Forbes convinced he has the tools to beat De La Hoya

4/29/2008 - Boxing
Landing a fight with Oscar De La Hoya, left, is only half the battle for Steve Forbes. Craig Bennett/FightWireImages.com

When Steve Forbes was a contestant on "The Contender" reality show, there was a lot of talk among the fighters about how great it would be to land a fight with Oscar De La Hoya.

That's a common sentiment in this business, and has been for about as long as De La Hoya's been in it.

Getting a fight with "The Golden Boy" is like hitting the lottery. There's not a fighter on the planet who can generate the kind of financial bonanza that he can, and even if he takes the lion's share of it, so what? A little piece of something big is better than a big piece of nothing. It's why you hear every fighter within four weight classes of De La Hoya calling him out. They know it's a huge payday, win or lose.

Forbes, ever the humble realist, as well as the most experienced guy on the show, counseled his teammates not to get their hopes up, that fighters on their level didn't get to dance with guys like De La Hoya. It's not the way the business works.

"I would hear guys talk about how they wanted to fight De La Hoya and I'd tell them, 'Let's be realistic,'" Forbes told ESPN.com. "But now, I'm the one getting the fight with him. It's funny."

Forbes, who meets De La Hoya on Saturday at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., chuckles at the thought. If you didn't know better, you might think it's because he feels that, in a sense, he's already won -- getting the fight was the victory. After all, 99 percent of the world's fighters will never see a payday as big as the one he will get for, ostensibly, helping De La Hoya get ready for his rematch with Floyd Mayweather.

But the way Forbes sees it, getting the fight was only half the battle. There is still work to do. He's not there to punch the clock, pick up his check and go home.

"If I was more at the end of my career, like, 36 or 37 years old, maybe I'd feel like that -- a person could think like that. But I'm just 31 and feel like I'm hitting my peak. I always thought I'd get better as I got older, and I was right."

It's the kind of thing a big underdog says before a fight and then, once he gets in there, things get rough. Circumstances and the pressure conspire against him, convince him that coming in second on this night, against this guy, maybe isn't the worst thing that could happen, and at least he's getting paid well.

Besides, no one really expected him to win anyway, right? And in the second it takes for him to think that, he's lost.

Right now at least, in the relative calm of a training camp that has seen all the hard work already done, Forbes is adamant that he is in it to win.

"I've never wanted to be a victim or a circus act for anybody," he said. "I'm a former world champion and a real fighter. I've been around for a long time. And as an athlete, my career goes on after this fight. So I want to perform at my best. I want nothing but a win."

Certainly De La Hoya, 38-5 (30 KOs), wants the same for himself, but only as a means to get to the rematch with Mayweather. Beating Forbes for the sake of it is not really the point. It's all about getting Mayweather, a point De La Hoya readily concedes.

So much for the dangers of looking past the guy in front of you.

History tells us fights intended to be "tune-ups" can go terribly wrong (see sidebar), but De La Hoya, while acknowledging that Forbes is "no pushover," seems unconcerned.

"When we first started training camp, [trainer] Floyd Mayweather Sr. kept mentioning Floyd Jr., Floyd Jr., and I kept thinking, 'What about Steve Forbes?'" De La Hoya told ESPN.com. "And I realized that he's really motivating me to beat Floyd Jr., and if I'm in this good a shape thinking about Floyd Mayweather Jr., then Steve Forbes will be a breeze."

That Mayweather Sr. and De La Hoya have reunited with the shared goal of toppling Mayweather Jr., is perplexing when you recall how uncomfortable both seemed with the idea before the first match, won by Mayweather via close split decision.

When the elder Mayweather essentially priced himself out of the equation, it seemed a reasonable solution. De La Hoya went with Freddie Roach, and Mayweather Sr., while remaining friendly with De La Hoya, tried unsuccessfully to unseat his brother Roger as Floyd's head trainer. When the rematch was agreed to, De La Hoya called him because he believes Mayweather Sr. gives him the best chance of winning.

"Floyd Mayweather Sr. created and made Floyd Mayweather Jr. inside the ring," De La Hoya said. "He trained him as a kid, as a baby. He created that style, so he can dissect that style. He's got the key. I need a guy in the corner that has the key to unlocking that door. It's a matter of choosing the right trainer, and I feel Floyd Mayweather Sr. is it."

While careful to praise Roach, De La Hoya said the strategy in the first fight was essentially to rely on his size and strength advantages over Mayweather and to rough him up -- a tactic that he now realizes played into Mayweather's hands.

"Floyd Mayweather Jr. is a very slippery, tricky guy to figure out because he fights to survive," De La Hoya said. Like many slick boxers, the harder his opponent tries to punch, the better Mayweather likes it, as it gives him counter-punching opportunities he wouldn't have against an opponent with a more measured, patient attack.

It is not lost on Forbes that he was chosen in large part because he practices a style somewhat similar to Mayweather's in that he is a quick-handed, scientific boxer. It is no coincidence that he was trained for much of his career by Roger Mayweather and is now seconded by Jeff Mayweather, the least accomplished of the three training Mayweather brothers.

(This was at the command of Floyd Jr., who threatened to fire Roger unless he excused himself from Forbes' team.)

It also helped Forbes that with just nine knockouts in 33 wins (and five losses), there is little chance he will be able to hurt De La Hoya. Also, by his own admission, Forbes' best fighting weight is about 140 pounds. De La Hoya has fought as high as 160. (The contracted weight limit for this fight is 150.) Unlike virtually everyone else, Forbes sees this as an advantage.

"I study boxing history. The guys that gave Oscar De La Hoya problems are little guys," he said. "Pernell Whitaker (over whom De La Hoya won a controversial decision in 1997) is shorter than me. Ike Quartey (whom De La Hoya decisioned in 1999) is the same size that I am. I thought Oscar lost both those fights. Smaller guys with good boxing ability and smart technique are the ones that give him problems."

To a degree, Forbes is right -- De La Hoya has always been at his best when being pursued and counter-punching. Recall his fights against Julio Cesar Chavez, Felix Trinidad and Fernando Vargas. He generally is less effective when forcing the action, as against Mayweather and Shane Mosley (in their first fight).

Still, during a prime that admittedly has long since passed, De La Hoya, who is now 35 years old, had little trouble cutting down swift boxers such as Oba Carr and Hector Camacho. He knows how to do it.

Most expect him to do it to Forbes, who has never fought at this level, but is undeterred nonetheless.

"I'm going to outbox him," Forbes predicted. "People are going to see moves they haven't seen since Ezzard Charles and Ike Williams. I've watched this fight in my mind for six months. He'll fight mostly out of shock -- shock over the fact that this kid nobody knows is beating him."

If Forbes, a 3-1 underdog, does what he says he can do, De La Hoya won't be the only one.

The Ring's senior writer William Dettloff co-wrote the book "Box Like The Pros" with Joe Frazier.