BIG BEAR — Minutes after polishing off a faded legend, Hector Camacho issued a challenge to a growing legend.
Having just beaten Sugar Ray Leonard at the Atlantic City Convention Center a little past midnight last Saturday, Camacho said he'd like to fight Oscar De La Hoya if De La Hoya should beat Pernell Whitaker in their April 12 meeting at Las Vegas' Thomas & Mack Center. If De La Hoya loses, Camacho said he wants Whitaker.
And how does De La Hoya view such a challenge?
"If he wants to fight me, why not?" De La Hoya said. "I will use him as a tune-up."
De La Hoya broke into a huge grin when he made the statement, seated in front of reporters and cameramen at his Big Bear training headquarters where he is preparing for the Whitaker fight. It is the kind of statement De La Hoya would not have made in the past for fear that he would perhaps anger a future opponent.
But De La Hoya seems more comfortable and relaxed with his role as a boxing superstar, his confidence level higher than ever.
"I feel a tranquillity. I am at peace," he said.
And why not?
At 24, De La Hoya has beaten all of his opponents (23-0, 20 knockouts) and silenced all his critics. He defeated his idol, Julio Cesar Chavez, last June, fought through a swollen left eye to defeat previously unbeaten Miguel Angel Gonzalez in January and now, without any Mexican opponents listed on his dance card for at least the next year, De La Hoya feels he can finally win over that segment of the Mexican-American community that has so long resented him for reasons that are hard to discern.
Promoter Bob Arum says De La Hoya will fight four more times this year. After the Whitaker fight, De La Hoya is tentatively scheduled to be back in the ring June 14 in San Antonio against an undetermined opponent. If De La Hoya keeps winning, Arum said, Camacho is a possibility for September.
But first, there is Whitaker.
Against Gonzalez, De La Hoya won by using his left hand almost exclusively. After the fight, De La Hoya said he had been wary about using his right for fear of a counterpunch by Gonzalez, whose own right hand had caused the nasty welt under De La Hoya's eye. Against Whitaker, a southpaw, De La Hoya says he'll reverse his strategy.
"I beat Gonzalez with one hand because that's all it took," De La Hoya said. "I'll beat Whitaker with my right hand because that's what it will take."
That's probably not true. If he tries to fight with one hand, as he did against Gonzalez, De La Hoya will be a spectator at the Hector Camacho-Pernell Whitaker fight.
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* Who: Oscar De La Hoya (23-0) vs. Pernell Whitaker (40-1-1)
* At stake: Whitaker's World Boxing Council welterweight (147-pound) title.
* When: April 12.
* Where: Caesars Palace, Las Vegas.
* TV: Pay-per-view.
De La Hoya