Throughout his 16-year professional boxing career, Oscar De La Hoya has hired and fired trainers as if he were George Steinbrenner orchestrating the New York Yankees' game of managerial musical chairs. With the recent addition of Mexican veteran "Nacho" Beristain, the "Golden Boy" is working on what he hopes will be lucky No. 7.
What is consistent about De La Hoya (39-5, 30 KOs), who takes on Filipino national hero Manny Pacquiao (47-3-2, 35 KOs) tomorrow night in a 12-round welterweight bout at Las Vegas' MGM Grand, is that he always falls in and then out of love with his chief second of the moment.
Trainers Robert Alcazar, Jesus Rivero, Emanuel Steward, Gil Clancy, Floyd Mayweather Sr. and Freddie Roach have been consigned to the trash heap by De La Hoya. The lavish praise De La Hoya is now heaping on Beristain - Hall of Famer Angelo Dundee also has come aboard, as a "consultant" - is in keeping with his history of running hot and cold when assessing the capabilities of his trainers.
"He is the best trainer I have had," De La Hoya said of Beristain.
Every previous trainer, with the possible exception of Alcazar, was similarly gushed over for a time by boxing's most marketable superstar. But when Roach proved to be a one-and-done, working De La Hoya's corner only for his losing split decision to Floyd Mayweather Jr. on May 5, 2007, he didn't quietly accept his pink slip as had so many of his predecessors.
The verbal hissing match between De La Hoya and Roach, who has worked Pacquiao's corner since 2001, has nearly overshadowed the real fight that will take place in the ring.
Although De La Hoya tried to get a rise out of Pacquiao by questioning his honor for backing out of a handshake agreement to be promoted by De La Hoya's company, Golden Boy Promotions, the little southpaw - a onetime flyweight who will fight for the first time at 147 pounds after having only one bout at his previous top poundage of 135 - declined to engage, at least with words.
"In the ring, I don't want to make it personal," Pacquiao said, adding that the trash-talking between De La Hoya and Roach is "between my trainer and Oscar."
Roach acknowledged being hurt, but he apparently subscribes to the "Animal House" theory of retribution: Don't get mad, get even.
"Oscar looked me in the eye and told me, 'Freddie, I'm never going to take another fight without you in my corner,' " Roach recalled. "When someone looks you in the eye and tells you something like that, you believe them. At least I do. Or I did."
Then Roach found out he had been fired by reading a newspaper article in which De La Hoya blamed him for his loss to Mayweather.
Since then, Roach has waged a singular campaign to convince everyone he could that the "Golden Boy" is a tin man inside and outside the ropes.
"Oscar can't pull the trigger anymore," Roach declared. "He's 35 and a part-time fighter. It's obvious that Father Time is catching up with him. His stamina is decreased and he's not the fastest learner when it comes to new things."
Reading vs. Blue Horizon
Two attractive live cards within easy driving distance will compete for fight fans' attention tonight.
At the Sovereign Center in Reading, the 10-round main event pits North Philadelphia welterweight Mike Jones (15-0, 13 KOs) against Luciano Perez (16-8-1, 13 KOs), of Chicago. It's junior welter Rock Allen (13-0, 7 KOs), the 2004 U.S. Olympian from North Philly, against Mexico's Humberto Tapia (13-8-1, 7 KOs) in the eight-round co-feature.
The annual Children's Holiday Show at the Blue has a pair of eight-rounders topping the marquee, as Israeli cruiserweight Ran Nakash (15-0, 11 KOs) squares off against Harvey Jolly (8-9-1, 4 KOs), of Adrian, Mich., and junior welter Steve Upsher Chambers (18-1-1, 5 KOs) swaps punches with Ghana's Ben Ankrah (11-8, 3 KOs). *