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BOXING / STEVE SPRINGER

Other Issues Begin to Weigh on Boxers

August 23, 2003|STEVE SPRINGER

Oscar De La Hoya's trainer, Floyd Mayweather Sr., can fill a book of poetry about how bulky and slow Shane Mosley has become.

Mosley's father and trainer, Jack, can rant and rave about those who dare to question his son's ability to defeat De La Hoya in their super-welterweight title fight Sept. 13 at Las Vegas' MGM Grand Garden Arena.

De La Hoya can claim he's in the best shape of his life.

Mosley can claim he has more power than he's had in his life.

Doesn't matter.

This fight isn't about power or speed or winning the physical battle. Not anymore. Not after this past week.

Based on a visit to each fighter's camp, it's clear this has become, above all, a mind game. It's a game both fighters may be losing.

The Hand

It was a closing question Wednesday at the end of media day at De La Hoya's Big Bear training site. De La Hoya had spent the better part of an hour talking to print and broadcast media in glowing terms about his plans for the Mosley fight, about his enthusiasm for continuing his career, about his general contentment.

"So how's the hand?" he was asked.

And then it all changed as quickly as had the weather. Much as a sudden summer thunderstorm had roared through Big Bear, briefly turning a pleasant day into a stormy afternoon, De La Hoya's mood shifted drastically, the optimism turning to pessimism.

He had reinjured the hand that has plagued him through much of his career, he revealed. He had thrown a punch the previous Friday in a sparring session that brought back that all-too-familiar nagging, pinching pain just above his left wrist.

De La Hoya's promoter, Bob Arum, said De La Hoya had neglected to wear the protective brace designed to prevent such unpleasant episodes.

De La Hoya suspended sparring for a week. He planned to resume this weekend, but only using his right hand. He won't use the left, he said, until his physician, Tony Daly, returns next week and examines the hand.

Because there is only minimal swelling, De La Hoya's physical therapist, Anthony Garcia, believes it is just a flareup of a chronic condition.

No one in the De La Hoya camp seems to think the fight will be postponed, including Oscar. But even so, damage has been done.

Damage to his psyche.

Not to mention a lost week of sparring.

If De La Hoya gets into the ring Sept. 13, will he be focusing on his own hand rather than the man in the opposite corner?

He complained about the hand after fights against Felix Trinidad and the first Mosley fight, canceled a match in 2001 to have cartilage removed from the base of the hand, had to postpone a fight against Fernando Vargas last year because of the hand and reinjured it again in the first round of his last fight in May against Yory Boy Campas.

After the Campas fight, De La Hoya's condition was diagnosed as a strained left wrist, and he was fitted with a soft cast. Daly predicted De La Hoya would be just fine for this fight.

And then, as soon as he took the brace off, the pain returned.

De La Hoya knows he won't be allowed to wear the brace in the fight, knows he can't beat Mosley, who won by split decision the last time, with only one hand, knows that pain could return in the first round again.

Can De La Hoya put all that out of his mind?

His chance for victory depends on it.

The Head

Mosley was 38-0 and at or near the top of every list of the best pound-for-pound fighters when he ran into a Vernon Forrest head butt in January 2002. And Mosley hasn't been the same since.

With two losses to Forrest and a no-decision against Raul Marquez, a fight that was stopped because of accidental head butts, Mosley hasn't won a fight in two years.

Mosley has twice changed promoters since then and searched for a trainer to come in and work with his father, Jack.

The tension boiled over this week when Jack exploded after reading a column by The Times' Bill Plaschke about Shane's shifting fortunes since his first match against De La Hoya.

In the pre-Forrest era, Jack always had a smile on his face, always seemed grateful for any media attention that came his son's way in Shane's never-ending battle to get out of De La Hoya's shadow.

But this time, Jack spoke furtively about a Times "conspiracy" to promote De La Hoya at Shane's expense and threatened to forbid Plaschke from attending any future Mosley news conference. Jack wouldn't even permit Shane to read the Plaschke story.

Can Shane put all these distractions out of his mind and focus on De La Hoya rather than Plaschke?

Much like De La Hoya, Shane must win the mind game to have a chance to win in the ring.

Not Here, Not Now

Vitali Klitschko has agreed to fight Dec. 6. He had hoped to make that fight a rematch against heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis.

Lewis was trailing on all three judges' scorecards when their June fight at Staples Center was stopped because of a deep cut above Klitschko's left eye.

Rather than fighting in December, Lewis has decided to put his career on hold while he contemplates retirement.

Klitschko will face a still-to-be-determined opponent, but not at Staples Center. Staples president Tim Leiweke had hoped to stage Klitschko's next fight, but the building is already occupied Dec. 6 by the Kings, who will be playing the Washington Capitals.

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