The Weighting Game Oscar De La Hoya won his fifth title, but vindication may be more elusive

July 01, 2001

Oscar De La Hoya is definitely not from the
never-explain-never-complain camp. The poor guy is forever
apologizing for his defeats, apologizing for his apologies and
then, when things start going better again, apologizing for his
comeback. That he's equally confused in victory and defeat is
what makes him interesting and, even in the face of so much
whining, bearable.

Plus, he usually delivers the goods, at least to a point. He
handily beat Javier Castillejo last Saturday at the MGM Grand to
win the WBC super welterweight crown and, at 28, become the
youngest fighter to have won five world titles. This victory
ought to have cheered him substantially, especially because he
has been trying to re-create himself after jarring losses in his
two biggest bouts. However, De La Hoya, who never met a
performance he couldn't explain away, said he probably would have
done a lot better in his first try at the 154-pound division if
he had calibrated his energy correctly.

"Something wasn't there," said De La Hoya, trying to explain why
he hadn't won every round. (Each of the three judges scored the
fight 119-108.) "Maybe my energy, the fact that I came in [the
ring] at 156, only two pounds over. Maybe that's not enough.
Maybe I'm not eating right. It's something we have to work on."

Then, probably preempting questions about his lack of a knockout
punch in the higher weight class, he blamed Castillejo for not
motivating him to raise his game to its formerly concussive
grade. "He's not a fast fighter," De La Hoya said of the Madrid
native, who was largely unknown because he'd fought almost all
his fights in Spain. "So that does not elevate my performance."

You almost felt bad for him, watching him try to restore his
confidence in front of you. He hadn't exactly been devastating,
but he had surely been dominating. What's more, in only his
second fight since losing a welterweight decision to Shane Mosley
in June 2000, he had to have been encouraged by the number of
combinations he landed on the bigger Castillejo, finally sending
him to the canvas with seconds left in the bout. Whereas De La
Hoya had let a victory get away in another welterweight showdown
by running for the final four rounds in a September 1999 bout
against Felix Trinidad, here he let it all out. He pounded the
9-to-1 underdog right to the end, reminding his fans that he was
once a fierce finisher.

None of that, not even his residual drawing power--despite those
defeats, he remains reliable enough as a pay-per-view attraction
to have earned $5 million for this rather unremarkable bout--can
satisfy him. He knows that the only way to restore his Golden Boy
patina is by avenging those losses and that he'd done nothing in
Saturday's one-sided decision to suggest that he could.

"I have to fight those guys again," he said last week, referring
to Trinidad and Mosley, the two boxers who ingloriously
interrupted one of the richest careers in ring history. "I don't
think I can stop boxing until I [do]."

Trinidad, who is scheduled to fight Bernard Hopkins this fall to
unify the 160-pound division, seems further than ever from De La
Hoya's reach now. De La Hoya keeps saying that he has the speed
to beat Trinidad, whom he calls robotic, but at the same time
admits that a sixth leap in weight would be risky. (Remember, De
La Hoya started professionally at 130 pounds.) "For me to fight
at 160, that's a big step, a big chance," he said. "It would be
very uncomfortable."

Maybe if he'd rattled Castillejo more than he had, a De La
Hoya-Trinidad match would be more intriguing. Castillejo admitted
that De La Hoya was much faster than he'd expected, but when you
looked at him afterward, the Spaniard didn't seem the worse for
the wear. As for Mosley, De La Hoya would most likely have to
drop back to welterweight to make the fight, and in any case
Mosley is the one fighter (even more so than Trinidad) who seems
to have De La Hoya's number.

While waiting for those increasingly unlikely fights to
materialize, De La Hoya attempts to persuade himself that if this
or that had gone a little bit better, he'd be the invincible
boxer he once was. It's no secret that excuses come naturally to
him, but they are usually so outlandish that you don't see them
as an ugly bitterness. After the Trinidad fiasco (a fight many
think he won, even after he turned overcautious), he blamed his
aides, firing longtime trainer Roberto Alcazar and replacing him
with Floyd Mayweather Sr. Following the Mosley decision, he
blamed a bad oyster. He even found time to blame his promoter,
Bob Arum, who'd marketed him pretty well.

Then, in a more mature version of De La Hoya, he even blamed
himself, saying, "After a loss you feel down, and instead of
blaming yourself, you blame everybody around you. I was blaming
the whole world for my mistakes." In addition, he displayed a
grown-up remorse, recognizing that through his own inattention or
unwillingness to extend himself, he'd let a glorious opportunity
escape him. "I know I lost a couple of years because of my
negativity, because I was not being truthful to myself," he said
on Saturday. "In those years I could have been a helluva

He admits that he misses the megafights, misses being the center
of the boxing universe. Of course, he hasn't really come to
believe he isn't. When he talks about rematches, or even a super
welterweight fight with longtime antagonist Fernando Vargas, he
assumes that he's still in the driver's seat and that "I'm
driving a very fast car." This is based, not entirely
incorrectly, on his box-office appeal, something neither Trinidad
nor Mosley can match.

Speaking of Mosley, who recently had to perform in a ballroom at
Caesars that seats only several thousand instead of in the main
arena, De La Hoya said, "He'll have to fight me on whatever date
I choose." Speaking of them all, he said, "I will call out who I
want to fight. If it's going to be Vargas or Trinidad or Mosley,
he will have to wait for me."

Notwithstanding De La Hoya's considerable star power (he remains
the only boxer to have gained a Grammy nomination), that is
unrealistic arrogance. Not even a fine performance against a
steady champion like Castillejo changes boxing's economics that
much. De La Hoya needs to get in line and stay there, because
while he can give Mosley and Trinidad a big payday, only Mosley
and Trinidad can give him satisfaction.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO De La Hoya (left) has never given a performance he couldn't explain away.

He admits that he misses the megafights, misses being at the
center of the boxing universe.

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)