- George Willis
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Manny Pacquiao is supposed to be too small for Oscar De La Hoya. But does size really matter? That will be determined when the two meet Dec. 6 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Here are five things to look for in "The Dream Match."
1. David vs. Goliath
Shouldn't De La Hoya be picking on someone his own size? Pacquiao, who is 5-foot-6½, began his boxing career at 106 pounds and as recently as last March was fighting at 130 pounds. He is moving up to 147 for the first time to face De La Hoya, who is 4 inches taller and has fought mostly at 154 pounds in recent years.
Still, Team Pacquiao insists the size difference will be irrelevant. "By fight time, I think Oscar will probably weigh about 160 pounds and Manny will be about 150 pounds," Pacquiao's trainer Freddie Roach said. "So 10 pounds, I'm not really worried about that because I feel that speed wins this fight -- not size."
De La Hoya, who hasn't fought at 147 since 2001, said he was at 145 for the last few weeks of camp, but remains curious how his body will feel fight night.
"Coming down in weight is a big issue because I don't know how my body's going to react come fight night," De La Hoya said. "I felt great in training camp, but come fight night, it's a whole different story. My conditioning has been a big issue for a lot of people over the years. And that's my primary concern."
De La Hoya will need to fight tall, keeping Pacquiao on the end of his jab and hurting him with power shots. Pacquiao will be all about speed and constant movement -- thus staying away from his opponent's left hook -- as he hopes De La Hoya will tire in the later rounds.
2. Cocky Roach
If Roach is speaking what he feels and not just trying to hype the fight, you've got to give him credit. He certainly isn't lobbying for a future job with Golden Boy Promotions the way he's bad-mouthing De La Hoya.
In fewer words, Roach has said De La Hoya has plenty of flaws, can't pull the trigger and will be knocked out by Pacquiao. You'd figure Roach would be grateful for serving as De La Hoya's trainer for his mega-fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. last May, but the two are at odds over who is to blame for that split-decision loss.
De La Hoya said the strategy devised by Roach was "the wrong strategy."
Roach disagrees: "The game plan we had was working well in the early rounds, and I thought we were winning the fight. And then he abandoned the game plan and then we end up losing the decision. I guess about a month ago, he started blaming me for the loss. But he's always blaming somebody."
This has made for the only trash talk coming from Team Pacquiao, since PacMan himself is one of the more polite boxers you'll ever meet.
If half of what Roach promises comes true, De La Hoya is in for a long night.
3. It's the Economy, Stupid
Golden Boy Promotions, Top Rank and everyone else associated with the bout hoped to make record-breaking money on the fight when it was put together in September. But the economy has been in the toilet since then, and it will be interesting to see if people will spend $54.95 to view the fight.
De La Hoya set a record with 2.4 million buys for the Mayweather fight, but fans haven't been buying boxing in those kinds of numbers since. Bernard Hopkins vs. Kelly Pavlik in October attracted fewer than 200,000 buys, and Roy Jones' fight with Joe Calzaghe last month topped out at around 230,000. The boxing industry has put all of its marketing muscle behind De La Hoya-Pacquiao with a media tour, sponsorship promotions and a four-part 24/7 series on HBO. If this doesn't sell, the fear is nothing in boxing will sell.
"I think in these days, people are picking and choosing what fights they want to buy and which fights they want to see," De La Hoya said. "And I think people are waiting for this one."
4. Viva la Mexico
Pacquiao has built his career and pound-for-pound reputation by beating some of the best boxers to ever come out of Mexico.
He has two victories each over Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera and earned a split decision over Juan Manuel Marquez in March.
Seeing himself as an avenger, De La Hoya, born in East Los Angeles, is wrapping himself in his Mexican heritage for this fight. He has invited several former Mexican champions, including Pipino Cuevas and Ruben Olivares, to the fight.
"Those types of fighters are the fighters that I really admired growing up," De La Hoya said.
De La Hoya has had a love/hate relationship with hard-core Mexican boxing fans and fighters. In fact, Mexican icon Julio Cesar Chavez and welterweight champ Antonio Margarito, a Top Rank fighter, are expected to be at the fight supporting Pacquiao.
Earning acceptance from Mexican fans seems to be more important to De La Hoya as his career nears an end. Beating Pacquiao in a slugfest could help in that regard.
5. The scorned promoter
De La Hoya is more businessman than fighter these days, and he hasn't forgiven Pacquiao for what happened in 2006 when Golden Boy Promotions tried to sign him to a long-term contract. Pacquiao initially accepted a $250,000 bonus from De La Hoya to join Golden Boy only to return it after accepting a $1 million bonus from Bob Arum at Top Rank.
Lawsuits and insults were exchanged between Top Rank and Golden Boy for several months until an out-of-court settlement was reached in June 2007, with Top Rank becoming Pacquiao's primary promoter.
If De La Hoya needs to build up some fury, this could be the source. The legal fees were wasted money.
"That's one of the reasons why this fight is so personal to me, because of that night when we signed that deal," De La Hoya said. "He turned his back on me. He's going to have to pay come Dec. 6."
The episode proved to be embarrassing for De La Hoya. During a deposition for a lawsuit, Roach told how De La Hoya took Pacquiao to a Los Angeles steakhouse and wooed him with a suitcase filled with $250,000 in cash. It conjured images of the under-the-table transactions that have given boxing a bad image.
"I don't want him talking about honor and how he honors this and that," De La Hoya said. "He didn't honor me that night, so I'm not going to honor him come Dec. 6."
George Willis is the boxing columnist for the New York Post.
Worried about the high price tag for Saturday's big fight? "The Dream Match" is an industrial-sized fight in a financially strapped economy, but those willing to splurge will be in for a treat, writes George Willis.