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A Career Night for Vargas and De La Hoya

September 14, 2002|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LAS VEGAS — All the miles of roadwork have been run, all the wood has been chopped, all the sparring partners have been pummeled, all the promises of pain and punishment have been made, all the insults have been uttered and all the hot air of the prefight hype has been expended.

In a few hours, the supporting cast--the promoters and managers and trainers and cut men and sparring partners and publicists and writers and broadcasters and pay-per-view hucksters and hangers-on--will fade into the background and only Oscar De La Hoya and Fernando Vargas will remain in the spotlight, finally squaring off at the Mandalay Bay Events Center for their long-awaited battle.

Everybody wants to know the answer to the big question: Who will win?

But first, everybody needs to know the answers to nine other important questions.

* Officially, what is at stake tonight?

The World Boxing Council and World Boxing Assn. 154-pound titles.

* And unofficially?

The career prospects for both men. A victory by De La Hoya in his first match against a credible opponent in more than two years puts him in position to avenge losses to Felix Trinidad, if Trinidad can be lured out of retirement, and Shane Mosley and realize the greatness long predicted for him. A victory by Vargas would put him among the elite nonheavyweights. A loss by De La Hoya might mean retirement. At 29, he has a fortune safely invested, a wife who would prefer to see him hang up his gloves and the option of a singing career. A loss for Vargas, 24, would mean a long road back, but he would still have the youth and determination to travel it.

* Where can this fight be seen?

All 11,425 seats in the Mandalay Bay Events Center have been sold. The fight is available on pay-per-view and in 700 closed-circuit locations in 40 states, including 300 in Southern California. It is also being shown in 57 other countries.

Or--here's the worst-kept secret in television--it will be available on noncommercial cable television one week from tonight. HBO and Showtime desperately guard the fact major fights are replayed seven days later on their networks. After years of sticking to that schedule, television executives can't really think they are fooling fans into buying the fight on a now-or-never basis, can they?

* Who's on the undercard?

A group of fighters only an aficionado could appreciate. The days when promoters spend money on undercard fighters are over, concedes Bob Arum, one of the promoters of tonight's event.

There is one quality match on the undercard, pitting Miguel Cotto (11-0, nine knockouts) of Puerto Rico, who lost his only bout in the 2000 Olympics, against credible veteran John Brown (23-9, 11) in a 10-round super-lightweight bout.

There will also be a North American Boxing Federation super-featherweight title match between champion Nate Campbell (21-0, 19) and challenger Daniel Alicea (27-4-2, 20).

* How much will De La Hoya and Vargas make?

De La Hoya is guaranteed $14 million, Vargas $6 million, with both expected to make even more based on pay-per-view guarantees.

* How many pay-per-view buys are expected?

The record is approximately two million for the Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson heavyweight title match earlier this year. The record for a nontitle match is 1.4 million for De La Hoya-Trinidad in 1999.

This fight won't do nearly as well as either of those, but the 2000 match between De La Hoya and Mosley drew 588,000 and pay-per-view executives believe this fight will exceed that, but may not do as well as the 1997 match between De La Hoya and Pernell Whitaker, which drew 765,000.

* What were the numbers at Friday's weigh-in?

Both fighters came in at exactly 154 pounds, and both, true to their word, appeared to be in excellent shape.

* What are the keys to the fight?

De La Hoya's left hand and Vargas' chin. This fight was postponed once because of De La Hoya's lingering problems with his bruised hand. He insists that hand, his primary weapon, has been pain-free in training camp. Vargas must prove that the five knockdowns he suffered in December 2000 against Trinidad did not leave him damaged goods.

* What must each fighter do to win?

De La Hoya must use his superior speed, footwork and boxing ability to pile up points and stay out of harm's way. Vargas must lure De La Hoya into a brawl where Vargas' superior punching power could prove decisive.

* Finally, who will win?

De La Hoya. With trainer Floyd Mayweather Sr. to keep him on a steady course, De La Hoya, while lacking the power to stop Vargas, will cruise to an easy decision.

*

Marshall Martinez of Ontario fought to a majority draw with Luis Arceo of Tijuana Friday night in a six-round lightweight bout at Mandalay Bay. Two of the three judges scored the fight even.

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