- Thomas Hauser
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The promotional spots for the Dec. 6 mega fight between Oscar De La Hoya and Manny Pacquiao proclaim, "Pacquiao is younger and faster. De La Hoya is stronger and more experienced."
There's no mention of the adjective that most likely will determine the outcome of the fight. De La Hoya is bigger. Much bigger.
Pacquiao began his professional career as a junior flyweight (106 pounds). He has been knocked out twice by men weighing 112 pounds -- in 1996 and 1999. Obviously, he has gotten better since then. But until 2008, he'd never competed above the junior lightweight level.
De La Hoya has fought at weights as high as 160 pounds. Generally on fight night, he refuses to get on the "unofficial HBO scale." But Freddie Roach, who trained De La Hoya for his fight against Floyd Mayweather and has been training Pacquiao, says that De La Hoya gained 10 pounds after weighing in at 154 to face Mayweather. Roach expects a similar gain on Dec. 6; maybe more because Oscar will be drying out more to make the contract weight of 147 pounds.
The disparity in weight between De La Hoya and Pacquiao has led to complaints that boxing's Golden Boy is buying a gold-plated mismatch. Oscar is in danger of being seen as a school-yard bully who, after having lost to fighters his own size, is now picking on tough little guys.
Roach says that Pacquiao will win with speed and that the weight differential (an expected 15 pounds on fight night) "won't be that important."
But Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer concedes that weight is an issue. "You have two camps," he said on Aug. 5. "The camp which is against the fight seems to be bigger than the one for it."
That balance can be expected to change as a consequence of the high-powered marketing campaign that has been put in place for the fight. But at the moment, critics abound.
The two best welterweights in the world at present are Paul Williams and Antonio Margarito. Each man has expressed an interest in fighting De La Hoya, but it would appear that Oscar has no intention of fighting either one of them.
"Oscar will stop Manny within three rounds," said Williams. "I don't want to take anything away from Pacquiao, but his punches won't hurt De La Hoya. Manny is just too small, and Oscar is just too big. That's why we have the different weight classes. The size and weight difference makes it a bad fight."
Margarito is more scornful.
"Now Oscar is getting brave with a 135-pound fighter and is trying to convince everyone that it's a tough fight," Margarito said. "He's getting brave with a great fighter, but a fighter who fights at 135 pounds. He wants to show the world that he can pull the trigger against a 135-pounder. What a man! What a hero!"
WBC president Jose Sulaiman also has gotten into the act.
"What are they going to do?" Sulaiman has asked. "Stuff Manny with tamales and beans, and reduce Oscar in the steam bath to bring them together? It's ridiculous. It's absurd. It's a fraud to the public. The only reason why the fight was made was money."
One presumes that the WBC will not be receiving a sanctioning fee for De La Hoya-Pacquiao.
How relevant is the weight differential?
One of the reasons why De La Hoya ended negotiations with Felix Trinidad for a rematch this year was Trinidad's refusal to come down to 160 pounds (Oscar's previous high). The discrepancy in size between De La Hoya and Pacquiao is significantly greater than the difference between De La Hoya and Trinidad, who fought Roy Jones at 170 pounds in January.
De La Hoya is the size of an average man. Pacquiao started his career 21 pounds below weight for a jockey in the Kentucky Derby. The chart to the right demonstrates their true difference. It lists the average comparative weight each man has fought at since 1995 (the year Pacquiao turned pro) and the differential between them on an annual basis. There is no 2005 entry for Oscar because he was inactive that year.
De La Hoya was, is, and always will be a much larger man than Pacquiao. Would anyone match Pacquiao against Paul Williams or Antonio Margarito?
Ultimately, curiosity and marketing will sell De La Hoya-Pacquiao. Manny's skill and determination will salvage it as entertainment. But the matchup will be competitive only if Oscar has nothing left as a fighter. Boxing's Golden Boy might not be able to pull the trigger like he used to. But he isn't so far gone that he can't beat an opponent whose natural weight is 20 to 30 pounds less than his own.
De la Hoya versus Pacquiao isn't what boxing needs to become a great and popular sport again.
Thomas Hauser is the lead writer for Secondsout.com. His most recent collection of boxing columns -- "The Greatest Sport of All" -- has been published by the University of Arkansas Press. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
Sure, Oscar De La Hoya's big-bucks showdown with Manny Pacquiao will be boxing's event of the year. It might even be fun while it lasts. One thing it won't be though is competitive, writes Thomas Hauser.