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BILL DWYRE

Pacquiao could be the heir to De La Hoya

June 28, 2008|Bill Dwyre

In light of recent developments, the sport of boxing can fairly be asked this question: Who's got next?

It is pertinent to explore now, because the longtime reign of the ruler, King Oscar the First, is within months of ending. Oscar De La Hoya, 35, will probably fight his last fight in December, and with that, he will go from being the face of boxing to being a face in boxing.

Before De La Hoya, the sport relied on the heavyweight division. If Ali, Frazier, Foreman and even Larry Holmes and Earlobe Mike Tyson had spread out their birthdays a bit more, this discussion wouldn't be needed. A rarity, Mexican heavyweight Chris Arreola has a 24-0 record and a chance to be as huge as his punches, but he is still a few successful spots away from the big spotlight.

Once the Ali era aged, De La Hoya, Olympic hero, pride of East L.A., somehow perceived to be 51% American and 49% Mexican, took over, even while fighting at lower weights. He became to boxing what Tiger is to golf, Federer to tennis.

Interestingly, De La Hoya achieved his stature without achieving anywhere near the win-loss dominance of the other two. He was beaten, several times, in situations where Tiger and Federer would never have succumbed.

Still, where big punches failed, charisma and marketing prevailed. If he couldn't always be the Golden Boy in the ring, he seldom failed outside of it. His boxing promotions company, foundations, charity work and instincts for community service will make him an ongoing presence in boxing.

Except in the ring, where it counts the most.

Even up to several weeks ago, before Floyd Mayweather Jr. decided to take his millions and his unbeaten record and call it a career, the scheduled Mayweather-De La Hoya rematch in September had enough appeal to postpone looks into the future.

But now that Floyd has fled, leaving De La Hoya to scramble for a grand-finale foe, the sport must look elsewhere for Oscar the Next.

Arguably, there are two candidates, and one fights tonight at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

Manny Pacquiao is the pride of the Philippines, as well as a great fighter. He will be moving up a weight class to 135 to fight former Olympian David Diaz of Chicago, who has recently emerged as a marquee boxer after years of matches against guys who went back to the their day jobs at McDonald's after he beat them.

Pacquiao, 29, with a record of 46-3-2, first needs to win. Then somebody needs to explain to him where he might sit in the history of boxing, what he might do outside the ring to keep his sport in the headlines and on the 10 o'clock news. There are appearances, interviews, dinner speeches, helping little old ladies across streets, all things that paid De La Hoya -- and his sport -- incredible dividends.

The things Pacquiao has going for him are his boxing skills, his good looks and quick smile, and the well-documented Robin Hood role he has played for the poor in his native Philippines. With Floyd flaking out, Ring magazine recently transferred the crown of best pound-for-pound fighter in the world to Pacquiao.

If you aren't exactly sure what that means, join the crowd. But rest assured, in boxing it is a huge deal.

Pacquiao's English is passable, but you are never quite sure how much of the conversation is getting through, and that's crucial. Millions of Filipinos can love you, but there's nothing like getting off a good line on Leno to really stir the masses.

The other candidate is Kelly Pavlik, the 160-pound champion, who is also a great fighter. His English is that spoken in his hometown of Youngstown, Ohio, so it is mostly understandable. He is rugged-looking and direct, somebody who looks you in the eye and actually seems interested in your side of the conversation.

When promoter Bob Arum first tried to sell HBO on Pavlik, network officials reacted in disbelief that there was a white guy from the Midwest who could actually fight. Now the TV people can't get enough of him.

The drawback with Pavlik, 26 and unbeaten in 34 fights, is that he really is a homebody. His favorite nights out are with his small circle of friends, shooting darts at a neighborhood bar.

Being Oscar the Next probably means more nights in tuxedos than jeans and T-shirts. Still, he has already done considerable charity work and shows up at schools around Youngstown a lot.

Maybe each will spend some time as the name at the top of the marquee. Maybe neither. Maybe the next big thing in boxing will emerge, a la De La Hoya, from this year's Olympics.

Or maybe nobody will emerge for a while and more fan base will shift to the barefoot kickers and scratchers in the cages.

Pacquiao showed real potential the other day, but the moment slipped past mostly unnoticed. The promoters of his fight with Diaz called a news conference and, apparently seeing no chance of one fighter spitting on the other's sister or something normal for a fight news conference, established a new high (low?) for gimmicks.

Diaz, a big Chicago Cubs fan, was told that there would be a goat on hand, that it would represent the famous curse of the goat that Cubs fans often point to as the reason their team has been generally worthless for the last 500 years, and that, were he to win the fight, the curse of the goat would be off.

The problem was, Diaz wasn't told this until minutes before the goat was brought out. Wanting no part of this kind of pressure and muttering the name Steve Bartman, Diaz headed for the men's room.

In his absence, Pacquiao welcomed the goat, smiled broadly, petted the animal and uttered the immortal words: "Goat is my favorite food."

Top that in Youngstown.

--

Bill Dwyre can be reached at bill.dwyre@latimes.com. For previous columns by Dwyre, go to latimes.com/dwyre.

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