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OSCAR DE LA HOYA VS. FERNANDO VARGAS Saturday at Mandalay
Bay Events Center. Pay-per-view, card begins at 6 p.m.

Basic Training

Mayweather Sr. has become the 'sergeant' De La Hoya wanted, changing the fighter's style with old-school discipline

September 12, 2002|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LAS VEGAS — The sparkle in his eyes outshone his flashy suits and diamond-studded rings. The emotion in his voice conveyed more than all of his witty poetry and crowd-pleasing hype.

"The way we joke around and have fun, Oscar is like my son," said Floyd Mayweather Sr. of Oscar De La Hoya, "even though we are different races."

And for Mayweather, that is the most satisfying part of the unlikely relationship between this odd couple whose backgrounds are so different. Mayweather is a loud, brash, in-your-face, African American trainer who served five years in prison for drug dealing. De La Hoya is a soft-spoken fighter of Mexican descent who avoids confrontations and maintains his image as a positive role model by heading a charitable foundation.

Mayweather, 49, has a son of his own, Floyd Mayweather Jr., the World Boxing Council lightweight champion. But their relationship has been shattered by bitter differences over the young Mayweather's behavior and career choices.

"He will always be my son," said the elder Mayweather.

But, he says, he has found the next best thing in De La Hoya. In preparing his fighter for Saturday's 154-pound championship bout against Fernando Vargas at Las Vegas' Mandalay Bay Events Center, Mayweather has toughened up De La Hoya's training regimen and expanded his options in the ring.

"I've made him a 'blackexican,' " boasted Mayweather, saying he has combined some of the techniques he sees more prevalent in black fighters with De La Hoya's natural skills.

As far as De La Hoya is concerned, this is the trainer he always wanted.

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He had a trainer who knew defense but didn't pay much attention to offense.

So Jesus Rivero was gone.

He had a trainer who knew boxing but didn't care much for playing politics.

So Emanuel Steward was gone.

He had a trainer who knew how to wrap hands but didn't know much about strategy.

So Robert Alcazar was gone.

Despite an Olympic gold medal and titles in five weight classes, De La Hoya never has found a consistent style nor developed total confidence in the ring. That's largely because he has never had stability in his corner. Each new trainer has had different ideas about training camp, a different fight plan, a different philosophy.

It all has been so confusing.

Especially since the voice that mattered most to De La Hoya belonged to his father, Joel, a former fighter. But Joel preferred to stay in the background and let his feelings be known through surrogates. So he brought in Alcazar, whom he had met when they worked together in a factory, and made him his front man.

When it became obvious the job was too big for Alcazar, other trainers, starting with Rivero, were shuttled in to work with Alcazar. Steward was, by far, the best of those, but he chafed at operating without total authority.

After De La Hoya suffered losses to both Felix Trinidad in 1999 and Shane Mosley in 2000, fights in which he displayed questionable strategy, poor stamina and a failure to adjust to his opponents' tactics, De La Hoya finally decided to get rid of Alcazar.

"What I really need," said De La Hoya at the time, "is somebody to push me.... I need like a sergeant who is going to tell me, 'You are going to do this or I am out of here.' Somebody who is going to throw a bucket of water in my face at 5 a.m. to wake me up to get me to run. I need a Bob Knight in my training camp, somebody who is going to be firm with me and will push me to the next level."

Sounded as if he were looking for Mickey, the fictional trainer played by Burgess Meredith in the "Rocky" movies who trained Rocky Balboa by demanding that he chase live chickens and pound slabs of beef in a meat locker.

What De La Hoya got was a real-life facsimile in Mayweather, who became his trainer in October 2000. Instead of sweating over chickens, Mayweather worked the pounds off by making De La Hoya run with weights around his ankles. Instead of pounding beef, De La Hoya chopped wood. But the effect was the same.

An old-school disciplinarian had taken command of De La Hoya's camp. De La Hoya didn't need cold water splashed in his face. All he needed was to hear Mayweather's raspy voice and he was up and running.

Before the younger Mayweather was even born, his father was an established welterweight who fought, among others, Sugar Ray Leonard in a 16-year ring career. Mayweather lost that fight and enough others to deny him the chance for ring greatness that his son possesses.

But his biggest troubles came outside the ring. Mayweather entered a federal prison in Milan, Mich., in 1993, removed from an active role in his son's life as the younger Mayweather won a bronze medal in the 1996 Olympics and then turned professional. The senior Mayweather could only gaze through his prison bars and dream of the day he and his son would be reunited in boxing, the family business.

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