Sometimes even the easy fights aren't all that easy. This weekend, Oscar De la Hoya and Evander Holyfield struggled in posting victories against below average competition. Few people gave Julio Cesar Chavez or Vaughn Bean much chance in their respective endeavors, but each man surprised critics by fighting up to the level of their competition.
Friday night in Las Vegas, Oscar De la Hoya rematched with aging legend Julio Cesar Chavez. Chavez was coming off a string of unimpressive victories, including his bloody domination 2 years ago at the hands of The Golden Boy. With De la Hoya weighing a dozen pounds more than he did in 1996, and Chavez having had dozens of stitches since their first fight, it looked to be a quick night. Or so Oscar thought.
Chavez somehow found the motivation that has eluded him of late, and came into the ring in top condition. Gone were the flabby sides and the plodding footwork, as Chavez opened the fight with quick head movement and a muscled physique. De la Hoya, too, was in fine condition and matched Chavez's feints with his own. When De la Hoya did throw, it was with blinding speed and accuracy as he tagged Chavez in the opening round. Chavez himself launched some thudding shots, and it was surprising to see Oscar take them on the chin.
The second round set the pace for the fight, with Chavez throwing and landing against De la Hoya, who responded to each landed punch with at least a pair of his own. As the fight progressed, Chavez landed more and more frequently, and for some reason De la Hoya let him. Oscar did plenty of work himself, often overwhelming Chavez's scoring with powerful flurries of his own. The one-sided fight we all expected was replaced with a slug fest, where both men were willing to take punches to land punches.
Chavez picked up a couple of rounds by landing big shots, mostly left hooks, that stopped or backed up De la Hoya, but the scorecards didn't tell the entire story of the fight. Chavez was landing his punches even as Oscar's activity rate won him points. Many times throughout the fight, the two men stood toe to toe firing back and forth, and many times Chavez won the exchanges. It was in between these stand offs that De la Hoya made up the difference.
Punishing Chavez early and often to the body, De la Hoya displayed perhaps the most intense, if not pretty, performance of his career. His eyes locked on Chavez throughout the fight. When Chavez accidentally hit De la Hoya low, Oscar was incensed. Each time Oscar scored with a flush combination, his face displayed a masochistic intensity never even hinted at in his smile-filled interviews. This intensity spurred him on to keep firing at Chavez, despite a pace that would have exhausted most fighters.
The fight was never more exciting than in the action packed eighth round. De la Hoya started with flurries, and Chavez responded with shots of his own. Hard rights by Chavez began to swell Oscar's left eye shut and slashing hooks by De la Hoya caused blood to pour out of Chavez's mouth. For the last minute of the round, the two stood toe to toe and Julio landed his best punches, backing up De la Hoya. With 10 seconds to go, however, De la Hoya unleashed an uppercut that snapped Julio's head, which he quickly followed by 3 more punches. In turn, these were the hardest shots Chavez had seen all night, and the crowd roared it's approval as the bell sounded and Richard Steele forcibly separated the dueling fighters.
And then it was over.
Slumped in his corner, Chavez's will drained out of him. Bleeding from the nose, over both eyes, and especially from a badly torn mouth, Chavez quit on his stool. Refusing to come out for the 9th round, and complaining to his corner of hurt ribs, Chavez gave up. Whether he gave up to avoid the embarrassment of a vicious knockout, or whether he felt his injuries too great to safely continue was unknown, as Chavez returned to his dressing room without granting Larry Merchant an interview.
Oscar De la Hoya got everything he wanted: a stoppage of Chavez, respect from his vanquished foe (who told De la Hoya "you beat me" after the final bell), and a cool $12 million dollars plus pay-per-view per centage for his efforts. But he also revealed his greatest weakness: the absence of a good corner.
Gone from De la Hoya's repertoire was the slick defense he had refined under the tutelage of Professor Rivera. Gone was the take-charge aggressiveness that characterized Emanuel Steward's brief tenure as trainer. De la Hoya took more flush punches than we've seen him take in some time, and he repeatedly stood idle waiting for Chavez to lead, despite having advantages in size, reach, age, speed, strength and desire. Gil Clancy, who stays on the east coast while Oscar trains in Big Bear, California, stands listless in De la Hoya's corner, only occasionally offering generic pointers. Roberto Alcazar, Oscar's longtime handwrapper/trainer, switches between English and Spanish as he struggles to get Oscar's attention. De la Hoya often paces his corner, seemingly unaware of what little advice is being given him. After the eighth round, Roberto Alcazar was so busy cheering Oscar for his round-ending flurry that he forgot that Oscar had a seriously swollen eye that needed as much ice as time would allow. It was a swelling that might very well have closed had the fight continued another round or two. Lastly, the absence of a singular strong voice in Oscar's corner showed most in his fighting. De la Hoya didn't come into the ring with any set game plan other than to just be better than Chavez. Relying solely on his talent may work against an aged Chavez, but will De la Hoya be able to improvise as well under pressure from a fighter like Ike Quartey? And if he gets in trouble, as he certainly will be if Quartey hits him as much as Chavez did, will his corner be able to rescue him? Big questions.
The pleasant surprise of a competitive De la Hoya bout only served to lower the expectations for Holyfield-Bean. Surely lightening could not strike twice.
While De la Hoya had squared off against a faded champion, Holyfield was squaring off with a faded nobody. Vaughn Bean may well have the worst record of any fighter to vie for the heavyweight title. Although his record coming into the fight was a deceptive 29-1, a closer look reveals that his opponent's combined record was 181-511-19. To make matters worse, Bean weighed in at a pudgy 231, 18 pounds more than his sleep-inducing waltz with Michael Moorer.
Evander Holyfield wanted an early night. He didn't get it. Coming out very aggressive in the first round, Holyfield chased Bean around the ring, landing crunching punches upstairs and down as the WBA #1 contender looked like he might fade quickly. Bean escaped the first round, as well as the second and third before things started changing.
In the fourth round, Bean's often sloppy barroom brawl punches started landing. Holyfield began to absorb Bean's shots and stopped throwing himself. Looking tired throughout the fourth round, Holyfield barely threw a punch in the fifth and continued taking Bean punches into the seventh and eight rounds. A fighter can get old overnight, and Evander looked all 35 years of his age as he was often listless and uninterested against his awkward challenger. What's more, he looked like a shot fighter not only because he wasn't throwing but because he was being hit with punches that were anything but pretty or technically sound.
Luckily, Holyfield found enough of a second wind to restart his attack by focusing on Bean's bloated midsection and picking his counterpunches well. In the 10th, Holyfield staggered Bean with several punches, and as a wobbly Bean tried to clutch Holyfield, he became tangled in the ropes. At the same moment the referee motioned to stop the action so Bean could get out of the ropes, an already thrown Holyfield uppercut glanced Bean's head and sent him sprawling on his back, eyes closed. Bean beat the count and was able to continue, but the 10-8 round sealed the his fate unless he could knock Holyfield out.
Give Vaughn Bean credit, he tried. In the 11th, and especially the 12th, Bean kept firing and firing, and hitting Holyfield. Evander never looked hurt, but nonetheless continued to take punch after punch without responding. Bean won the final round, but it wasn't enough, as Holyfield posted a wide unanimous points decision.
After the fight, Holyfield refused to make excuses, but speculation that Holyfield was undertrained for the lightly-regarded Bean as well as tired from the relentless promotion he's been a part of around his hometown of Atlanta, seems highly accurate. Holyfield's reputation of fighting to the level of his competition is only further solidified by this unimpressive, if successful, performance.
Tonight, Holyfield and De la Hoya sit at home, perhaps wondering why such easy fights were so bruising. With the greater challenges of Lennox Lewis and Ike Quartey waiting in the wings, both men certainly must adjust their preparation. To do otherwise would only invite defeat.
-On the Holyfield undercard, Robert Allen fought for the IBF "interim" middleweight title. Allen, who rough housed his way through a no-contest with Bernard Hopkins several weeks ago, was already the WBA #1 contender with a mandatory rematch against Hopkins coming within 120 days. So why does the IBF need to cloud the title picture even further? Why else: money. For a hefty sanctioning fee, Robert Allen can now wear a shiny belt while he waits for Hopkins' ankle to heal and Don King can promote his card as having two "world title" fights. But what a travesty. Matched against the seriously outclassed Abdula Ramadan, it took Allen less than a full round to tag his opponent with the kind of punches that made him want to quit. After staggering Ramadan with a heavy shot, Abdula turned his back on Allen and leaned on the ropes. The ref began a count, even though a knockdown did not technically occur. While Ramadan was hurt, his move to the ropes was voluntary. Although Ramadan was seriously stunned, and seemed unable to respond to referee Jim Korb's questions, the fight continued. Allen landed a few more punches, including a left hook shook Ramadan to his toes. The ref did nothing. Again Ramadan turned his back to Allen, and this time walked over to a corner. The ref did nothing. Allen approached Ramadan, whose back was still turned, and looked at Korb. The ref did nothing. Allen began throwing to Ramadan's back (!) and was able to get off a half dozen punches before Korb realized that maybe he should step in and call a halt to the contest.
-Not a good night for referees as Brian Garry got an earful from Butch Lewis after the Holyfield fight. Garry was being questioned by Showtime's Jim Grey about the Bean knockdown, which came from a punch delivered during a call for break. Butch Lewis, who was already yelling, screaming and interrupting Vaughn Bean's interview, turned his attention to Garry and began berating him for incompetence. Garry would have none of it, and the two exchanged heated words. The seemingly inebriated Lewis was eventually pulled away from any confrontation.
-Jim Grey may have had his hands full with Butch Lewis, but he certainly was praying for such energy during an interview with Tyson "advisor" Shelley Finkel. Talking to Finkel after a 6 hour Las Vegas hearing, Grey was unable to get more than one word answers out of Finkel in one of the most boring interviews ever conducted. Grey repeatedly asked long, detailed questions about Tyson's license hearing only to have Finkel answer with a monotone "No." or "Perhaps."
-De la Hoya fought before a crowd of over 18,000 in Vegas (the first full sellout of boxing at the Thomas and Mack Center) and Holyfield in front of a crowd of over 40,000. Not bad for two fights that looked so completely one-sided on paper.
-Quote of the weekend:
"I probably deserved more."
-Don King after being asked if taking 50% of Mike Tyson's purses was fair.
© 2001 Chris Bushnell. All rights reserved.