LAS VEGAS -- Oscar De La Hoya took 20 months off to attend to business, then got a sudden notion he'd like to be remembered for more than taking a knee against Bernard Hopkins. So he reached out to Ricardo Mayorga.
Boxers are not known for self-awareness and, all too often, they overestimate their longevity while underestimating their opponents. Certainly De La Hoya erred in ever thinking he could end his career as middleweight champion, when Hopkins paralyzed him with a liver shot almost two years ago. But the thinking here is that De La Hoya has chosen wisely this time and his vast reservoir of skill will be enough to dull the buzz-saw blades of Mayorga.
Mayorga (28-5-1, 23 KOs) is not the kind of fighter you easily write off. He's awfully tough and given to crazy displays of machismo (letting Vernon Forrest bounce blows off his noggin just to make a point in their rematch two years ago). And he's hard-hitting, with a vicious right hand.
But Mayorga is hardly disciplined in the ring (or out, where he enjoys a good smoke and a cold beer, though not, he says, while training for the hated De La Hoya). His haymaker is an important piece of his offensive arsenal. Meanwhile, his best defense is often to block punches with his chin.
The fact that Mayorga is 2-2 in his last four fights, with losses to Cory Spinks for the title in 2003 and Felix Trinidad in '04 (Mayorga rebounded to win the title back earlier this year against Michele Piccirillo), does not augur for Hall of Fame induction. And the fact that he seems to surround himself with distractions before big fights is not encouraging either.
Prior to the Trinidad fight, Mayorga was accused of sexually assaulting a woman while he was training in Nicaragua. (Mayorga was later cleared of the charges.) On Wednesday he announced that he intended to renegotiate his $1 million purse to parity with De La Hoya (who was getting $8 million) or the fight was off. Nobody was too worried.
There's a question, too, whether he's gone too far in the usual pre-fight buildup. Mayorga is a welcome firebrand when it comes to helping promote his fights, but his attacks on De La Hoya's manhood and his promise to sleep with De La Hoya's wife may have gone too far. Mayorga says this hatred is well-earned after what De La Hoya did to his idol, Julio César Chávez, 10 years ago. Mayorga is better off when he's just telling reporters that his stable mates for the De La Hoya fight are a flock of chickens.
It's clear that Mayorga, a slow but dangerous slugger, is meant as an adornment to De La Hoya's career, which has been sliding into a state of disrepair lately. It's been mostly the inactivity, while De La Hoya grows his promotional outfit, builds enterprises in Los Angeles' Hispanic community, dabbles in Spanish-language newspapers and looks into starting up a bank. The face needed to promote all these endeavors has been out of the news. But there's been increasing scrutiny put upon his career, as if the Golden Boy may not have been all that.
Remember that De La Hoya, though a champion in five weight classes, was at his best earlier in his career when he was working his way up from 130 pounds to 140. He was 23-0 in that span. He had great moments beyond that, too, most notably with his win over Ike Quartey to keep his 147-pound belt, and then in 2002, three years later at 154, when he was sensational against Fernando Vargas (who, like Mayorga, unnecessarily riled him). Still, since 2000, when he first matched up poorly with Shane Mosley, De La Hoya has gone just 6-4.
It's possible that De La Hoya never fulfilled the promise of that early career, that he sabotaged his legacy by moving up too far, where his power was less meaningful. Had he stopped at 147, he might have been better off, finding enough opponents to make everyone forget about the Trinidad loss (which not everybody is sure was a loss anyway), and been able to glide into a serene retirement in Puerto Rico with his wife and new baby, directing his empire from afar.
But now he's stuck reclaiming his glory at the age of 33, having spent nearly two years sleeping in silk pajamas (old boxing adage: Fighters with that level of sleepwear don't like to get up to do roadwork) and having to face a wild-swinging maniac who wants to sleep with his wife. By most accounts, De La Hoya has trained appropriately and is taking Mayorga seriously (as an opponent) but is not overly concerned.
It will be work, but it's the kind that the toothy, quick-fisted De La Hoya was born to do.