatti in 2005, the Mayweather of recent years has been content to let most fights play out and go the distance. A telling statistic: His first 19 fights lasted an average of 3.9 rounds. His past 18 fights have averaged 9.6 rounds, and six of his past 10 have gone the full distance. With his tender hands, Mayweather has been content to win on style. The prospects that Mayweather-De La Hoya will go the distance are very good.
Mayweather, by decision. Mayweather has become skilled at doing just enough to win every round, and it's very easy to imagine him doing that here and winning on points. But De La Hoya is better at stealing rounds -- when that 10-seconds-left clapper sounds, it can be like a signal for him to make a round-ending flurry in an effort to take the 10 points on judges' scorecards. Close rounds, especially those when fighters take turns dominating, might be scored either way. Judges see things differently, and it will only take one judge scoring it even, with the other two split, to make a draw.
Don Steinberg, a winner of the Boxing Writers Association of America's award for best column in 2005, covers boxing for The Philadelphia Inquirer.
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