Fighters' Moment of Truth at Hand : Boxing: Oscar De La Hoya and John John Molina put their futures on the line in lightweight title bout.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For Oscar De La Hoya, a.k.a. "Golden Boy," the hype stops here.

Tonight, at the MGM Grand Garden, discussions about him move from future tense to present.

It's nice when George Foreman says, "I can't see anyone stopping him."

And when promoter Bob Arum says, "We believe Oscar De La Hoya will be one of the greatest fighters ever in boxing."

But at some point, a fighter must make a leap of faith, ready or not.

The time has come for De La Hoya, who risks his World Boxing Organization lightweight title and 16-0 record (15 knockouts) against Puerto Rico's John John Molina, reigning International Boxing Federation junior-lightweight champion.

The posturing and career jockeying are over. There are no questions about the quality of this opponent.

Molina (36-3, 26 KOs) has not lost a fight in almost five years.

"This is where it all starts," De La Hoya said. "It starts with John John Molina. This is our year."

Such is the excitement over De La Hoya that despite Molina's impressive credentials, De La Hoya is the favorite. He is HBO's boxing baby, earning $1.25 million to Molina's $300,000.

"I think HBO pressured Oscar to get an opponent with a name and a record," Molina said.

De La Hoya has the burden of trying to succeed Julio Cesar Chavez as a Mexican-audience gate attraction. As much as victory, De La Hoya, not Molina, is fighting to serve notice that he is boxing's future.

The significance is not lost on De La Hoya, 22.

As he spoke of the stakes this week, De La Hoya's voice sometimes trembled.

"If I wasn't scared and nervous, something would be wrong," he said. "I'm shaking. I'm scared. I'm nervous. But I did my homework."

He has been training in Big Bear for seven weeks, descending the mountain this week with his skills razor-sharpened, he said.

"This is going to be one of my easiest fights," he said. "I'm ready for him. If he wants to fight, let's fight. If he wants to box, let's box. If he boxes, I won't move back."

For those who think he is being rushed into production, De La Hoya said, "If I was fighting John John in my ninth fight, or my eighth fight, it might have been different. But we know what we're up against."

What they are up against is a savvy 29-year-old, three-time world champion, who is giving up a more prestigious title to get a crack at boxing's glamour boy.

To Molina, a victory over De La Hoya is worth more than any alphabet title he might be leaving behind. The risk is that Molina, already giving away inches in reach and height, is moving up from 130 pounds into the 135-pound division that De La Hoya already is outgrowing.

The sentiment is that, despite his acclaim, Molina is not big or strong enough to stand toe to toe with De La Hoya.

"I'm going to walk straight in, or move side to side, but never back," De La Hoya said. "John John is not a lightweight, and we're going to use that against him."

Molina disagrees. He said he has had trouble making 130 pounds for the last four years and had to move up. This week, he ate cake only days before the fight, something he never would have dreamed of doing before. For once, Molina is not a hungry fighter.

On this full stomach, Molina plans to wreck plans. Plans for De La Hoya to be exalted. Plans for him to fight Rafael Ruelas in May.

"If I win, I'll be the one to fight Ruelas," Molina said. "All the promotion has been for Oscar, all the TV, HBO. The gold medal opens doors. I'll close the door Saturday night."

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Notes

John John Molina last lost on May 20, 1990, to Tony Lopez, who has handed Molina two of his three defeats. The other loss was to Lupe Suarez, a defeat Molina later avenged. . . . On tonight's undercard, former International Boxing Federation champion James Toney (44-1-2) moves up to the light-heavyweight division against former U.S. Olympian Montell Griffin (14-0, eight KOs). Toney's purse is $270,000; Griffin's is $100,000.

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