Wednesday August 6th, 2008

At 4 p.m. Wednesday, a contingent from Top Rank, led by CEO Bob Arum, will arrive at the Los Angeles offices of Golden Boy Promotions to begin -- and hopefully finalize -- negotiations with Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer for a December welterweight bout between Oscar De La Hoya and Manny Paquiao.

While the results of the negotiations are not considered academic, Schaefer told on Tuesday that the odds were "70-30" that a deal would get made while a high-ranking HBO executive said that the network was holding Dec. 6 "specifically for Pacquiao-De La Hoya."

In other words, don't expect any last minute announcement that Pacquiao will be replaced by WBA welterweight champion Antonio Margarito, who established himself as the premiere fighter in the division last month when he stopped Miguel Cotto in the 11th round.

"We have made it clear [to Top Rank] that we think Margarito has some unfinished business," Schaefer said. "Frankly, I find it disgusting how people are overlooking Paul Williams. Oscar wanted to fight Cotto because he was undefeated. But Williams beat Margarito. Just because Margarito beat Cotto, why does that make him the best welterweight? Why isn't it Paul Williams? He had that first round knockout of [Carlos] Quintana [in June] and he already beat Margarito. So I think it is very disrespectful of Williams. Those two [Margarito and Williams] should fight again."

Schaefer's point is not without merit. Margarito does have unfinished business with Williams, who scored a unanimous-decision win over Margarito last July and regained the WBO title he lost to Quintana in February with a resounding KO four months later.

But Schaefer also may be covering for what has become obvious to many in boxing's inner circle: De La Hoya does not want to end his career a bloody mess and flat on his back -- two very probable outcomes for the Golden Boy in a matchup with Margarito.

Certainly, Pacquiao is far from a safe fight with De La Hoya, who will likely enter the ring as an underdog.

With Floyd Mayweather (temporarily) retired, Pacquiao has emerged as the best pound-for-pound fighter in boxing. Over the past three years, Pacquiao has systematically dismantled his opponents, a list that includes legends like Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez. But Pacquiao is nowhere near the size of De La Hoya. When Pacquiao defeated David Diaz in June for the lightweight title, it was the first time he had ever fought at 135 pounds. Against De La Hoya, Pacquiao will have to climb all the way up to 147 pounds.

And he is certainly a threat to send De La Hoya into retirement with a loss. If De La Hoya thought Mayweather was fast, wait until he steps in the ring with Pac-Man. The current champion's arsenal brings new meaning to the word "combinations," as his blinding speed enables him to throw eight to 10 punches in succession. While he probably doesn't have the power to knockout De La Hoya at 147, his speed advantage gives him the potential to win every round.

What he can't do, however, is hurt De La Hoya. He can't punish him or stalk him around the ring. He can't inflict lasting damage on his face and hand him an embarrassing loss.

But Margarito can.

As the Cotto fight proved, Margarito can both absorb punishment (nearly every ringside observer agreed that the shots Cotto sent Margarito would have staggered any other fighter) and dish it out.

It's ironic that De La Hoya would duck Margarito because Margarito is just the type of fighter the Golden Boy said he was looking to fight after losing to Mayweather. De La Hoya said repeatedly he would like his next opponent to be someone who would "stand and fight" and not take on defensive positions to avoid the action. It's why Ricky Hatton -- as straightforward a fighter as they come -- was floated as a possible final opponent before Mayweather destroyed him.

Is Pacquiao a straight-ahead fighter? Not at 147 pounds. Not unless he wants to get killed.

But Margarito is.

De La Hoya-Pacquiao will be captivating and worth watching. But even if De La Hoya beats Pacquiao, he'll have only beaten a fighter who is two weight classes out of his league. Just as quickly as it happened, it will be forgotten.

If De La Hoya could beat Margarito, however, he could walk away as the king of the division that made him famous. To achieve greatness, though, a greater risk must be taken. And at the moment, De La Hoya does not appear willing to take it.

During a three-hour lunch with heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko in New York last week, I found the normally mild-mannered heavyweight champ to be visibly excited about one future opponent: former cruiserweight champion David Haye.

"He's been talking about me a lot," Klitschko said. "I want to fight him and shut him up."

Haye, a compact Brit who announced his move to heavyweight earlier this year, has been outspoken about a potential fight with Klitschko, calling fighters in his new division "fat slobs" and saying he would knock Klitschko out in three rounds.

Klitschko, who is facing a mandatory match with Alexander Povetkin, has his eye on the winner of the Aug. 30th WBA interim-title fight between John Ruiz and Nicolay Valuev. But even still, the Ukrainian says he is open to the idea of facing Haye sometime next year and is willing to travel to Haye's backyard to do so.

"I think a fight in England would be special," Klitschko said. "I like it when the crowd is against me. I think I fight better."

Schaefer, who signed Haye to Golden Boy last May, said he's on the same page as Klitschko.

"I talked to [Klitschko business manager] Shelly Finkel and that fight is going to happen next year," Schaefer said. "After Wladimir finishes his mandatory fight, he is free, and so is David. So we will get a deal done."

While Pacquiao's ability to make 147 pounds will be a hot topic in the weeks leading up to the fight, it's worth noting that De La Hoya hasn't fought at 147 in more than seven years. After fighting mostly at super welterweight (154 pounds), De La Hoya will need to adjust his training to ensure he is able to make the weight limit.

"Losing those pounds can be very difficult," Schaefer said. "Oscar fought at 152 his last fight. For him to lose those last five pounds to get to 147 -- that's not going to be easy."

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