Pacquiao or De La Hoya: Who will be adversely affected by move to 147?
By George Kimball
Special to ESPN.com
Updated: August 5, 2008
The last time Oscar De La Hoya, left, made the 147-pound limit was in 2001 for a fight with Arturo Gatti.
A matchup that had its roots in a preternatural pipe dream enunciated by HBO's Larry Merchant in a throwaway line several months ago has taken on a life of its own and looms as the last big fight of 2008.
To Oscar De La Hoya, it represents the perfect exit strategy, a chance to cement his legacy as he rides off into the sunset.
For Manny Pacquiao, it is an opportunity to consolidate his claim as the sport's top pound-for-pound practitioner.
For boxing fans, it is the chance to see one of those computerized fantasy fights actually played out in the ring.
Given the disparate sizes of the prospective competitors -- Pacquiao broke into the pro game as a 106-pound strawweight, and De La Hoya is a former middleweight champion -- the Golden Boy's Dec. 6 swan song so tests the boundaries of the age-old "good big man vs. good little man" argument that it is apt to draw as many comparisons to sideshow acts like when Jesse Owens competed against a racehorse as to historic fights of the past.
Most everyone credits Merchant with the original idea, but whether Oscar decided to fight Manny or Manny decided to fight Oscar depends on whom you ask.
"Manny wanted this fight, or I wouldn't have asked for it," said Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach.
When pressed for a chronology, though, Roach conceded that he took the proposal to Pacquiao only after Golden Boy matchmaker Eric Gomez had relayed De La Hoya's interest, shortly after Antonio Margarito had eliminated Miguel Cotto's candidacy for the December date. Once Pacquiao eagerly assented, Roach asked Top Rank promoter Bob Arum to make it happen.
De La Hoya-Pacquiao isn't a done deal -- yet -- but it could be one within days. The fight remains in negotiation as Arum and Golden Boy's Richard Schaefer continue to hammer out the ground rules, but the essential point has been agreed on: The Dec. 6 fight will be contested at the 147-pound welterweight limit.
[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Eric Jamison
Pacquiao has never been one to fear packing on the pounds, but he'll have to put the weight on correctly if he's to be effective against Oscar De La Hoya.
The question then becomes: Who has the advantage? Or, more appropriately, which boxer is more likely to be adversely affected by the move to 147?
Pacquiao weighed 106 for his pro debut and campaigned for several years as a flyweight and bantamweight. Although he had been fighting at 130 since 2005, his June WBC title fight against David Diaz was his first as a full-blown lightweight, and 147 will represent wholly uncharted waters for him.
De La Hoya won his 1992 Olympic gold medal at 132 pounds, and was only a pound heavier when he made his pro debut against Lamar Williams in November of that year. His lightest competitive weight was the 128Â½ he tipped the scales at for his first fight for a title (against Jimmy Bredahl in 1994), the heaviest 160 (for his middleweight title fight against Felix Sturm a decade later).
The 150 he weighed in beating Steve Forbes in May was the lightest De La Hoya has been since he came in at 147 against Arturo Gatti seven-and-a-half years ago -- the last time Oscar actually had to make the welterweight limit.
Moreover, he was 2-2 in his last four welterweight fights, losing to Felix Trinidad and Shane Mosley but beating Gatti and unheralded Derrell Coley.
Although Pacquiao would be coming up a dozen pounds from his previous high weight and De La Hoya would be coming down just three from his last fight, Mackie Shilstone, the conditioning guru who first came to prominence by turning Michael Spinks into a credible heavyweight, believes that the smaller man still has the advantage.
"Even though he might have less weight to lose, the man coming down is going to have the bigger problem," Shilstone told ESPN.com from his New Orleans training center. "It's easier building a guy up, even if he has a longer way to go, because regardless of what condition he's in, the one losing weight runs the risk of losing the wrong kind of weight.
"We just finished a study using a DEXA scan [used to measure bone density] where we had six people on a weight management program, along with one NFL [kicker], said Shilstone, who also has worked with Roy Jones and Bernard Hopkins in their trips up and down the scales. "The civilians lost anywhere from 7 to 20 pounds per person. The NFL player lost 10, but in doing so he actually also lost 2 pounds of muscle."
Roach also believes that his man will benefit more from the agreed-upon weight limit.
"Manny weighed 135 for Diaz, but he went into the ring weighing 146 for that one," Roach said. "Frankly, I think Oscar will be affected by having to make this weight for the first time in years. He got down to 150 for Forbes, but if Forbes could break up his face and rock him a couple of times, I know Pacquiao is much faster and hits a lot harder than Stevie Forbes does."
Former IBF heavyweight champion Chris Byrd has experienced it from both ends. Byrd made his pro debut at 169 pounds, climbed as high as 219 during his heavyweight sojourn, then got all the way back down to 174 for his last fight, against Shaun George -- with disastrous consequences.
In retrospect, Byrd seems to agree that he probably could have used a Mackie Shilstone during both experiences.
"I never had a personal trainer, so I didn't really go about either one the proper way," Byrd said. "When I was moving up in weight, I just ate a lot, drank power shakes and worked with weights. Then, when I made the decision to drop back down to light heavy[weight], I just ran myself to death. I'm talking about at least 15 miles a day. The weight came off all right, but you could see how much it took out of me. No boxer should have to go through what I did."
At the same time, Byrd believes that the special circumstances of the impending matchup favor his 1992 Olympic teammate.
"Obviously, the guy having to lose weight should have a harder time than the guy who's putting it on, but this is different," Byrd said. "Pacquiao will be coming way up, while Oscar only has to lose a few pounds from what he weighed when he fought Forbes. I'll bet he won't weigh more than 162 when he comes to camp, and he'll be thinking 'Hey, all I've got to do is be 3 pounds lighter than I was last time.'
"Manny did well at 135, but he's coming way up, so now he's not only going to be facing a guy who's better than anyone he's ever fought before, but one who is bigger, with a longer reach, and more power," Byrd said. "Oscar has major skills. He can still do it, and you know he's going to be up for it, knowing that this is his last fight. He's always been a very special boxer."
The gap Pacquiao has to close on De La Hoya probably will be less than the 12 pounds it appears on paper.
"The fact that we've agreed to a 147-pound weight limit doesn't mean Pacquiao is going to weigh in at 147," Roach said. "He's more likely to be 141 or 143, which means he might weigh around 147 by the time he goes into the ring. Oscar will probably be around 157 the night of the fight, but the difference won't be that important. I don't want Manny to be the slugger anyway. We're going to win this fight with speed and motion."
Although the 41-pound spectrum between Pacquiao's low weight and the limit for the December fight appears imposing, the record book is replete with precedents, ranging from Byrd and Roy Jones to Roberto Duran and George Foreman.
The all-time known differential, though, might belong to Sam Langford: He reportedly weighed 140 pounds when he beat Joe Gans in 1903 (and only 156 pounds when he fought Jack Johnson three years later), but weighed as much as 198 for one of his 13 recorded fights against Joe Jeanette.
By then, of course, Langford was getting on in years, which brings us to another point.
At 29, PacMan might be at the top of his game, while at 35, De La Hoya's best days are almost certainly behind him.
"De La Hoya isn't what he used to be, that's for sure," Roach said. "If Oscar was in his prime, I wouldn't have taken this fight."
George Kimball, who writes for the Irish Times and Boxing Digest as well as ESPN.com, won the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism in 1985. His new book, "Four Kings: Leonard, Hagler, Hearns, Duran and the Last Great Era of Boxing" will be published in July.
I'm gonna have to be killed before I lose, and I ain't going to die easy - Muhammad Ali