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The Cyber Boxing Zone Newswire -- MAY 19:2001
Pacquiao regains junior feather title
by Chris Bushnell

June 24, 2001

After posting a lackluster, occasionally boring, decision over 154 lb. heavy bag Javier Castillejo, Oscar De la Hoya had the audacity to claim that when it came to boxing, "I am in the driver's seat!" Someone needs to tell Oscar that his golf cart isn't street legal. Despite knocking down the Spanish titlist in the final seconds of the fight, De la Hoya's most recent venture into the ring was completely forgettable in every way. There were no memorable exchanges, no acts of aggression worthy of a second look on VHS, and absolutely no evidence that De la Hoya is a junior middleweight to be feared.

Even with seven new pounds of muscle, De la Hoya's power has yet to surface in his new weight division. Despite the fact that Oscar's most recent incarnation features flat footed aggression and putting power into every attempt, the once concussive fists of the now four-division titlist had little effect on Castillejo. Except for sending the champion back on his heels with a well-timed right in the fight's opening 30 seconds, and then downing him twelve full rounds later with another right hand-initiated flurry, De la Hoya's power was never a factor in the fight. Luckily, De la Hoya's speed was more than enough to get the job done.

Oscar established his speed superiority in the opening round. Picking his spots carefully, perhaps too carefully, De la Hoya approached his opponent and unloaded his heaviest punches in every exchange. Actually, "exchange" may be too generous a word. Castillejo, despite several half-thrown hooks to the body, rarely answered De la Hoya in the opening round. Looking overwhelmed by the magnitude of the event, the inactive, slow, powerless Castillejo needed only this opening frame to decide that survival mode might be his best chance to enjoy his career-high payday. Too bad, because it could have been a hell of a fight.

De la Hoya's latest style, courtesy of Floyd Mayweather, Sr., fits Oscar like an off-the-rack suit. He just doesn't look right plodding forward while swinging his left arm low in a piss-poor imitation of the Kronk defense. Off his toes, De la Hoya dispensed with his jab for much of the evening, preferring short burst of power shots alternately thrown upstairs and down. This might have been an acceptable alternative to his normal m.o., except that De la Hoya only sparingly let his hands go. For the first two minutes of the second round, De la Hoya simply followed Castillejo (who willingly backed into the ropes without being punched), blocking the champion's pushing one-twos.

Occasionally, and we're talking once a round tops, Castillejo would suddenly throw a right cross. Each time, the punch sailed across the distance at roughly the same speed as the US Mail, yet found a wide open target waiting for it. Simply put, De la Hoya's new defense sucks. And this night, his offense wasn't too great, either.

The MGM Grand Arena was mostly full, although only 9,000 seats had been made available in the 16,000 seat arena. Everyone in attendance had come to see Oscar (they certainly didn't show up to see Lehlohonolo Ledwaba), yet they were curiously silent for most of the bout. And there were some fond memories of De la Hoya's last rise in weight: as in his bout with Whitaker, a bored audience occasionally cheered loudly after Oscar would throw a seven punch combination and miss with every blow. Clearly, the cheers were an attempt by the crowd to inject some excitement into a rather mediocre fight. It didn't work.

With Castillejo in complete survival mode, De la Hoya could have tried a little harder to take him out. After all, that's what Trinidad and Mosley do. But De la Hoya seemed to be pacing himself, as if he were worried that the extra weight might add to his recent weakness of late-round fatigue. Indeed, as the 10th round wore on, De la Hoya's mouth began hanging open. After punishing a docile Castillejo on the ropes with a flurry of hooks and crosses, De la Hoya needed a breather. Castillejo did his best to capitalize, chasing De la Hoya across the ring with wild arm punches. The crowd briefly woke up as Oscar caught punches that he should have been able to slip in his sleep... but soon the bout regressed into a tactical and slow contest.

For most of the final rounds, Mayweather Sr. could be heard begging Oscar to simply trap Castillejo on the ropes (not difficult, as Castillejo usually put himself there) and flurry until the ref stepped in. It was a simple request, but the few times De la Hoya tried, he didn't have the arm strength to keep the combos coming. By the 11th, both his hands were down... and this wasn't a Mayweather trick. De la Hoya was exhausted.

Well ahead on the cards going into the final round, De la Hoya seemed to be listening to his trainer's last bit of advice: Just don't get hit. For the first two minutes of the final round, De la Hoya made no attempt to "close the show." Oscar simply trotted out, offering up the bare minimum of offense needed to bank another 10-9. But with 30 seconds remaining in the fight, Castillejo caught a snoozing De la Hoya with a decent left hook. It wasn't the type of punch that would down Oscar and destroy his career, but it was enough of a punch to momentarily wake De la Hoya from his slumber. De la Hoya backed Castillejo off with a quick four punches to the head, and then cracked the champion with a chopping right when he attempted to counter. The punch put Castillejo on his heels, and then another hook had him on the seat of his pants a mere second before the final bell. Castillejo easily rose his feet, a red tear trickling out of a small cut beneath his left eye.

When the scorecards were read, Castillejo managed to win only a single round. All three judges scored 119-108, giving the champion a 10th round that, rally aside, he really didn't deserve. No matter. Castillejo was never anything more than a footnote on this Oscar night.

But on a night when he was supposed to return to greatness, throw fear into the hearts of his conquerors, and boldly announce his arrival into the 154 lb. division, Oscar De la Hoya's coming out party was a big dud. Mosley and Trinidad saw nothing to give them pause, and even recovering Fernando Vargas must have seen an Oscar De la Hoya who was easily beatable. Open to the right hands, confused as to the style he should use, needlessly experimenting with a dangerous defense, plodding to set up his less-than-nuclear bombs, and all the while carrying on as though he were the second coming of Henry Armstrong... this De la Hoya (now 34-2/27) is as unappealing as ever. Coming off a boring $40 pay-per-view with no logical opponents lined up for a winter showdown, De la Hoya's career is in as much limbo as ever.

The story of the night was not De la Hoya's ho-hum performance in the main event, but the return of Manny Pacquiao to the world title scene. The former WBC 122 lb. champion picked up the IBF version of the title by beating the high holy shit out of Lehlo Ledwaba. Despite taking the bout on 10 days notice, Pacquiao's unorthodox power from the southpaw stance gave Ledwaba nothing but problems.

Ledwaba looked like a master in the ring two month ago on the Rahman-Lewis undercard. But he was forced to abandon the science in favor of desperation bombs as early as first round against Pacquiao. Every time Pacquiao would launch a one-two, Ledwaba would tilt to his right. Had he been fighting a conventional fighter, Ledwaba would have casually watched his opponent's power hand sail past his head. But against Pacquiao, Ledwaba repeatedly leaned directly into the path of the oncoming straight left. In fact, the last minute of the opening round comprised of nothing but Pacquiao launching the exact same one-two at the champion, whose head was in perfect position for the money punch.

Pacquiao started the second round quickly, and in a flash Ledwaba was down. At first, Joe Cortez ruled the knockdown a slip. After all, Ledwaba looked as though he had been thrown to the canvas before landing on all fours. But it was an extremely short Pacquiao left that did sent Ledwaba sprawling, and when he didn't get up Cortez realized that the knockdown was legit. Ledwaba barely beat the count as his nose poured blood out onto his white trunks. Pacquiao then upped the attack. Punching a wobbling Ledwaba from one side of the ring to the other, the end looked imminent. But midway through the round, Ledwaba rallied with two looping body shots at center ring. The punches momentarily stopped Pacquiao, giving Ledwaba a chance to retaliate. This was no time for boxing. Ledwaba desperately swung at Pacquiao, and the two men got a rise out of an otherwise dormant audience as their knockout punch trading continued until the round-ending bell.

Ledwaba's rally, however, was short lived. Pacquiao beat him mercilessly in the third, as the blood from Ledwaba's nose completely obscured the white tape on his gloves. Ledwaba spent the third, and the fourth, trying to get out of the way of Pacquiao's power left hand... but he couldn't Just as the bell sounded the end the fourth, a particularly savage Pacquiao left landed, giving Ledwaba plenty to think about between rounds.

Ledwaba must have decided to make a stand, because he came out firing to the body and putting renewed force into his jab in the fifth round. Pacquiao continued dishing out the cracking power shots, but was eating some return blows for the first time of the night. As the round wore down, Pacquiao was barely leading when he put an exclamation point on his efforts with another blistering punch a second before the bell to end the round. The punch seriously hurt Ledwaba, and he blankly staggered back to his corner. Even after a full minute, he had not completely recovered.

Ledwaba didn't look to be on solid legs to begin the sixth. Within moments, another Pacquiao left landed flush on the button (as almost every left hand did this night) and Lehlo dropped to the seat of his pants with his legs pointing stiffly outward. He sat there until the count of seven, pushing himself up with his hands as though his legs were asleep. By eight, Ledwaba was up. He barely convinced Joe Cortez to let him continue, but three seconds later another Pacquiao left sent him onto his back. As Ledwaba laid there, he didn't have the blank stare of a man knocked out, but the tight grimace of a man in pain. Cortez wisely dispensed with the count. Pacquiao KO6.

Pacquiao wasn't the only boxer to pick up a 122 lb. title this night. Longtime journeyman Agapito Sanchez picked up the WBO version recently abandoned by Marco Antonio Barrera. To claim the vacant crown, he needed just over six rounds of one-sided action to get past Jorge Pabon. The lackluster fight was anything but exciting as the men felt each other out for a few rounds. By the third, Sanchez had timed Pabon and began nailing him with one counter right hand after another. Unfortunately, Pabon's offense was sporadic, making Sanchez' counters equally sparse. But eventually, they added up to a kayo when Pabon folded in the seventh. Agapito was ecstatic... so overjoyed in fact that he didn't even notice when Michael Buffer loudly announced Pabon as the new champion. Ooops.

The pay-per-view card opened with a four rounder featuring Olympian Jose Navarro. Navarro easily handled the durable Salvador Rosales, despite a tendency to get hit with the left hook. It's nothing that holding a right hand higher couldn't fix. Navarro, a De la Hoya protoge, improves to 5-0/1.

Despite the fireworks provided by Pacquiao, this was an absolutely horrible pay-per-view card. If De la Hoya can't line up Vargas or Mosley for the fall (Tito has other plans), then he's going to have a very difficult time trying to sell another tune-up to a paying audience. We hate to say it, but even Bob Arum's Mia St. John-Butterbean undercards were more entertaining than this one.

.....Chris Bushnell

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