Oscar De La Hoya knew what he was getting into Saturday night at a converted soccer stadium 15 miles south of the East L.A. neighborhood where he grew up. He was into a homecoming party and a training exercise and he won them both.
De La Hoya easily outpointed former junior lightweight champion Steve Forbes, using the same style he claims he will need to win a scheduled Sept. 20 rematch with Floyd Mayweather, Jr, and he easily won the acclaim of the partisan crowd of 27,000 that packed the Home Depot Center. He did both by using a stinging left jab that dominated Forbes all night long and left him wearing dark glasses at a post-fight press conference that was held well after the sun had set.
The glasses were there not because of a sudden sun rise but because of the pounding Forbes had taken from that jab, which cut the side of Forbes' right eye midway through the fight and lumped up his face around both eyes.
"It was really sharp,'' Forbes said of that jab. "He was really using his left hand quite a bit. It was difficult. He was doubling and tripling it. That kind of jab can knock people out. It was like a piston.'' That jab was so dominating that judge Marcos Rosales scored the fight a shutout, awarding all 12 rounds to De La Hoya. That seemed a bit generous but judges Max DeLuca and Marty Sammon saw it pretty much the same way, scoring it 119-109 for De La Hoya.
De La Hoya established from the outset that his jab would spend much of the night embedded in the face of Forbes, who was never quite able to time it or find a way to slip it because of the speed and accuracy with which it was thrown. Although the frequency with which De La Hoya used it slowed in the second half of the bout, that was not as noticeable as the way he - and more importantly it - had faded against Mayweather a year ago. According to CompuBox statistics, De La Hoya hammered Forbes with 127 of the 407 jabs he threw, connecting 31 per cent of the time with a punch that is essential against an opponent as quick as Mayweather.
"Obviously the key was the jab,'' De La Hoya (39-5) said. "I felt really good. People expected me to fade in the fifth or sixth round but all the rust went away around the 11th round. I'll tell you one thing. I can't wait for September.
"I wanted to prove one thing - that I could stay on my toes and pop my jab. I could have done it a lot more but I hurt my hand in the fifth or sixth round on the top of his head. After that I was biting down and throwing my hard jab.''
Whatever jab he was throwing, double and tripled or the harder, slamming variety, it repeatedly stopped Forbes from doing what he needed to do. He couldn't get inside and he couldn't survive on the outside. He was a man trapped between two bad options.
"He has a lot of power,'' Forbes (33-6, 9 KO) conceded. "He hurt me twice. He's a smart fighter. It was an honor to fight Oscar. It was great to be in there and not go down. I hope I proved I'm a top-level fighter.''
Certainly his chin is. Forbes has never been knocked off his feet and De La Hoya, despite his dominance, could not find a way to do it either, try though he might. Early in the fight De La Hoya was doubling and tripling that jab and landing to the body with a hard hook. Even though that part of his attack slowed in the second half of the fight, De La Hoya countered with a power jab in the final four or five rounds that stopped Forbes in his tracks despite the pain involved in throwing it.
"If you saw my left hand now you'd see it was swollen,'' De La Hoya said. "I had to bite down and keep throwing it because Stevie Forbes was going to come on.
"This is how I plan to fight Mayweather. Straight up. On the balls of my feet. Using my jab. This is the way I wanted this fight to go. This is the same style I'm going to use to beat Mayweather because I know I can. "Now that I've been in there with Floyd this is personal. I'm going to beat him. You watch. It's about having the perfect game plan. Have to take your time, be on your topes, pop, pop, pop. We'll get it down. This is very personal. You watch. I'm going to beat the best.''
He beat something less than the best in Forbes but he used all the tools he will need to master Mayweather in doing so. That was the whole idea of this dry run and the way he did it was a blue print he now can refine over the next five months. Of course, Mayweather can study that blueprint as well but his plan was obvious.
"He definitely boxed a lot more,'' Forbes said. "He was able to keep jabbing all night long. That helped him.''
The first three rounds were controlled primarily by De La Hoya's stinging jab and right hands to the body behind it. Forbes had his moments, especially when he landed a solid left uppercut just before the end of the second round but for the most part De La Hoya controlled the action much to the delight of the crowd.
Forbes did score often enough inside to cause some puffiness underneath De La Hoya's left eye and in close he was somewhat effective at times but De La Hoya seldom let him get there without paying a price, although he paid a larger one when he stayed on the outside and allowed him to slam that jab and short left hooks behind it into his face.
Forbes came on a bit in Round 4, scoring more and even showboating at one point when he went into a duck walk as he came forward. While the crowd laughed. De La Hoya, who now had some puffiness around both eyes, did not. Instead, he jabbed him a few more times in the bridge of the nose, thus ending the duck walking for the evening.
By the fight's midpoint, De La Hoya's attack had begun to slow down, as it often has in the past but this time he seemed to sense it and opened up more in the sixth round, landing one flurry that hurt Forbes for the first time and another that sliced open a small cut along the side of the former junior lightweight champion's left eye.
Blood began to trickle down the side of Forbes' cheek and just as the round ended he was nailed again with a quick flurry that had the crowd roaring and Forbes for the first time looking concerned at the pace of the attack he was under.
De La Hoya continued to carry the action, though at a reduced rate, the rest of the night. Although De La Hoya was winning handily his jab was no longer the multi-headed weapon it had been earlier. Instead he went to more of a power jab from the ninth round on in at the urging of his trainer, Mayweather's father and namesake, Floyd Mayweather, Sr. Twice he stung Forbes with it solidly enough that he flinched and quickly looked to retreat.
De La Hoya's strength and the respect Forbes clearly had for his punching power kept him constantly moving away but he began to take a battering late in the 10th round as De La Hoya came forward looking for the knockout.
Just when things looked worrisome however, Forbes showed why he has never hit the floor. Though in some trouble from a string of hard left hands to the head and body, Forbes suddenly fired back a quick flurry of his own as De La Hoya tried to take a breath. Although that didn't hurt De La Hoya, it slowed his attack just enough to give Forbes time to regroup.
"I thought Oscar would have more power than he had,'' Mayweather, Sr. said. "Now we know we have to work on that more but I thought it went well. He didn't do as much as I wanted but he did a good job.
"This basically was preparing for my son. Floyd is a better fighter than Stevie but he doesn't throw as many punches as Steve so if Oscar feints well, uses his jab a lot and counter punches he'll have a great fight.''
Whether that will be the case when De La Hoya tries to use it against Floyd Mayweather, Jr. is a story for another day but as rehersals go it was one that had boxing's Golden Boy feeling he was where he needed to be, at least for now.
"Now I feel sharper,'' De La Hoya said. "I'll take a week off and keep icing my (left) hand. It won't affect me whatsoever. I know it's not broken. I can work on my right hand and my conditioning. I'll be ready for Mayweather.''
Posted 12:00 AM | May 3, 2008
HBO WCB - May 3, 2008