Thursday October 2nd, 2008

NEW YORK -- There was a moment Wednesday afternoon, when Manny Pacquiao and Oscar De La Hoya stepped off the boat that carried the two fighters to Liberty Island, when you couldn't figure out which man was supposed to be the physically superior fighter. Sure, De La Hoya has a height advantage (the Golden Boy is listed at 5-foot-10½ while Pacquiao's 5-foot-6½ ). But as the two men walked side by side down the pier toward a throng of fans who had gathered to greet them, it was difficult to determine which fighter had the size advantage.

"Pacquiao looks big," remarked a fan, pausing briefly before returning to furiously clicking his camera phone. "Which one of them is supposed to be bigger?"

Size -- if it truly matters -- has been one of the central (and perhaps most talked about) storylines of De La Hoya and Pacquiao's scheduled welterweight matchup Dec. 6, where the pre-fight buildup will feature more weight-related conversations than an episode of The Biggest Loser. While at the moment both De La Hoya and Pacquiao are weighing between 152-153 pounds, Pacquiao is a lightweight champion who has fought primarily as a 130-pound super featherweight for the last three years. De La Hoya, once the universally recognized welterweight champion, moved to the super welterweight (154 pounds) division seven years ago and hasn't looked back. He even stepped all the way up to middleweight to fight Bernard Hopkins in 2004.

Publicly, neither fighter has expressed much concern about changing weight classes. De La Hoya has even promised that if he can't make the 147-pound limit, he will pay Pacquiao $3 million for every pound he is over.

"But that's not going to happen," said De La Hoya. "I'm a welterweight. That's the weight class I feel most comfortable in. I'm not going to have any problem making 147."

De La Hoya even suggested that the additional weight could wind up benefitting Pacquiao.

"Look at Paul Williams," said De La Hoya, referring to the reigning WBO welterweight champ who jumped two weight classes to middleweight and knocked out Andy Kolle last week. "Now, he didn't fight anybody but he looked strong. I was impressed."

The reality of the great weight debate is that there are benefits and downsides for both fighters. Based on conversations with boxing insiders, here's a glance at what they could be:

DE LA HOYA'S DROP ... is far more significant than he is letting on. While Oscar claims to be a natural welterweight, there is a reason he insisted that Floyd Mayweather move up to super welterweight for their fight last year. Still, De La Hoya claims he is coming into training camp much lighter than he did against Mayweather and fighting Steve Forbes at a catch weight of 150 pounds last May will likely make cutting that three pounds much easier.

The issue may come with stamina. Make no mistake: De La Hoya will be coming into this fight looking for a knockout. Against Mayweather, De La Hoya won many of the early rounds before fading down the stretch. Being a year older and depleting his body to make a recently unfamiliar weight will probably cost De La Hoya some energy. His punches will be slower and wider and his defense will be vulnerable. He will still have his trademark power.

Pacquiao's trainer, and former De La Hoya corner man, Freddie Roach's statements that he doesn't believe De La Hoya can still "pull the trigger" are a little absurd and, to some in De La Hoya's camp, insulting.

"I can't believe Freddie would say that," said De La Hoya's trainer, Nacho Beristain. "I thought he was smarter than that and more professional." But, though Team De La Hoya would never admit it, the Golden Boy may only have six or seven quality rounds in him before he starts to slow down.

PACQUIAO PIGGING OUT ... may help his power, but power isn't going to win a fight with De La Hoya. De La Hoya has been KO'd only once in his career, and that came as a result of a perfectly placed body shot by Hopkins. Paquiao's best chance is to win this fight by decision.

What the extra padding probably will affect is his speed. Pacquiao is a whirling dervish in the ring -- his punching power as a lightweight is solid, but every fighter who gets in the ring with him is impressed by Pac-Man's extraordinary speed.

"It was his speed," said David Diaz, who surrendered his WBC lightweight title to Pacquiao in June when he was floored in the ninth round. "It was all his speed. I could see the punches perfectly, but he was just too fast."

Will he lose some of that speed with an extra 10-15 pounds on his body? Probably. Pacquaio can talk all he wants about how comfortable he is with the extra weight, but even a fraction of a second can make a difference with a skilled and powerful fighter like De La Hoya, who will be looking for any opening to throw his left hook. Moreover, Pacquiao has always been a fighter who leads with his chin, a man who likes to go toe-to-toe with his opponents.

"If he does that with Oscar," warns Beristain. "He's going down in the first round."

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