Saturday, August 30, 2008

Oscar Versus Manny Is What It Is

Oscar De La Hoya and Manny Pacquiao have sealed the deal and will face off in what was once seen as an unlikely prizefight.

I was speaking with a colleague at the daily newspaper that I work for the other day. We were sitting in my office that overlooks a city park and a casino while discussing the current sad plight of the newspaper business and what will ultimately become of it all.

But after a while, we decided there wasn't a heck of a lot either of us could do about any of it, and almost simultaneously we both uttered the same words: "It is what it is."

And that's the way I feel about the fight between Oscar De La Hoya and Manny Pacquiao that is going to take place on December 6th at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

Many in the boxing community have criticized the match-up and they claim that De La Hoya is simply selling out and taking the path of least resistance to add more millions to his already morbidly obese bank account. They perceive the proposed fight to be a mismatch primarily because Pacquiao is a much smaller man who has never officially weighed more than 135 pounds for a fight. On the other hand, they tell you that since Oscar has fought a couple of times as high as 160 pounds, that he will win easily.

I say "Phooey!" to the criticism and so should you. It's like that old saying, "It's not the size of the dog in the fight - it's the size of the fight in the dog."

We can all agree that for the better part of this decade that Oscar De La Hoya has been nothing more than a part-time prizefighter. The minutes that he has spent in boxing rings over the past several years have been brief and sporadic. The 'Golden Boy' has not fought more than three times in one year since 1999 and he's lost three of his last six fights. These days, he spends more time in stuffy boardrooms and on sunny golf courses than he does in boxing rings.

And I'm not saying there is anything wrong with that.

Manny Pacquiao, on the other hand, is the epitome of what it means to be a fighter. I call him the 'Little Filipino Spitfire' and he reminds me of a mad hornet because of the way he zigs and zags and swoops in to sting his opponents. I've been watching this game they call boxing for 30 years and he is one of the special ones. One of the gifted ones.

Pacquiao always manages to draw a big crowd and he's a happy performer that loves to please his many fans.

My favorite fighter, Roberto Duran, has always said that God chooses. 'Hands of Stone' claims that God chooses some to be lawyers, some to be doctors, some to be writers and some to be fighters. Manny Pacquiao, in as much as any fighter I have ever seen, seems to be a chosen one. The man is an absolutely electrifying performer when he puts boxing gloves on his hands - and that's all you need to know.

I don't see the size difference as any issue at all. Both will hit the scales within a few pounds of the other on the afternoon of December 5th and the next night we will see a fighter in Pacquiao that will gladly carry the weight of the entire Philippines into the ring with him - just like he always does. Manny will be Manny. He'll charge forward, throw punches, look to mix it up and throw caution to the wind. He has always reminded me of a helmet-less man on a motorcycle speeding down an open highway at full throttle.

Oscar will be Oscar. Over the years, despite his many supposed re-inventions, myriad of trainers, multiple weight divisions and his mantra; "I'm in the best shape of my life" we always get the same old Oscar. He's always the same guy with an exquisite left hook and no right hand. He usually appears to be stiff and robotic and he fights without imagination. If Manny is the man on the motorcycle - then Oscar is the gentleman behind the wheel of a Buick Regal with one eye on the speed limit and the other on the caution sign.

For those that say this fight shouldn't happen, I say look at the history books. Boxing's past is littered with these 'spectacle' fights of discrepant sizes and weights. Its all part of what makes boxing interesting and fun. It's why Ray Robinson fought Joey Maxim in Yankee Stadium, why Bob Foster dared to trade left hooks with Joe Frazier in Detroit and why Carmen Basilio fought his guts out twice against Gene Fullmer.

They were all smaller men willing to take a shot. It didn't work out, but they gained fans by the busload because they had the guts to take the chance. And Manny Pacquiao is guts personified.

De La Hoya's age began to show in his last fight against Stevie Forbes. Even though he won, he just wasn't the fighter that he once was.

Too many people are focused on De La Hoya in this fight. What it will or won't do for his supposed 'legacy' and the way people will remember him. Let me let you in on a tiny secret my friends. The final chapter of that little fairy tale is already written and what does or does not happen on December 6th will have nothing to do with the way De La Hoya is remembered, just like the way nobody cares that Larry Holmes fought 'Butterbean' in his final match. When I made the check mark beside Holmes' name on the Hall of Fame ballot I could have cared less that Larry won or lost against the 'King of the Four-Rounders' in his final go round. (He won)

What you have to remember is that Oscar appeared well past it when he faced Stevie Forbes back in May. At 35, 'The Golden Boy' is a tarnished version of his younger self and since the feather-fisted Forbes cracked his cheekbone - what will Pacquiao do? The diminutive Forbes and Manny are virtually the same size, and I marveled at the manner in which Forbes, who is no speedster, was able to nail Oscar with flush, clean shots. Logic would dictate that Pacquiao, a southpaw, a man full of fire and spirit, has a wonderful opportunity in front of him.

The story here is all about Manny. The challenge is all his. And if he wins? My, my, my - all the people who criticized this fight will be calling Manny the smartest man in all of boxing. They are already forced to call him the best.

When I think of this fight, of Pacquiao moving up to fight a bigger man and having the guts to take the shot, I think of Henry Armstrong - still the only fighter in boxing history to simultaneously hold world championships in three weight divisions at 126, 135 and 147 pounds. Armstrong routinely fought (and beat) much larger men that greatly outweighed him. If 'Homicide Hank' did that - Pacquiao can do this.

So if you ask me about the fight between Oscar and Manny?

I say, "It is what it is."

August 2008

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