Oscar De La Hoya will beat Ricardo Mayorga when they meet Saturday at MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. At least that's what the vast majority of the experts are saying.
In a poll taken Tuesday, six of seven neutral trainers took De La Hoya, 37-4, with 29 knockouts, to outbox and possibly stop Mayorga, 28-5-1 (23), with 1 no-contest.
What's more, according to Las Vegas Sports Consultants, the smooth-boxing De La Hoya is between a 3-and 3.30-to-1 favorite to defeat the free-swinging, cocky Mayorga.
"Oscar's a great, great boxer," said Dan Birmingham, who trains No. 1-rated middleweight contender Winky Wright and former IBF super middleweight champion Jeff Lacy. "I met Oscar when he was 14 and knew he'd be someone special and do some great things in boxing. He turned out very special."
To say the least.
The 33-year-old De La Hoya, a 1992 Olympic gold medalist for the United States, has won titles in six different weight divisions, from 130 to 160 pounds.
For his part, the smack-talking Mayorga, of Managua, Nicaragua, has won belts in two divisions - welterweight and super welterweight. He will be defending his WBC super welterweight title in Saturday's fight, which will be broadcast live on HBO Pay-Per-View.
"I think Oscar will outbox him and stop him in the later rounds," Birmingham said. "His weight is down. He's apparently training hard. His rest did him well."
The "rest" Birmingham is referring to is De La Hoya's 20-month layoff. The "Golden Boy" hasn't fought since he was stopped by then-middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins.
But the somewhat amateurish Mayorga, 32, is a far cry from Hopkins, who is bigger, stronger and boxes far more than the Nicaraguan, who swings for the fences.
Nevertheless, Freddie Roach, who trains heavyweight James Toney and junior lightweight Manny Pacquiao, said the layoff is an intriguing factor.
"That's what's exciting about this fight," Roach said. "That's what everybody's wondering about. I am too. But Oscar's kept his weight down and never takes anybody lightly. I like De La Hoya to outbox him and maybe score a late stoppage."
Even though Mayorga has gotten underneath De La Hoya's skin by insulting his wife, his sexuality and his ethnicity, trainer Ken Adams doesn't feel the Golden Boy will let it affect him in the ring.
"I'm taking De La Hoya, possibly by a late KO," said Adams, who trained such champions as Eddie Cook, Kennedy McKinney and Ray Mercer. "It's left hook time. Oscar's best punch is a left hook. Mayorga is vulnerable anyway. Oscar will box his ears off early and make him miss. Mayorga will wing, wing, wing and wear himself out. Oscar's not going to bang with him. He's too smart for that."
Thell Torrence, trainer of WBC heavyweight titlist Hasim Rahman, said it comes down to style.
"De La Hoya is too skillful - he's too much of a boxer," Torrence said. "De La Hoya will win. If Mayorga isn't careful, De La Hoya might even get the guy after seven rounds."
Asked for his input, former junior welterweight and welterweight champion Buddy McGirt, who now trains Arturo Gatti, Lamon Brewster and light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver, said it's not even close.
"De La Hoya," McGirt said of his pick. "He's got something to prove. Oscar's smart. He'll box him, take him to school and walk him into something."
Ronnie Shields, who trains WBA lightweight titlist Juan Diaz and former cruiserweight and heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, said he knows what that "something" will be.
"Mayorga will have a problem with Oscar's jab," Shields said. "If he uses that jab the way he used to in the past, I don't see a problem. The only thing is he can't get into a slugging match. It's a nice-sized ring. Oscar will have plenty of room."
If it seems like an open-and-shut case that De La Hoya will win easily, take into consideration what the one dissenter said.
"I'm taking the opposite of what most people are taking," said Teddy Atlas, who trained former heavyweight champion Michael Moorer and is an analyst/broadcaster for ESPN2 Friday Night Fights. "I'm taking Mayorga. Most people love De La Hoya. Mayorga's made to order for him from a technical standpoint."
"I don't think this fight means as much to De La Hoya as it should mean," Atlas said. "I don't like the way he behaved in his fight against Hopkins - and I'm not talking about getting knocked down with a body shot and not getting up. He didn't throw punches the last few rounds when he had the chance.
"Hopkins was a middleweight, but he was careful and he countered. He gave the landscape to De La Hoya to be effective. De La Hoya didn't have control of himself the way a fighter should - mentally and in an emotional way."
Atlas said it boils down to things other than titles, knockouts, records or popularity.
"I don't know at this point in his life - where he's had so much success - if he's got it mentally and will be able to conduct himself like he used to," Atlas said. "I look for Mayorga to do the better job, even though he lacks the technique. He's a bigger guy. I've got to give him the mental edge."
Now it's time for my pick.
When I first heard that De La Hoya was coming out of what amounted to a semi-retirement for a "career-defining fight," I thought he'd be facing Wright or Floyd Mayweather. When I heard it was Mayoraga I scoffed and was publicly disdainful.
I, like most everyone else, took De La Hoya. Here is a fighter that took off 15 months after defeating mediocre Francisco Javier Castillejo but still had what it took to stop Fernando Vargas in September 2002.
And then it struck me. Although De La Hoya rocked Vargas, who was even on steroids, the Golden Boy's last real victory came against a washed-up Yory Boy Campas in May 2003.
Four months later De La Hoya lost to Shane Mosley. Nine months later a fat De La Hoya was given a gift decision over Germany's Felix Sturm for the WBO middleweight trinket. Three months later he was stopped by Hopkins.
That was 20 months ago and nearly three years removed from a win over a faded fighter.
It's true that De La Hoya has had more problems with boxers than punchers like Mayorga. See both fights with Mosley and his performance with Sturm. And with Hopkins, De La Hoya fell into a trap and was foolish and aggressive enough to come after a bigger fighter.
The question is, will he do that with Mayorga?
If De La Hoya boxes, it should be a relatively easy fight. But the evidence is out there that De La Hoya will try to punish the trash-talking Mayorga, which is exactly what Mayorga wants.
De La Hoya doesn't have the power to stop Mayorga like Felix Trinidad did in October 2004. Mayorga, who knocked out slick boxer-puncher Vernon Forrest in three rounds in January '03, does have the power to stop De La Hoya.
Mayorga can't box to save his life. De La Hoya is a masterful boxer. And the Golden Boy is taller, has a longer reach and is quicker.
That all said, I wouldn't be surprised if Mayorga catches an overly aggressive De La Hoya early. If he does, he has enough power and ruthless aggressiveness to finish the job. But that's a big if.
I'll take De La Hoya by decision, but there will be some interesting things in store for him first.
Notes: Mike Lawrence, manager of Bully's Bar and Grill at 3530 North Carson Street, said the De La Hoya-Mayorga fight will be shown for free. The undercard should start at 6 p.m., with the main event to begin at 8. Lawrence said fight fans usually get there quickly, so interested patrons should come early.
In Reno, the Cal-Neva will also show the fight, which will cost upwards of $50 to watch on PPV, for free.
•Contact Mike Houser at email@example.com or 881-1220