Trainer Roach Seeks Revenge Against De La Hoya

Mark KriegelCorrespondent IDecember 5, 2008

Manny Pacquiao has nothing bad to say about Oscar De La Hoya. This comes as no surprise, since Pacquiao is an aspiring politician who plans yet another run for congress in his native Philippines.

Rather, the disparagement of De La Hoya has been left to Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach. It's a task that Roach, among the most charming and accomplished people in the fight game, has performed with uncharacteristic relish. In fact, it's not too much to say he's carried this promotion. He's succeeded in making it personal.

Pacquiao won't speak of his business dealings with De La Hoya, but it is known that they met in September 2006 and that the Golden Boy himself, the namesake behind Golden Boy Promotions, gave Pacquiao a briefcase with $300,000, a sum intended as a signing bonus. No surprise that the politician took the money.

He even signed with Golden Boy. The problem was, he had also signed with Bob Arum, and when the 77-year-old promoter heard that De La Hoya was moving on his fighter, he immediately set out for General Santos, a slum that makes Manila look like the City of Light.

"That's the difference," said Roach. "Bob got his ass on a plane and went all the way to see Manny in the Philippines."

If Oscar wanted to sign him so much, I asked, why didn't he fly out, too?

"Oscar would never do that," said Roach. "Oscar would never pay that kind of respect."

The matter went to court, and was eventually settled through mediation. Pacquiao stayed with Arum and returned the $300,000. But the issue of respect—less easily quantified, and more irksome to Roach—is still being decided.

Roach has his own beef with De La Hoya, of course, having trained him for his fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. De La Hoya fired Roach after the split-decision loss.

"I didn't tell him to stop jabbing," said Roach. "But that's what happens. A fighter losses, he blames the trainer."

That's not what bothers him, however. The real breach in respect, at least to Roach's way of thinking, was not telling him to his face. "I found out in the media," he said.

This fight has afforded the trainer an opportunity to plot his revenge. A couple of months ago, I went to Roach's Wild Card gym in Hollywood, where the trainer declared that his fighter would knock out De La Hoya in nine.

On Wednesday, I asked if anything since had caused him to rethink his forecast. "No," said Roach. "I think this will be his last fight."

Oscar's last fight, he meant: "We're going to break him down and knock him out."

Here's his theory: Oscar is 35, and hasn't scored a true knockout since 2000. His last six fights include three losses, going back to 2003. What's more, in his advanced year, De La Hoya has developed a tendency to stop using his best weapon—the jab—after six rounds. If an opponent like Steve Forbes can bust up De La Hoya's face, what can Pacquiao do?

Pacquiao, always a tireless fighter, is in the best shape of his life. Roach says he won't give Oscar a moment's rest. As a southpaw, Pacquiao will be able to penetrate De La Hoya's defenses, beat him around the body, then attack the head.

It all sounds very logical, entirely convincing until I leave Roach's company. The fight is being billed as "The Dream Match," as if Pacquiao and De La Hoya were characters in a video game, as if their physical attributes could be adjusted to make for a fair contest.

The problem is that fighters don't exist in the cyber realm. There's a reason why "pound-for-pound" arguments are never adequately resolved. The 147-pound weight limit isn't an equalizer here. It's a huge advantage for De La Hoya.

The Golden Boy may be 35, but he's only coming down about seven pounds, four from his last fight. He's almost 5'11". His reach is 72 inches. That's just too much for Pacquiao, who's 5'6", with a 67-inch reach.

Pacquiao made his professional debut in 1995 at 106 pounds. His memorable battles with Juan Manuel Marquez, Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales were all been waged between 125 and 130 pounds. Only once has Pacquiao fought heavier. That was last June when he was 134 for David Diaz, whom he took out in nine.

You wonder, however, if Morales could beat him at 125; if he went the distance with Marquez at 129, then what can he do against a guy who's built like their older brother? Oscar's left hand will only be more potent with eight ounce gloves.

Finally, and perhaps more important, is the matter of style. De La Hoya has problems with cute guys, superior boxers like Pernell Whitaker and Floyd Mayweather. But Pacquiao is made to order. Not only is he small, he comes right at you.

"Pacquiao is going to fight his typical fight," said Bernard Hopkins. "That's Oscar's style. That's made for him."

Put another way: "If you know a guy's coming to rob your house, you don't go outside. No need to chase the burglar. You just load up the shotgun, sit in the rocker, and wait for him."

Hopkins knows of what he speaks. Four years ago, De La Hoya tried to come up to take his middleweight crown. They fought at 158 pounds, a tiny jump compared to that which Pacquiao will make. Hopkins was 39, four years older than Oscar is now. Of course, Hopkins knocked him out in nine.

That's what'll happen Saturday night.

I have all the respect in the world for Freddie Roach. So my heart says Manny.

But my head says Oscar. In nine.

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