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Is Oscar Now the Toast of L.A.?

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An interesting thing, this swollen left hand of Oscar De La Hoya’s that has caused the postponement of his fight with Fernando Vargas.

Too weak to make a fist, it is nonetheless strong enough to wave goodbye.

By walking away from the celebrated May 4 neighborhood blockhead party, De La Hoya is sending out stronger signals than Vargas’ electronic ankle bracelet.

He is telling us he may not be as serious about repairing his reputation as his recent out-of-body boasting indicated.

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He is showing us that the De La Hoya cardboard cutout used derisively by Vargas last month in his Olvera Street rally might not be a mannequin after all.

Maybe the flat, uninterested man really was him.

The facts have more punch than the fighter.

This is the second consecutive De La Hoya fight that has been stopped for a wrist injury that some feel should have been rehabilitated by now.

This delay, probably until September, means this will be his first fight in more than two years against somebody with a jab and a pulse.

This has been called a battle for the streets of Los Angeles, but De La Hoya might need to fight it with a Thomas Guide, seeing as he spends most of his time living in Puerto Rico with wife Millie.

None of this means he postponed the fight last week because, as Vargas’ entourage of bullies would have you believe, he is chicken.

But it does make you wonder about De La Hoya’s possible membership in another food group.

Is he toast?

“I hope it’s nothing more than an injury,” said Shelley Finkel, Vargas’ co-manager. “But you can never be surprised about anything in this game.”

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We were all surprised at the January news conference when the Golden Boy became the Exorcist Boy, spewing all sorts of unlikely venom about his opponent.

“I hate Vargas. I really hate him!”

His head spun, and then he was laughing.

“Vargas is obsessed with me. He’s in love with me. He’s like a celebrity stalker.”

His head spun again, and now he was singing.

“I-know-where-to-hit-him ... I-know-where-to-hit-him.”

Turns out, while De La Hoya was running his mouth, he wasn’t exercising much of anything else.

Despite having left wrist and finger surgery in November--which caused cancellation of his Olympic Auditorium fight with Roman Karmazin--he was doing nothing to rehabilitate the wrist.

“For whatever reason, he did nothing to make the hand stronger,” said his promoter, Bob Arum. “That was a mistake.”

It figured, then, that at the beginning of sparring last month, one good blow to the top of a partner’s head and he could no longer shake hands.

“The finger was really swollen, there was no way he could even squeeze your hand,” said Dr. Tony Daly, the longtime Clipper doctor who, during the examination, noted something else.

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“I found that his left hand was still not as strong as his right hand,” Daly said.

Considering De La Hoya is left-handed, it was an amazing--if not damning--discovery.

He had undergone surgery, and then acted as if the appendage would heal itself.

As if he didn’t care whether he ever threw another left hook again.

“He did everything the doctors said,” said Richard Schaefer, De La Hoya’s business manager. “If he wanted to retire, he would have just announced his retirement.”

Three doctors, including one from Vargas’ camp, examined him, so there should be no question of the legitimacy of the injury.

De La Hoya will make $14 million on the fight, so there should also be no question that he is willing to endure it.

But with how much stomach?

De La Hoya refused to be interviewed by telephone from Puerto Rico for this column, as if he now considers the Los Angeles Times an out-of-town newspaper.

But it is clear he wasn’t ready for the brutality of this fight any more than he was prepared for its circus.

Remember how, during the January news conference, Top Rank publicist Ricardo Jimenez broke his leg while trying to hold off Vargas’ entourage during the fighters’ shoving match?

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Last week, after 21/2 months, Jimenez’s thigh-to-ankle cast and crutches finally disappeared.

Not that either Oscar De La Hoya or Fernando Vargas cared.

Not once during his ordeal was Jimenez contacted by either fighter or even a representative from either camp.

“I didn’t expect anything from the Vargas camp; never expect anything from those guys,” Jimenez said. “But I expected a little more from Oscar.”

Didn’t we all.

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Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com.

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