By CompuBox (photo by Chris Farina/Top Rank)
All of this began within the fertile imagination of HBO analyst Larry Merchant. After a lengthy and arduous negotiation period, the “The Dream Match” will become a reality December 6 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas as Oscar de la Hoya will fight Manny Pacquiao – his second pound-for-pound king in his last three bouts – in a scheduled 12 round welterweight bout.
When the bout was first brought up, most boxing analysts dismissed it as farce because of the vast differences in size. De La Hoya (39-5, 30 KO) owns a four-inch height and six-inch reach advantage over Pacquiao (47-3-2, 35 KO) but two factors have elevated this bout in terms of esteem. First, the 29-year-old Pacquiao is more than five years younger than the 35-year-old De La Hoya, whose “Golden Boy” moniker is no longer chronologically accurate. And second, Pacquiao’s electrifying performance in dethroning WBC lightweight champion David Diaz – his first outing at 135 – created a convincing enough imprint to make the match a saleable commodity. Thus, De La Hoya is a slightly less than a 2-to-1 favorite to win.
How scintillating was Pacquiao against Diaz on June 28 in Las Vegas? Consider:
* Pacquiao out-landed Diaz in every round by an average margin of 15.6 connects (25.6 to 10.0) while throwing 36.2 more punches per round.
* Pacquiao’s 87.6 punches per round was 27 percent above the lightweight average of 64.1 while Diaz’s 10 connects per round was nearly half of the divisional norm of 19.5. Seldom does a fighter combine high-octane offense with smothering defense, but Pacquiao managed to do so with extraordinary skill and aplomb.
* Pacquiao threw 80 or more punches in six of the 12 rounds and topped 100 in rounds two, four and eight, peaking at 114 in the second. Diaz topped off at 67 in round three.
* Pacquiao topped 40 percent in power connects in five rounds while Diaz’s best was 28 percent in round two.
* Pacquiao out-connected Diaz 230-90 overall, 50-31 in jabs and 180-59 in power shots. In the final two rounds alone Pacquiao pounded out advantages of 61-12 overall, 16-2 in jabs and 45-10 in power punches.
When compared to the 13 other Pacquiao fights tracked by CompuBox, “The Pac Man” threw 24 percent more punches per round and landed at a 22 percent higher rate overall. He attempted 29 percent more power punches and connected on 23 percent more while exceeding his previous jabbing performances by 22 percent in terms of attempts and connects. In short, Pacquiao was better than ever at his career highest weight. That, in turn, gave weight to the proposition that a fight against De La Hoya wasn’t so far-fetched.
So how can De La Hoya counteract Pacquiao’s youth and physical gifts. He need not look any farther than March 19, 2005, the date of “The Pac Man’s” first fight with Erik Morales. In perhaps the last great performance of “El Terrible’s” career, the future Hall of Famer used his jab to overcome Pacquiao’s tornado-like work rate. Despite throwing 180 fewer punches (714-894) Morales connected on 48 more blows (265-217) because of his 96-34 bulge in connected jabs. His 32 percent efficiency badly trumped Pacquiao’s measly 10 percent (34 of 349) and enabled him to counteract the Filipino’s slightly superior raw power numbers (183 of 545, 34 percent to Morales’ 169 of 411, 41 percent). Morales landed double-digits in jabs four times while in those rounds Pacquiao registered 0, 1,1 and 6 connects.
Morales made his biggest statistical strides in rounds four through eight, where he out-landed Pacquiao in every round and piled up a 110-82 overall connect edge that included 44-9 bulge in jabs. To punctuate his confidence, he chose not only to rumble with Pacquiao in the final round he also spent a portion of it as a southpaw. While Pacquiao produced his best numbers of the fight (31 total connects, 99 punches thrown, 25 power connects and 62 power attempts), Morales walked away with the victory.
While De La Hoya is known for his devastating hook – a formidable weapon against a southpaw – his whole offense is dictated by his jab. If he stays busy with it as Morales did (25 per round), he will be able to execute two vital strategies – establish and maintain proper punching distance and impose a somewhat slower pace on his high-energy opponent.
De La Hoya’s most recent fight against a reigning pound-for-pound champion was May 5, 2007 against Floyd Mayweather Jr., a defense-oriented sharp-shooter who relied on superlative knowledge and supernatural reflexes to counteract naturally bigger fighters. In the end, Mayweather pulled away in the final rounds to capture a split decision, and he did so by out-landing De La Hoya in 10 of 12 rounds and finished the fight with nine straight rounds in which he reached or exceeded 50 percent accuracy on power punches.
De La Hoya held his own mathematically in the first seven rounds as he trailed 116-85 in total connects, 44-33 in landed jabs and 72-52 in power connects, all the while throwing 47 more punches (326-279), seven more jabs (150-143) and 40 more power shots (176-136). In round seven De La Hoya had his most successful round in terms of total connects (18), accuracy (31 percent overall) and jab connects (11).
After the seventh round it appeared that De La Hoya was ready to produce a historic stretch run that could topple “The Pretty Boy” from his treasured pound-for-pound throne as well as from the undefeated ranks. Instead, Mayweather was the man who produced the goods, both statistically and strategically. In rounds nine through 12 Mayweather piled up advantages of 108-55 in total connects, 36-18 in jabs and 72-37 in power punches. He landed 58.1 percent of his power punches to De La Hoya’s 22.6 percent and his 33 percent jab connect rate was nearly triple De La Hoya’s. In the final three rounds alone Mayweather clocked the fading “Golden Boy” with 71 connects to 27 and 47-23 in power shots.
One oft-repeated myth was that De La Hoya abandoned the jab in the final five rounds. The truth is that while De La Hoya was even more committed to throwing the jab, he achieved far less with it. In the first seven rounds De La Hoya threw 21.4 jabs per rounds and connected at a 22 percent rate but in rounds eight through 12 he unleashed 29.8 jabs per round but landed just 12.1 percent of them. De La Hoya also didn’t let off the gas offensively as he threw 64 punches per round in the last five as compared to 46.6 in the first seven rounds. The statistical bulge was the result of Mayweather’s increased accuracy. The gap in marksmanship in the first seven rounds was 14.5 percent (41.6 percent for Mayweather, 26.1 for De La Hoya) but in rounds eight through 12 it grew to 29.2 percent (46.4 to 17.2).
The final statistics were as lopsided as the decision was close. Mayweather was 207 of 481 (43 percent) to 122 of 587 (21 percent) overall. He boasted similar gaps in jabs (69 of 240, 29 percent to 40 of 246, 16 percent) and especially power punches (138 of 241, 57 percent to 82 of 341, 24 percent).
De La Hoya’s next – and most recent – ring appearance against Steve Forbes this past May 3 showed that De La Hoya learned the hard lessons of the Mayweather fight. While De La Hoya had a rematch with Floyd Mayweather Jr. on his mind at the time of the bout, the events that unfolded in Carson, Calif., provided a peek into what he wants to accomplish against Pacquiao.
First, he sought to prove he could dominate a fighter who shared at least the stature and stylistic template of Mayweather as Forbes had worked with all three brothers (Floyd Sr., Roger and Jeff) in his career. That he did in several ways. First, he scored 20 or more total connects and 10-plus jab connects in eight of the 12 rounds while Forbes enjoyed only one 20-plus connect round (the fourth) and no 10 jab connect rounds (he had eight in rounds four, six and seven). De La Hoya also achieved extraordinary offensive balance as he was 127 of 406 in jabs and 126 of 404 in power shots for a 31 percent connect rate.
De La Hoya also wanted to show the public that he could set a fast pace and keep it up throughout all 12 rounds, a major criticism in the aftermath of the Mayweather fight. De La Hoya increased his work rate by nearly 20 punches per round to 67.5 (more than nine above the welterweight average of 58.3), and not only did he maintain his energy level he actually increased it in the final four rounds.
In rounds one through eight De La Hoya was 167 of 525 (31.8 percent, 65.6 punches per round) to Forbes’ 114 of 520 (21.9 percent, 65 punches per round), out-landing Forbes 87-51 in jabs and 80-63 in power shots. De La Hoya fired 34 jabs per round, a stated goal before the match. In rounds nine through 12, however, De La Hoya threw 71.25 punches per round to Forbes’ 64, out-landing him 86-38 overall, 40-18 in jabs and 46-20 in power shots. “The Golden Boy” also managed his two highest punch outputs in rounds 10 (80) and 12 (77) while throwing 33.5 jabs per round. Therefore, De La Hoya stepped on the gas both offensively and defensively against an opponent who was trying hard every minute of every round. In that respect, Forbes provided an excellent test and De La Hoya passed it with flying colors.
Prediction: Both fighters will be in peak physical and mental shape because each feels the need to prove something. It is notable that Pacquiao is the first left-hander De La Hoya has faced since fighting Hector Camacho Sr. in September 1997 – 11 years and 19 fights earlier. While both Camacho and Pernell Whitaker were defensive-minded slicksters, Pacquiao is a predatory cyclone who uses his speed to hit instead of keeping from being hit. Thus, De La Hoya should have plenty of punching opportunities but the big question is whether this 35-year-old veteran still has a quick enough trigger to take advantage of them.
To win, Pacquiao must negotiate a perilous tightrope – get close enough to De La Hoya to get in two or three quick blows then dart out before De La Hoya can launch a counterattack. He must fight this way to exploit his speed advantage and neutralize De La Hoya’s significant size and power edges. Conversely, De La Hoya must continuously snap jabs to keep Pacquiao at arm’s length and his legs must be strong enough to carry him through 12 demanding rounds. Both men must be on point physically and mentally to carry out their respective blueprints.
During the first episode of “De La Hoya-Pacquiao 24/7,” Freddie Roach declared he knew why De La Hoya lost steam down the stretch against Mayweather, a fight in which Roach served as De La Hoya’s chief second. While he wouldn’t spell out what it was, for obvious reasons, here’s a guess: Perhaps he believes De La Hoya has a crisis of confidence when it comes to fighting hard for all 12 rounds. Although he works extremely hard in training, De La Hoya has repeatedly faded in the late rounds of fights, most notably the Felix Trinidad fight in which he blew a commanding points lead by backing away and refusing to engage. This has been a persistent problem for “The Golden Boy” and he has yet to totally resolve the issue. Why else would De La Hoya run through trainer after trainer – some of whom are members of the Hall of Fame? Roach may feel that De La Hoya will crack under pressure if he is pushed hard from round nine onward and in Pacquiao he may have the fighter to exploit it.
In order to make this plan work, Pacquiao must prove early he can withstand De La Hoya’s best punch and not be afraid to impose his high-octane attack. Should he be able to do so, this battle will turn not on big versus small but young versus old.
This will be an exciting yet cerebral fight where different strategies will be put into play. It is uncertain, however, whether the two combatants have successfully transformed their bodies to fit the terms of battle and that, more than anything else, will determine the course of this fight. There is a reason why boxing – and those who choose to participate – are governed by weight classes and in the end De La Hoya-Pacquiao will demonstrate why. A good big man, more often than not, will beat a good little man and while Pacquiao will put forth a stirring challenge, De La Hoya will emerge with a close but unanimous decision.