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When Oscar de la Hoya struts to center ring on Saturday (December 7) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, he’ll be staring down an opponent with a four-inch height disadvantage. Against any other man, he knows that he could probably jab his way to an easy victory, but against Phillipino sensation Manny Pacquiao — boxing’s reigning pound-for-pound king and a kinetic storm of fistic ferocity — he knows that it’ll take more than that. And fighting at a catch weight of 147 pounds (welterweight) — he hasn’t fought there since 2001 — he and strength and conditioning coach Rob Garcia know that training and diet are more important than ever. Here, M&F takes an inside look at the physical make-up of one of boxing’s best.
CAMP GOLDEN BOY
To ensure that he made weight, and that he was able to keep up with the pace and persistence of Pacquiao, de la Hoya plowed through an intense, eight-week training camp in Big Bear, California, but not before a pair of “mini-camps” in Puerto Rico.
“This training camp started roughly about four months ago,” Oscar says. “I do mini-camps in between so that I’m always in pretty good shape. So with my strength coach Rob Garcia, who has been with me since 2001, we do three weeks of plyometrics, sprints and other explosive exercises to build up strength. Then the boxing training is two months of prep.”
While critics, naysayers and pundits were quick to scoff at the fight when it was made — they said he’d never make 147 and that he’d be dehydrated and slow if he did — Oscar started camp in Big Bear at 156 with eight weeks of training ahead of him. Two weeks before fight night, Oscar was slim and trim at 145 pounds. Pacquiao has never fought heavier than 135.
“My weight doesn’t fluctutate much,” Oscar says. “I consider myself a natural welterweight. Right now, I’ve been able to come down to 145, feeling strong and fast and full of energy. As long as you take care of body and eat the right foods, you’re good. And these mini-camps in between are big. A lot of athletes let themselves go.”
But still, Garcia had to monitor Oscar’s weight training so that he wouldn’t pack on too much muscle during his main training camp, keeping the focus on core strength and flexibility to complement his boxing work.
“I don’t really lift any weights anymore,” Oscar says. “The only weight that I lift is with a tornado ball. Other than that, it’s just normal push-ups and pull-ups. I might use five-pounds here and here.”
During his mini-camps, it’s a different story. Garcia helped Oscar focus on building strength, speed and power.
“We start from ground up,” says Garcia. “Monday is leg day and we focus on the big lifts — squat, lunge, depth lunge and some total body conditioning. Next day is more core work with abs, twists, low back strengthening and we work flexibility throughout. Then an upper body day that’s all push-pull. We want him using equal weight pushing and pulling because that makes him very symmetrical. So that when you’re throwing a punch, everything is very even.”
EATING FOR THE RING
In the last few years, Oscar has become very scientific and exact about how he eats. This strict adherence to diet, he says, has made him a much more dangerous fighter. “At this stage of my career, now that I’m 35, I’ve been watching very carefully what goes inside my body,” he says. “My diet is now based on my blood type. So my team puts together a diet that helped me lose the weight, but at the same time I’m feeling stronger than an ox. I have energy like there’s no tomorrow.”
“It has taken us three years to perfect this diet,” says Garcia. “He eats exactly what he’s supposed to and the diet is doing what it’s supposed to do. He’s getting all the nutrients he needs to recover. He is not going without anything. His body is acclimating well.”
And what about supplements for the Golden Boy? “His all organic diet gives him all the vitamins and minerals he needs. But he occasionally takes stuff like bee pollen, Siberian ginseng, or a liquid multi-mineral in drinks here and there. He’ll also have a recovery drink at the gym.”
ABS OF GOLD
One of the most popular photos that has circulated in the lead-up to the fight is a pic of Oscar flexing his abs, showing hardly any bodyfat weeks out from the fight. Oscar says that Garcia’s ab-training regimen (and the diet) are to thank for that.
“We do a lot of inversions, actually,” he says. “We use the moon boots.”
Oscar is referring to the modified boots that allow him to hang from a bar and do full, inverted sit-ups. “Twice a week, I’m doing five sets of 20 of those as fast as I can. And at the end of those five sets, I hold at a 90 degree angle (to the floor) to make sure my abs are nice and tight. And I also work a lot with the medicine ball. We’re doing 600-700 reps of medicine ball stuff for my abs everyday. But he’s always changing it up and always trying to confuse the muscle, which has been key.”
Team Golden Boy has done all it can to eliminate excuses in the physical conditioning department. “I can’t get him in better shape now,” Garcia says. “All I can do is overtrain him.”
There are, of course, some obvious physical advantages that Oscar is taking into the ring on Saturday, not the least of which is his reach (73″-67″).
“Obviously, the reach is a big advantage,” he says. “People are talking about how much faster Pacquiao is than I am but they are going to be surprised by how fast my hands are that night. Power will be a big factor. As long as I’m throwing the right punches and timing his speed — which is the way you neutralize his speed — it’ll be a great fight.”
Garcia, who is there for every punch during camp, knows that it’ll be about more than speed. It’ll be about sheer size.
“Well, you never let the other fighter dictate the pace,” he says. “Good boxers always try to set the pace. Look at Hopkins. He clenches and leans on you and frustrates you and at the end of the day you’re doing what he wants you to do. Oscar’s gonna draw a line in the sand, set his pace with the jab. The jab is the key for us. It’s Oscar’s best defensive and offensive weapon.
“Oscar’s a big welterweight so he’s going to be the stronger man in the ring. If Manny fights any good welterweight, he’s gonna feel the difference in weight. So strength has a little to do with it, but strategy and ability are the main factors.”
Working out the ring strategy will be legendary trainer Nacho Beristain, Oscar’s third trainer in as many fights, who is deeply familiar with Pacquiao and his trainer Freddie Roach from previous fights with his fighters. Famed trainer Angelo Dundee, who trained Muhammad Ali in his prime, will also serve as an advisor to Oscar’s corner on fight night.
So is this really the final bout for Oscar? At 35, and with some epic wars under his belt, retiring might seem the most logical option. But his renewed dedication to fitness, coupled with the addition of Garcia and a space-age diet, may have extended his career by accident.
“Well I think Bernard Hopkins is a good example of that,” says Garcia. “He outworked and outfought (middleweight champ) Kelly Pavlik. Bringing all that wisdom makes you more energy efficient. With technology, knowing how to apply new stuff with old school boxing, you can turn the clock back. The combination of sports medicine, strength and conditioning drills make it so we don’t over work him.”
Regardless of whether or not this is the last time Oscar trades blows at the center of the ring with another hard-nosed pug, you can be sure of one thing: it’s going to be a show.
“A lot of people are saying that it will or it might be my last fight,” he says. “What I can tell you is that it’s going to be the performance of my life. I go out there every night and fight. We’re going to go out there and just fight. It’s gonna be Clash of the Titans. We’re both going to go out there and fight as hard as we can. I have no doubt that this fight will end with a knockout.”
TALE OF THE TAPE
Oscar de la Hoya
Height: 5’10 1/2′
Weight: 147 (fight night); 156 (start of camp)
Record: 39-5, 30 KO
Birthdate: February 4, 1973 (age 35)
On the Web: www.goldenboypromotions.com
>> De la Hoya vs. Pacquiao can be seen live from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on HBO pay-per-view beginning at 6:00 pm PT this Saturday, December 6. For more information on the fight, visit www.hbo.com/boxing.
FRANK BEING FRANK