Size will prove to be the difference

Pugmire is a Times staff writer.

Oscar De La Hoya is going to defeat Manny Pacquiao, and probably by a knockout. Make it the ninth round.

As I've thought about this fight since I visited both fighters a month ago at their Southern California training camps, several factors continue pointing to the outcome being a "real" version of what fans saw at Staples Center this week, when De La Hoya emulated his new statue's pose by raising his arms in victory.

First, he's too big. Second, Pacquiao took this fight mostly for money. Third, De La Hoya may be 35, with some strong voices talking about his declining skills, but he's not impossibly removed from the fighter he was six years ago, when he knocked out a steroid-inflated Fernando Vargas.

Let's look at this: De La Hoya (39-5, 30 knockouts) is taking on the world's best pound-for-pound fighter for the second time in two years. He lost to Floyd Mayweather Jr., a true welterweight, by split decision last year when a judge failed to award him a 10-9 round as two others did against Mayweather. It was a close fight.

Now, De La Hoya has hand-picked current lightweight champion Pacquiao, whose struggles to make the super-featherweight limit of 130 pounds led him to move up and win a lightweight (135 pounds) world title this summer. He was impressive in knocking out David Diaz, but Pacquiao weighed in Friday at only 142 pounds. The size disadvantage is too daunting for "Pac-Man" to overcome.

De La Hoya, remember, has fought as high as 160 pounds as recently as two years ago, and he hasn't fought at 147 since 2001 -- when he buried Arturo Gatti. De La Hoya might walk into the ring five to 10 pounds heavier than Pacquiao.

His reach is five inches longer, De La Hoya stands four inches taller and he has the ring experiences that resulted in 10 world titles.

An official with Pacquiao's promotion company, Top Rank, also tells the story of how Pacquiao initially balked at agreeing to the fight. He wanted a higher percentage of the revenue. Ultimately, Pacquiao was advised to accept the De La Hoya bout because it assured him money (a guaranteed $11 million) that he couldn't make in accepting three other fights.

And almost universally, boxing experts believe Pacquiao has nothing to lose by losing. He has an easy excuse, will be bathed in riches afterward and can re-bolster his stock as the world's top pound-for-pound fighter against likely future foes Ricky Hatton, Juan Manuel Marquez and others.

De La Hoya, meanwhile, is playing up his opponent's skills in a way that would make noted sandbagger and former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz proud.

"Manny can handle the weight with his power and speed," De La Hoya said this week. "He's the fastest fighter out there. . . . If you think he has no power, then everything can go wrong. It's why I've trained for King Kong."

And let's not forget about the bitterness that remains from the time when Pacquiao accepted a suitcase full of cash from De La Hoya to fight for Golden Boy Promotions, then reneged and signed with Top Rank.

If anyone has proved to have a Teflon resistance to losses among his fans, it's De La Hoya. But as he nears the finish line of this storied career, he clearly has selected a gifted but undersized big name to punctuate his legacy.

When I told his brother, Joel Jr., that a few hard-core boxing-fan readers have sent me notes calling De La Hoya-Pacquiao a "farce" and a "sham" because of the size disparity, he said, "It would've been a sham years ago, but Oscar's older now, so there's questions about how he'll do against this guy."

Not in this corner.

Just like when De La Hoya found the motivation to destroy Vargas in a grudge match for hometown bragging rights, I believe the Golden Boy has regained that focus while fighting at an ideal weight to produce another memorable show on his way out.



De La Hoya vs. Pacquiao

Tonight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena,

Las Vegas, 6

TV: HBO pay-per-view

Records: Oscar De La Hoya (39-5), Manny Pacquiao (47-3-2)

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