If Oscar De La Hoya wanted a "tune-up" before fighting an expected rematch with Floyd Mayweather Jr. in September, he couldn't have picked a more perfect opponent. Steve Forbes is Floyd Jr. Lite, and this fight has all the trappings of a dress rehearsal.
Make no mistake about it, when De La Hoya steps into the ring on May 3 at the Home Depot Center in California, he will be trading leather with a boxer who is a pure-bred product of the Mayweather System. The 31-year-old Forbes, a former junior lightweight champion, has all the slick Mayweather offensive moves, and his defense is right out of the Mayweather playbook, including the Floyd Jr. classic shoulder roll.
"Since the beginning of my career, I was taken in by the Mayweathers and they taught me everything I know," said Forbes, who over the years has sparred hundreds of rounds with Floyd Jr.
Barring an upset loss to Forbes, De La Hoya seems to be making all the right moves with this fight. Besides giving De La Hoya a dress rehearsal for Floyd Jr., it will eliminate one of the problems Oscar faced in last May's bout.
Before fighting Mayweather, De La Hoya had not fought since beating Ricardo Mayorga in May of 2006. A one-year layoff between fights is rarely beneficial, and certainly not when you are fighting the best pound-for-pound boxer on the planet. De La Hoya fought very well in the early rounds against Mayweather, but seemed to tire down the stretch en route to a split decision loss.
By taking this fight with Forbes, there will now only be four months between fights for De La Hoya. Since De La Hoya would probably go back into training for Mayweather sometime in July, he would only been idle for two months, a big plus not only for conditioning but for weight loss.
De La Hoya has fought as high as middleweight, and has been boxing at 154 pounds since 2001. Like the majority of fighters, he walks around between fights at a higher weight. The longer the layoff, the more a fighter tends to put on weight. So this relatively rapid turnaround should benefit De La Hoya.
As for Forbes, make no mistake about it; he has the Mayweather Stamp of Approval imprinted on his forehead.
By his own count, Forbes has been trained for 10 of his 33 fights by Roger Mayweather and nine by Floyd Sr. Forbes also was trained by the third Mayweather brother, Jeff, for his last two fights before he went into "The Contender" series in 2006. Jeff's work with Forbes seemed to pay off against the bigger junior middleweights on the show. He won three fights and made it to the final before being upset by Grady Brewer.
De La Hoya's fight with Forbes will also serve as a "sneak preview" of the gossipy back story for the September rematch. Originally, it was expected that De La Hoya's regular trainer, Floyd Sr., would be in his corner for the fight last year against his son Floyd Jr. But De La Hoya and Floyd Sr. had a money dispute and Oscar brought in Freddie Roach to train him instead.
Had Floyd Sr. worked the first fight, it would have set up a compelling and unprecedented situation in boxing which pitted father against son, and brother against brother (Floyd Jr. is trained by Roger). Floyd Sr. is back now with De La Hoya, and so we have a father preparing his fighter to beat his son in September, and also facing his brother Jeff in the other corner.
Originally, Roger was training Forbes for this fight, but in yet another bizarre episode of the boxing "Royal Dysfunctional Family," Floyd Jr. heavily objected to Roger working the corner and threatened to fire him. Knowing which side his bread is buttered on, Roger backed out, and Jeff was brought in during the third week in March.
"I asked Roger not to train Forbes," Mayweather said last month during a conference call to promote his foray into professional wrestling. "I'm upset with my Uncle Roger. If Steve Forbes beats Oscar, it's taking money out of my pocket. If he continues to train Forbes, I have to get another trainer."
Some criticized Floyd Jr. for depriving Forbes of Roger's services, but it was really a logical move to protect his and De La Hoya's money interests. If Roger had helped Forbes beat De La Hoya, it would have taken most of the luster off the rematch in September.
Floyd Sr., meanwhile, spiked the corner vs. corner theme at a press conference for this fight when he said, "It's strange to be against one of my former pupils, and I was with him (Forbes) for a long time. I was with him when he won the world title (2000). But now I have a job to do and that is to help Oscar win another big fight so he can have the opportunity to rematch my son in September."
As a minor footnote to this back story, in only his fifth fight as a professional, De La Hoya fought and knocked out Jeff Mayweather, who was far more experienced at the time with a 23-2-2 record.
While it is not outside the realm of possibility that Forbes might out box De La Hoya and win a decision, it is almost certain that he will not knock Oscar out. In Forbes' 33 victories, only nine have come by way of a knockout. He may box like Mayweather, but he doesn't have his power. Although one can never rule out injury in a fight, it is a fairly safe bet that the light-hitting Forbes will not inflict any physical damage on De La Hoya which would put his rematch in jeopardy.
Much has been made of the size difference between the two fighters, with Forbes being perceived as a blown-up lightweight. But Forbes has fought 10 of his last 11 bouts weighing between 140-149 pounds, winning eight of them.
Forbes, it should be noted, is a proud fighter and does not see himself as a tune-up. He also took away some measure of confidence when Mayweather forced Roger to stop training him.
"It gives me a little bit of a boost because you could see in Floyd's interview he's a little worried," Forbes said at the time. "If he didn't think I had a chance of winning the fight, he wouldn't even care (about Roger). I was pretty confident anyway, but it gave me a big boost to hear that."
Does Forbes really have a chance to win? Perhaps not. But in De La Hoya's 43-fight career he has been beaten by only four men, and two of them were slick boxers with exceptional hand speed: Mayweather and Mosley (twice). Forbes' best assets are his hand speed and slick style.
The bottom line, though, is that De La Hoya, who has consistently been one of the craftiest fighters in the game, has put himself to be in a much better position to beat Mayweather in September by taking this fight with Forbes, the perfect "tune-up" opponent.