De La Hoya parries unexpected jabs

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

BIG BEAR LAKE, Calif. – Oscar De La Hoya could only smile and shake his head at the latest round of criticism directed his way. The shots he expects. The source, on this occasion, he didn't.

Freddie Roach is De La Hoya's former trainer. They worked together in the 2007 fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. and starred in the HBO documentary on their preparation.

De La Hoya is using a different trainer, Ignacio "Nacho" Beristain, though, for his Dec. 6 welterweight fight against Manny Pacquiao at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Roach claims he isn't upset about not getting the job. He is Pacquiao's longtime trainer and will be in his corner that night. He claims it's how the situation was handled – he first heard about it in the media – that bothered him. In an interview with last week, he unloaded on his former boss.

He called the 35-year-old De La Hoya an "old man." He predicted Pacquiao would knock him out in nine rounds. And he denigrated De La Hoya's entire 39-5 career, declaring that he's "known for losing" and that he's "lost every big fight he was in."

He went even further, claiming that Mexican and Mexican-American fans have never fully supported De La Hoya because despite being Mexican-American, he doesn't fight with a tough enough style. He claims they'll even root for Pacquiao, a Filipino.

"They like fighters, not boxers," Roach said. "Overall, when the bell rings, the Mexican fans in the audience will be on Pacquiao's side."

De La Hoya wasn't sure what to say at first when the comments were repeated Tuesday at his training camp here in this remote mountain town in Southern California.

"Hmmm," he said of his apparent popularity problems with Mexicans. "That's an interesting one. When I see comments like that, I tend to laugh at it because how did I become the top attraction in boxing, how did I become so popular all over the world if they didn't like [me]? It just doesn't make sense.

"I've always been embraced by the Mexican national, [the fans] in Mexico, because I wave the Mexican flags. They take that to heart.

"Hearing comments like that, to me it's really funny. I guess jealousy."

What about being known as a big fight loser? It's a somewhat fair criticism, especially lately when he's has lost three of his last six bouts.

"I've been in many, many big fights. I think I've won more fights than I've lost. Obviously the losses that I have are [to] Hall of Famers who are great fighters. [Bernard] Hopkins and Mayweather [among others]. I don't know."

One thing he did agree with Roach was that Pacquiao, 29, is known for his frenetic pace and would, indeed, wear De La Hoya out. That is if De La Hoya is foolish enough to fight Pacquiao's fight.

"If I fought Pacquiao at his pace, I think a lot of people really can't handle his pace. As an experienced veteran my job is to neutralize his pace.

"What I have to prove is that I can handle a fast pace, I can handle speed and [Pacquiao's] southpaw stance. Me at 35, a lot of people are wondering, 'Can he still do this?' Especially against a young gun like Pacquiao."

He did bristle at the suggestion that he's just a "boxer" and not the more manly "fighter."

"I guess [Roach is] hanging on to that [1999 Felix] Trinidad fight where I boxed the final three rounds. A lot of people remember that. I was beating Trinidad easily with no problem then I decided to box the final three rounds and then for some 'reason' I lost the fight.

"Or maybe he's just trying to piss a lot of people off. I'm a fighter. Believe me, I love to fight. When somebody fights me, I fight.

"Manny Pacquiao will be right in front of you. He will fight you. That's my kind of fight. Bring it on. Stand right in the middle of the ring and fight. That's the beauty of this fight. People know what to expect."

Mostly, De La Hoya just shrugged at the comments.

"It's shocking to me that he's talking these things. Fred is a nice guy, I respect him. Obviously it's to motivate his fighter and motivate himself."

The back and forth has added a splash of energy to what could be De La Hoya's career finale. While he's flirted with retirement numerous times, he remains the biggest draw in boxing. He may earn close to $40 million for this fight while turning a profit for his Golden Boy Promotions, which is staging the bout.

While he doesn't personally need the money, he admits that perhaps "10 percent" of his motivation is to continue to build capital for GBP.

He does it at a risk. The signs of physical deterioration, while minor, are evident. Most notably under his right eye, where a shiner from a sparring partner sits near the orbital bone he broke in a May victory over Steve Forbes.

"I love boxing, this is what I do," he said. "I realize that can be a danger. If I stay in this too long, something serious can happen. I have to be smart about making my decision [to] call it quits."

He said it was neither personal nor professional with Roach. He used trainer Floyd Mayweather Sr. for the Forbes fight in May. De La Hoya claimed Michael Jordan once told him that when you stop learning as an athlete it's time to retire.

"I'll never forget that," De La Hoya said. "If I am going to stop learning from one trainer, I'm sorry, but, 'Next.' "

Beristain is the sixth trainer in De La Hoya's career. Tuesday, the legendary Angelo Dundee, who trained Muhammad Ali among others, also arrived in Big Bear to serve as a "consultant."

Roach was out of sight, although not completely out of mind.

"I have all the love in the world for Freddie," De La Hoya said. "There's nothing I can say bad about him."

He then smiled.

"Don't get me wrong though. I'm going to destroy his pupil."

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