The first part of that blueprint will unfold May 3 at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., where the 35-year-old De La Hoya (38-5, 30 KO) fights former WBA super featherweight champion and "Contender" finalist Steve Forbes (33-5, 9 KO) in a 12 round bout. De La Hoya is a prohibitive 20-1 favorite to move on to the next phase, a rematch with pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr. in September.
The intriguing question surrounding this bout - as has been the case for every De La Hoya fight since he lost to Shane Mosley in their 2003 rematch - is what will Oscar bring into the ring? Against Felix Sturm and Bernard Hopkins, it took the form of "can he fight effectively as a middleweight?" The answer, largely, was "no" as he won a hotly disputed unanimous decision against Sturm and was stopped by Hopkins in nine rounds by a single body shot. Then, against Ricardo Mayorga in May 2006 and Mayweather one year later, the query morphed into "how much of a factor will ring rust and advancing age be for him?"
Against "El Matador" and "The Pretty Boy," the public got two completely different answers, and that had much to do with Mayorga and Mayweather's widely divergent styles. Mayorga spent months spewing insults against De La Hoya and his family, and a pumped-up "Golden Boy" took out his golden anger in breathtaking fashion against the wild-swinging Nicaraguan en route to a resounding sixth round stoppage. De La Hoya dispensed with the jab in the first round (throwing 10 and landing just one) and instead used his superior hand speed to swing for the fences. The move paid huge dividends as De La Hoya decked Mayorga with a trademark hook on his way to a 14 of 31 power punching display (45 percent).
From that point forward, De La Hoya put on an offensive clinic by out-landing Mayorga overall in every round, including a definitive 42-10 bulge in the final two rounds. In rounds two through six, De La Hoya out-jabbed Mayorga 47-4, including 14-3 in the second, 13-1 in the third and 10-0 in the fifth. While Mayorga fared better in terms of power punching - even out-landing De La Hoya 27-16 in rounds three and four - "The Golden Boy" had the final say in the fifth and sixth with a 29-10 advantage.
In the end, while Mayorga did plenty of talking with his mouth, the soft-spoken De La Hoya let his fists do his talking for him.
De La Hoya averaged 44 punches per round - 15 below the junior middleweight average of 59 - but he made every punch count. A byproduct of De La Hoya's offensive success was that he limited Mayorga's. While the Nicaraguan threw 69 more punches (333-264), his connect total was half that of De La Hoya's (58 to 116). Plus, Mayorga landed fewer of his power punches (52 to 68) while throwing 41 more (197 to 156). To paraphrase former vice president Al Gore, "what was supposed to be up was down and what was supposed to be down was up."
Three hundred sixty four days later, De La Hoya encountered Mayorga's polar opposite in terms of fighting style - a cerebral, careful, defensive-oriented marksman who used speed and savvy to frustrate opponents while limiting the damage they inflict on him. De La Hoya's plan was to use his superior size and reach to exert consistent pressure, and in one respect he did just that as he out-threw Mayweather in eight of the 12 rounds. But in every other way, Mayweather was the personification of the phrase "doing more with less." De La Hoya outworked Mayweather as he averaged 49 punches per round to 40, but Mayweather inflicted far more numerical damage - especially in power punches.
In that category, Mayweather outperformed De La Hoya in 11 of 12 rounds, including one stretch from rounds five through 11 when Mayweather's totals registered in double digits while keeping "The Golden Boy" in single numbers (101 of 166 for Mayweather to 49 of 187 for De La Hoya). Furthermore, De La Hoya's best connect percentage was 33 percent (in rounds four and seven) while Mayweather's WORST connect percentage from rounds two through 12 was 52 percent (round four). And yet, De La Hoya became the first Mayweather opponent to win the nod on a judge's card - Tom Kaczmarek's score of 115-113.
The most talked-about aspect of the fight was the ineffectiveness of De La Hoya's jab down the stretch, and this was particularly glaring in the final three rounds. In rounds seven through nine, De La Hoya landed 25 of his 110 jabs (22 percent), but in rounds 10 through 12 it plummeted to 4 of 77 (5 percent). His lack of success with the jab spilled over to his power punch totals as he landed just 23 of 114 to Mayweather's 47 of 81, a stretch of ineffectiveness that probably cost De La Hoya the fight.
In terms of matchmaking, De La Hoya has stacked the deck in his own favor in terms of natural size. The 5-7 Forbes is three-and-a-half inches smaller and his 68-inch wingspan is five inches shorter. Aside from his matches on "The Contender," Forbes has campaigned in the 140 pound division since October 2004. As recently as August 2004, the man nicknamed "Two Pound" for his weight at birth was the WBA 130-pound champion and it was then that a weight-drained Forbes lost the belt to Yodsanan Sor Nanthachai.
But Forbes has edges in age (at 31 he's four years younger) and recent ring activity (10 fights to two since September 2004).
His two most recent fights were a highly controversial 12 round loss to Demetrius Hopkins in March 2007 and a split decision victory over Francisco Bojado seven months later.
The Hopkins fight raised an uproar because the scores of 118-110 (twice) and 117-111 for the Philadelphian reflected a dominance that didn't exist inside the ropes. Forbes won the fight in nearly every statistical way.
- Forbes out-threw Hopkins 782-770 and out-landed him 198-168.
- Forbes out-connected Hopkins in seven of the 12 rounds, including rounds five through nine by a 81-50 margin.
- In terms of power punches, Forbes out-performed Hopkins in nine of 12 rounds, landing 42 more (174-132) and throwing 47 more (559-512). In rounds six through nine, Forbes out-connected Hopkins 76-33.
The only category that Hopkins won was jabs, which he should have done considering his edges in height (three-and-a-half inches) and reach (six inches). But in the end, his advantage wasn't definitive as Hopkins was 36 of 258 (14 percent) while Forbes landed 24 of his 223 for 11 percent.
Does this sound like a match in which one fighter should have beaten the other by margins of 10 rounds to two and nine rounds to three? Maybe for Forbes, but not for Hopkins.
Unlike the Hopkins-Forbes fight, Forbes-Bojado was a nip-and-tuck affair both in the ring and on the stat sheets. Forbes netted a six rounds to four edge in total connects and 6-2-2 in jabs, but Bojado netted a 5-3-2 advantage in power punches. Forbes out-connected Bojado overall 194-187 while throwing 185 more punches (686-501) while also out-jabbing him 76-63 (throwing 119 more). Bojado landed six more power punches (124-118) despite throwing 66 fewer (292 to 358).
In both fights Forbes kept his hands very busy as he averaged 67 punches per round, a little less than six above the junior welterweight average of 61. His opponents averaged a combined 58 punches per round, throwing four fewer jabs (25 to 21) and five fewer power shots (42 to 37). The opponents landed at a slightly higher rate (28 percent to Forbes' 26 overall, 18 percent to 21 percent in jabs and 32 percent each in power punches).
Prediction: While Forbes remains a world-class fighter, he is a junior welterweight fighting a junior middleweight. It is true that he succeeded under similar circumstances during his run on "The Contender," but none of the fighters he faced were anywhere near the caliber of De La Hoya - even the 34-year-old version that faced Mayweather last year.
Forbes may not be able to match De La Hoya skill for skill, but his hustle gives him a chance to pull the upset if ring rust has tarnished "The Golden Boy." Inactive aging fighters have a way of growing old with shocking suddenness, and Forbes has the busy style to take advantage of it. Don't look for it, however, because in boxing size matters and speed kills - and De La Hoya has edges in both categories. After scoring an eighth-round TKO with one of his patented speed flurries, De La Hoya will move on to Mayweather. And if form holds, De La Hoya's blueprint may be crumpled into a ball and thrown in the trash can one fight early.