He may not have a world title anymore, but Oscar De La Hoya is the public’s champion. He has been called a pretty boy, a ladies man, and everything in between. For close to two years, he has watched the sport from outside the ring while channeling his energy into his promotional company, Golden Boy Promotions. In a surprising decision to some, De La Hoya has returned to active duty in order to fight Nicaraguan hothead Ricardo Mayorga on May 6,2006 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
From his training camp in Puerto Rico, De La Hoya announced on Thursday’s conference call that he was making final preparations before traveling to Vegas on May 1. “Training camp went really well,” he began. “We are on our final stages. I sparred close to 130 rounds. I feel really strong, really fast. I’m extremely excited and anxious to get into the ring, especially at 154, because I know that I will be able to perform as I normally do. I’m just ready to fight.” De La Hoya explained that he has been training consistently with four sparring partners who fit the Mayorga mold. “We’ve been covering every angle,” De La Hoya said. “The speed, the power, and the pressure.”
One of the first questions – and probably the most expected – was why De La Hoya chose to come back after accomplishing so much in the sport, and why take on someone like Mayorga. “I feel as a competitive athlete, I can close the book on many chapters that I’ve written and lay it to rest. I can end this story once and for all as a world-champion and finish this sport on top. As far as taking the fight with Mayorga, it’s motivation. At this point of my career, it’s not that I’m deteriorating in skills. It’s not that I’m lacking in that area. It’s the motivation that gets me going now. Mayorga has sparked that in me. He lit that fire in my belly. I feel as though I want to teach this guy a lesson. He can take a punch and he hits hard, but I’m in tremendous shape right now. I will show it May 6. My conditioning is better. My experience is much, much better. People think I’m going to dance around and box this guy but it’s not going to be that way. We’ve trained to stand in front of him, but obviously in a smart way. A lot of people will be surprised that I’m going to stay right in front of him. Obviously as a smart boxer, I’m going to move my head. You have to know how to maneuver. With guys like Mayorga, the more you box, the more pressure they’ll put on you. You have to know how to stand your ground and keep your distance. It will keep me on my toes and make me fight as hard as I can. He’s gonna bring out the best in me.”
The Golden Boy spoke about his future, saying he wants to retire in September. “My official retirement is for September 16, which is a date that I have always fought on. We’re very focused. One punch and it’s over, which is always in the back of my mind. My September fight has to be a mega-fight. I’ve thrown out names like Mayweather Jr., Winky Wright, and Trinidad. The possibilities are there to fight them – who is the best opponent out there for me to face? Those three guys that I mentioned are world class champions in their own right. My September fight will be a mega-fight if I get past this one. I’ve mentioned it many times, over and over that I have so much respect for Floyd Sr. that I would never fight Floyd Jr. And obviously if I win this fight May 6, if I get past it, I will have to sit down with Floyd Sr. and talk about it. I’m not making any decisions in my mind.”
When asked about Mayweather, and if De La Hoya had heard about buying out his contract with Bob Arum for $700,000, as well as the supposed statement that Mayweather thought it might be a better way to make a fight with him, De La Hoya replied, “The Floyd Jr. situation is news to me. He bought out his contract for a reason and that reason I really don’t know. I feel that whatever business he does with his ex-promoter, that’s for him to decide. Obviously people are talking about how September can be a big mega-fight against Floyd Jr. and I’m going to say it to everyone listening now. Yes, I’ve mentioned Floyd Jr. and people have been talking about that fight for a long time now. But there’s nothing in stone. Nothing concrete. Floyd Sr.’s opinion would matter a lot here. We’re going to pursue the biggest fights out there. If I win this one here in May, then my September fight, my farewell fight, will be one of the biggest things out there. We’re not going to wait for nobody. My mind is set come September 16 will be the last night that I will lace up a glove. I’ll retire, hopefully, as a champion. I’m very content with my career and what I’ve accomplished, what I’ve done. I’ve learned and grown from mistakes. I’ve learned and grown from the things I’ve done. I just feel the options are out there – Winky Wright. He beat Mosley, he beat Trinidad. I can fight Trinidad, or I can fight Floyd Mayweather Jr. who is the pound-for-pound champion.” He also mentioned that if Mayweather were to express interest in being signed with Golden Boy Promotions now that he’s a free agent, it would be a dream come true.
De La Hoya then explained how Mayorga has motivated him for this fight. “He’s been attacking my persona, my family, my heritage,” he said. “He’s done his job already. He’s made me train as hard as I can. He’s motivated me to be the best fighter I can be. There’s no way I’m going to fall into his trap. I already have my game plan. Whatever games he’s trying to play, he can’t play them with me. We prepared for everything. I started training 4 months in advance in order to get the rust out. To make sure the timing is there, the speed is there. Just about 3 weeks ago, I finally felt it click in me that my timing’s there, my speed is there. I actually feel rested. My body feels rested and with energy. My blood is boiling inside. You know I’m human. I do want to teach this guy a lesson and hit him as hard as I can. But I want to be calm and effective. You’ll definitely see some heated exchanges.” When asked if he had any predictions about how the fight would end, De La Hoya said calmly, “Just a win.”
Another reporter said that some people thought he might be finished. De La Hoya joked and said, “Me too!” but then went on to explain. “It’s the athlete in me. Especially reminding myself about Hopkins at 160. Fighting him, fighting a bigger guy. Getting stuck with a body shot with a bigger guy. I keep reminding myself, you are not finished. You felt great, you felt strong, you were just in with a bigger guy at 160. It makes me feel really comfortable at 154 now. Even when I’m training now, I feel different. I’m a whole different athlete now. When I weigh in on May 5, I’ll be at 151 or 152. That’s my natural weight class.”
The next reporter stated that two guys hating each other is as old as the sport itself in terms of promotion, and asked why the public should even believe that it is real. “It’s not that I don’t like him,” De La Hoya said. “I don’t hate him. I don’t even know the guy. It’s just when he started disrespecting my wife, insulting my heritage, my family. When opponents talk like that, you have to defend yourself. The way I’m going to defend myself is in the ring. In a press conference he slapped me across the head. You just don’t do things like that. He’s gotten under my skin – not in my head, but under my skin. He’s going to come straight forward to me. I’m in such great shape and I’m very positive that I’ll stay right in front of him and exchange some punches. Use my jab and work the body as much as I can, and the head will fall.”
One reporter brought up Mayorga’s conference call and the remarks he gave about the beginning of his hatred for De La Hoya when he was able to beat Chavez. Mayorga thought De La Hoya should have let Chavez win due to his clout amongst the Mexican people. De La Hoya laughed heartily before responding. “He pulled that one out of left field. That’s the funniest thing I’ve ever heard! It’s funny because when we first met, we shook hands and everything, and then he flipped! He started getting emotional… it was weird. All of a sudden he just flips and it was like, whoa, this guy has some problems. Ever since then, he started attacking me.”
De La Hoya then discussed his unique training camp, in that he gets to go home to his family every night instead of being isolated. “It’s better. It’s better because I come home and I can rest in my own bed and I wake up in the morning and my family’s here. It’s so comforting. The energy is just different. At this point of my career I need the motivation from my family, I need for them to be there, I need to see them every day.”
Asked about his final thoughts on Mayorga from a promoter’s standpoint, De La Hoya said, “I personally think he’s bad for boxing. As a promoter, I think he’s crossed the line. If he were to say a few words and shut his mouth, he would be a promoter’s dream. But when you start insulting families and heritage… you don’t do things like that. As a promoter, I wouldn’t want him to be in our stable. And personally, he’s crossed the line.”
Oscar De La Hoya concluded his call by telling the media how he has been able to separate Mayorga getting under his skin from the motivation to win. “It’s something I’ve thought about for a long, long time. Ever since we even signed the contract to make this fight, maybe five or six months ago, I was thinking who are we going to fight? Who’s going to motivate me? So when I thought about Mayorga, I thought this guy’s going to get under my skin – as long as I don’t let him get into my head. We’re going to keep our composure and have a good fight. That’s the reason why I’ll be able to keep my cool and stick to my game plan. I’ve prepared for this for a long time, for many months. Even before the fight got signed. It’s a matter of preparation. If you’re prepared, then you can win. I know I’ll be able to ace this test with flying colors. I have a little of everything here,” he said. “I want to fight angry, I want to fight scared. I’m anxious. I can’t wait to teach him a lesson. It’s a combination of a lot of feeling.”
That “feeling” will be put to the test come May 6 when Golden Boy Promotions and Don King Productions put on the “Danger Zone” fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Tune in to HBO PPV to see whether the Golden Boy can reclaim his status as a world champion.