NEW YORK — Even here, at ground zero for Saturday night's undisputed heavyweight championship fight between Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis at Madison Square Garden, Oscar De La Hoya was the main topic of discussion at a news conference Thursday.
The speaker was International Boxing Federation junior-middleweight champion Fernando Vargas, who'll make the first defense of his title on Saturday night's card against Howard Clarke (26-10-2, eight knockouts) of West Ham, England.
But Vargas (15-0, 15 knockouts) spent most of his time talking about De La Hoya. It is, of course, in Vargas' best interests to speak ill of De La Hoya since Vargas would like to lure De La Hoya into a big-money fight. But Vargas seems to genuinely dislike De La Hoya even though both are from Southern California, Vargas from Oxnard and De La Hoya from East Los Angeles, and both are Mexican American.
"He gets so scared in the ring," said Vargas of De La Hoya, the World Boxing Council welterweight champion, "that he reminds me of a kid whose lunch money I used to take when I was a bully as a kid. De La Hoya doesn't want to fight. He is a sissy. Everybody knows that. If someone was saying the things about me that I've been saying about him, I'd be up there in the ring in a second."
In the past, De La Hoya has dismissed Vargas' comments as being "just business," merely a device to make the fight happen.
Barring any major defeats along the way for either man, it seems certain that such a fight will occur once the 147-pound De La Hoya moves up to 154 pounds, a move expected by early next year at the latest.
Holyfield, the IBF and World Boxing Assn., heavyweight champion, weighed in at 215 pounds for Saturday night's fight, while Lewis, the WBC heavyweight titleholder, came in at 246.
No surprise there.
Holyfield is within a few pounds of what he has weighed for all of his fights in the last few years. He was at 217 for his last fight, against Vaughn Bean in September, and at 215 for his first fight against Mike Tyson in 1996.
Lewis weighed 243 for his last fight, against Mavrovic Zeljko in September.
"I don't worry about what the other guy weighs," Holyfield said. "I worry about what I weigh."
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Tale of the Tape
HOLYFIELD LEWIS 215 Weight 246 6-2 1/2 Height 6-5 77 1/2 Reach 84 43 Chest (normal) 44 45 Chest (expanded) 46 16 Biceps 17 12 1/2 Forearms 15 32 Waist 34 22 Thigh 26 13 Calf 18 19 1/2 Neck 18 1/2 7 1/2 Wrist 8 12 1/2 Fist 12