War at 122 pounds: Battle of Attrition: Lupe and Wilfredo

War at 122 pounds: Battle of Attrition: Lupe and Wilfredo

 

Following Floyd and Manny:  Facing Oscar and its Implications

By Christian Giudice

christiangiudice@hotmail.com

Manny Pacquiao vs. Oscar De La Hoya

When Manny Pacquiao defeated Oscar De La Hoya on December 6, 2008 in a welterweight showdown, the glorious performance was his introduction to the sports world that he’d officially arrived. Although boxing fans were well aware of his abilities, taking down a legend, even at the end of his career, was confirmation that Pacquiao was ready to take control of a sport that sorely needed someone with his character and magnificent skill set.

Similar to his megafight with Floyd Mayweather Jr., De La Hoya stalked the smaller Pacquiao from the opening bell. Staunch De La Hoya supporters could not envision a scenario where a fighter who ruled the 130-division could possibly get inside and hurt the 5-foot-11 inch champion. Conversely, Pacquiao fans questioned De La Hoya’s ability to fend off Pacquiao in attack mode.

Early on De La Hoya stalked Pacquiao as the Filipino champion moved to his left, which some would criticize as making him easy fodder for that vaunted straight right hand. De La Hoya missed with a big hook and came up short with his right hand, and Pacquiao landed first with a sharp straight left and right hook.

Judging by the first three minutes of the fight, one thing was evident – Pacquiao’s defensive skills were the best he’d ever displayed in his career. He will need that same type of movement against Mayweather. The brilliant lateral movement, consistent head feints and ability to step to his right and escape off the ropes were magnificent. In addition, Pacquiao accentuated his performance in the opening round by landing five straight left hands against a taller fighter who doesn’t take much punishment.

Increasing his punch output while intensifying the frequent ambushes, Pacquiao landed a pinpoint right hook to start the second round. More importantly, Pacquiao made De La Hoya miss five jabs during the round. In the final 15 seconds, Pacquiao landed a left hand and slipped away to his right, a move he would perfect against Ricky Hatton.

Although De La Hoya had moments, especially when he turned to the body in the next round, Pacquiao began to pick off right hands and shoot his counter left. As the fight has begun to intensify, Pacquiao gained confidence and points with powerful hooks off of his jab. Confronting De La Hoya’s legendary power is a frightening task for any fighter; Pacquiao no longer appeared concerned about the harsh repercussions. In one instance when De La Hoya came forward, Pacquiao forced him back with a beautiful jab to stomach and hook to the head.

For the first time in his career, De La Hoya could only sit back and watch as Pacquiao landed several clean shots toward the end of the second round. Still it was hard to count out De La Hoya, a fighter with such power and supreme boxing skill.

Just under the two minute mark of the fifth round, a careless but determined De La Hoya got hit with the biggest punch of the fight – a right hook thrown from a distance by Pacquiao. From there, Pacquiao followed De La Hoya and implemented a calculated body attack. Not to be outclassed, De La Hoya landed four impressive uppercuts of his own.

Instead of countering, Manny took the lead in the sixth. To the crowd’s delight, the men brawled for the first time. But as Pacquiao’s varied attack evolved, De La Hoya’s became virtually dormant. Pacquiao closed the gap to land short, crunching hooks and doubled up on the straight left hand. The slower De La Hoya was overwhelmed by Pacquiao’s speed and could no longer match his energy. In the seventh round, a rejuvenated Pacquiao took De La Hoya to the ropes and unleashed an eight-punch combination with a short left hook doing the damage. But it was not merely a boxing lesson; Pacquiao was battering a legend who was now merely trying to survive.

De La Hoya’s inability to cope was highlighted by a straight left he absorbed with forty seconds remaining in the round. Pacquiao jarred De La Hoya’s head back with the punch – a final confirmation that he had lost complete control of the fight. Discouraged, but not beaten, De La Hoya, sporting a nasty bruise under his right eye, bravely fought back. In the eighth and final round, Pacquiao urged De La Hoya to fight by clicking gloves together and then waited until the last ten seconds to set up and land one more big left hook in the corner of the ring. A dejected Oscar slowly headed back to his corner. In between rounds, De La Hoya admitted, “He’s too fast for me. That’s it.”

What this means for Mayweather vs. Pacquiao:

Pacquiao was at his absolute best against De La Hoya. Offensively, Pacquiao won’t be able to duplicate the attack he exhibited back in 2008, but if he can utilize some of those same defensive skills to make Mayweather miss his jab and deter him from getting into a rhythm with his right hands, then those skills will help him immensely. Dismantling a legend in such a convincing fashion was an amazing accomplishment for Pacquiao and it propelled him to even greater heights, but it also showed Mayweather that he has the tools – a jab, lead hook, movement – to get inside on a bigger fighter and dominate him.

Prior to getting into the ring on May 5, 2007 at super welterweight, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Oscar De La Hoya had strategized thousands of times during intense training sessions to offset each other’s strengths. For Mayweather, it was De La Hoya’s dangerous left hook, and for De La Hoya, it was Mayweather’s brilliant boxing skills and piercing right hand. Despite the pre-fight hysteria, both men held a mutual respect for each other inside the ring.

As soon as round one opened, a complex psychological battled ensued and carried over to the final bell. In some ways the first round mirrored the same approach taken by both fighters in the final round: Mayweather shot the jab and check hook with some success, while De La Hoya pushed him to the ropes and railed away with successive hooks to the body, some more crowd pleasing than effective. Embracing the aggressor role, De La Hoya’s persistence never waned; even when he missed five or six punches in a row, he was not deterred.

During an exciting second round, De La Hoya opened up a sophisticated attack, where he took advantage of Mayweather against the ropes and in the middle of the ring. First, De La Hoya landed a hook, then missed a barrage, but stayed focused enough to land a jab and then a clubbing right hand. Then, with forty seconds remaining, De La Hoya used his jab to set up another one of his combinations, but Mayweather quickly closed the door by clinching and moving out of harm’s way. This round represented the blueprint for how to fight Mayweather; yet, there was one caveat as De La Hoya, unlike many opponents, had the size (5-foot-11), strength, and speed to pull it off.

Reflecting the intensity of the previous round, Mayweather came off the stool and immediately landed a counter hook, but then absorbed several body shots from De La Hoya. In a crouched stance, De La Hoya followed Mayweather around the ring, furiously looking for an opening. Although Mayweather was able to use his patented shoulder roll to defray most of the incoming punches, he still couldn’t avoid getting hit with counter right hands toward the end of the round.

The ultimate chess match was unfolding as Mayweather was content to be economical early, in contrast with De La Hoya, who knew that throwing a lot of punches was a key element to a victory. Similarly, when Pacquiao and Mayweather face each other on May 2, a determining factor will be Pacquiao’s pressure vs. Mayweather’s precision. By the fourth and fifth rounds, Mayweather adapted and recognized the need to use his speed, and keep the fight in the middle of the ring. As De La Hoya still landed effectively, it was Mayweather’s arsenal of right hands at the end of both rounds that concerned Oscar supporters.

In the seventh round, De La Hoya attempted to maintain his physical style and disrupt Mayweather every time he tried to find a rhythm. Even though De La Hoya never had the same success as he did in that second round, he still landed those chopping right hands and straight counter rights above Mayweather’s guard. At one point, De La Hoya missed wildly on four power punches and then landed the fifth. Surprisingly, his punches had not lost their velocity. Usually Mayweather has drained his opponent’s energy by this point in the fight, but De La Hoya showed few signs of slowing down.

In the second half of the seventh, both men traded moments as De La Hoya put on an impressive and consistent jabbing display, while Mayweather threw that wide right hook to the body and frequently went to the left hook to the head. De La Hoya ended the round with a barrage of hooks as he pinned Floyd in the corner; Oscar wasn’t as judicious as Floyd, but his punches were landing.

The urgency of the situation was not lost on Mayweather, and the next three rounds proved how being the best conditioned boxer allows him to dictate the second halves of fights on his own accord. In the eighth, Mayweather ignited an effusive attack where he landed his best combination of the fight – an uppercut and a straight right hand. In the ninth and tenth, Mayweather fought from a crouched position to slip De La Hoya’s right hand counters, and doubled up on his right hand, while controlling the pace of each round. An exhausted De La Hoya could not longer get his punches off, and Floyd timed him perfectly.

The last ten seconds of the tenth were indicative of how dangerous Floyd is late in a fight. First, De La Hoya took Mayweather’s bait and got nailed with a jab; then – knowing full well he had only seconds to spare – Mayweather made De La Hoya miss, came back to his left, threw a harmless left hand and then landed a huge right hand that as the bell sounded.

De La Hoya accepted the reality and forged ahead.

A determined De La Hoya landed significant punches in the final two rounds, and he even got the crowd into the fight with a final round attack, but Mayweather had already left his final imprint on a close fight. The fighters embraced at the bell.

What this means for Pacquiao vs. Mayweather:

Even at this stage in his career, Mayweather can adapt to any situation. Several years later, Mayweather can’t access the same lateral movement, but he will be able to analyze Pacquiao’s weaknesses early and make necessary changes. Also, Mayweather owns the late rounds in every fight, so Pacquiao will have to find a way to pace himself and preserve his energy in order to not let Mayweather take over and run away with the fight late.

Living in Exile: What Really Happened to Alexis Arguello? By Christian Giudice

“There’s nothing you can do. If you go back, they will take your life.”—Trainer and lifelong Argüello friend, Don Kahn

Sometimes ignorance and resentment can come from the most unlikeliest of sources. In the ring, Alexis Argüello always knew his opponent and how to approach and attack him. Outside the ring, it was not always that easy. Back in the summer of 1979, he was blindsided by a set of events that still seem unexplainable to this day.

Not long after displacing the dictatorship of Anastasio “Tachito” Somoza Debayle on July 19, 1979, the FSLN (Sandinista National Liberation Front) confiscated all of Argüello’s holdings, which were valued near $500,000. True to Argüello’s character, the only thing he cared about was his family’s safety. He would make another fortune and another one on top of that one, but hearing that his mother and sister were forced into the streets of Managua sparked an anger that never left him.

For the first time in his life, Argüello could not go home.

Ingrained within the fighter—even before the confiscation—was the capacity to emotionally detach himself from controversy away from the ring. He possessed an innate ability that few could attest to. On several occasions during his career, Argüello faced hypocrisy and encountered power struggles that he sidestepped with class and dignity. In 1981, Argüello was training in Tucson, Arizona at the Estevan Gym for a bout with Roberto Elizondo when a police officer entered and immediately threw him out of the gym, citing a bogus technicality. Locals were enraged at the mistreatment of their guest, but Argüello moved on without incident. To him, the disrespect represented nothing more than a blip on the radar. Argüello always knew when to engage or when to pull back. It was crucial that he never lost his composure or the respect of his fans; that mentality guided him in the ring.

Two years earlier another battle was in its early stages.

Unbeknownst to many, it was a parade in the city of Esteli in 1975 that ignited the controversial split with the Sandinistas. Or at least that was the pretext the new government used to exile a national treasure. As a recently crowned champion, Argüello was approached by then Somoza’s chief, Rene Molina, to be given an honor during a parade in the mountainous Esteli region. He would be awarded an honorary lieutenant title with the National Guard.

As a newly crowned champ, Argüello didn’t consider the implications of the invitation; for that matter, no one could have predicted the repercussions. What many viewed as a political maneuver on the part of Somoza, Argüello saw as a kind gesture, a way of giving back to his people.

However, the appearance backfired miserably. The next day, a newspaper published a photo of Argüello riding a horse in the parade with a caption that mocked him. The mild-mannered Arguello was infuriated by the caustic media response.

His manager and adviser, Eduardo Roman, reminded the young champion the next day that as world champ he had to be wary of whom he appears to support.

“All the presidents tried to get close to him,” said Roman. “Somoza didn’t help Alexis in a real way. He invited him to a presentation with 100,000 people, and Alexis went without telling me.”

Roman continued: “I forbade him to attend political events like that. When I saw him the next day I went up to him and said, ‘You are not a champ of the Somozistas. You are a champ of all Nicaragua.’ Alexis wanted to be a friend of everyone and had no political opinions.”

According to a former member of the Nicaraguan Boxing Commission, Sergio Quintero, “The incident that happened with Somoza was very innocent. Alexis had no idea about backdoor dealings that were going on.”

The damage was done. Four years later the Sandinistas used the honorary lieutenant tag as fodder for cheap and unfounded accusations as they casually spread Argüello’s wealth. They had unfairly labeled Argüello a Somoza sympathizer, and justified the theft as another reason to fund frivolous revolutionary “needs.” To deepen the wound, it was reported that Soviet envoys were driving around Argüello’s BMW and living out of his house. Nowhere was it mentioned that on June 17 Alexis’ brother, Edward, died fighting for the Sandinistas.

In a matter of months, a country ushered in a new regime and ushered out a hero. As much as it hurt the Nicaraguan people, they were helpless to do anything about it.

A week prior to the split, politics and boxing were already intertwined when Argüello came into the ring against Bazooka Limon on July 8 displaying a dark red and black Sandinista robe. Critics viewed the act as an idea concocted by Roman to appease a new government that was in position to take over. Conversely, Argüello supporters downplayed the incident.

“Revolutionary leaders saw it as a piece of opportunism organized by Roman,” said Tijerino.

Roman later noted that his decision to bring the flag was taken out of context, and that he was supporting a Nicaragua that “didn’t want a dictatorship anymore.” Still, bringing in the flag accelerated a chain of events that tested Argüello’s will and character more than ever before.

“After we carried the flag in for the Limon fight, everything happened negatively,” said longtime trainer and close friend, Don Kahn. “He couldn’t go back. He was so angry.”

When Argüello found out he couldn’t go home, it would take decades to forgive, but he never forgot. Evidence of this steadfastness occurred in 1981 when FSLN President Daniel Ortega sent popular journalist Edgard Tijerino and Sandinista representative Sammy Santos to locate Argüello, then a lightweight champ, in Venezuela to discuss a peaceful reconciliation. Although Tijerino and Argüello had been extremely close at the outset of the fighter’s career, Roman suspected ulterior motives, and urged Argüello to turn down the offer. Although Tijerino supported the revolution, he also recognized its flaws. Years later, Tijerino said, “What happened and what they did to Alexis was a failure of the revolution. Alexis was the victim.”

In the ring, Argüello polished off a Hall of Fame career where he went on to win three world titles in as many weight classes. After a couple years removed from the sport, Argüello finally got the call to go home again. He returned to a hero’s welcome in 1990 as new President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro made promises of change. However, the timing wasn’t ideal. Having forged a desperate attempt to fight for the Contras, as well as a failed marriage and comeback try, Argüello came back to Nicaragua looking for answers—and the fortune that was stolen from him.

Although part of Argüello’s fortune and properties were eventually returned to him, he became disenchanted with the waiting process, and moved back to the US where he initiated his second and final comeback attempt in 1994.

A final failed boxing comeback led to one of his darkest periods. But, similar to his ring persona, Argüello never stopped fighting. Having floated aimlessly for a few years without any real foundation, Argüello’s bid to turn his life around came about in 2000 due to support from close friends. Argüello also made the decision to reunite with Ortega, who regained his presidency by 2006. The move to mend the relationship left Argüello supporters dumbfounded; others perceived it as necessary for the fighter to start making a difference.

Few believed that Ortega was sincere about the re-establishing the friendship.

By November 2008, Argüello was elected mayor of Managua. He wanted nothing more than to help the poor—his people. Genuine and honest, both rare traits for a politician, Argüello was loved by his people. When Argüello had the opportunity, he made a positive impact. However, along the way he had drawn the ire of some high ranking Sandinistas, and was publicly relegated to figurehead status.

“I think he was genuine about wanting to work as a good mayor for Managuans and showed some honest efforts in relation to that. I wonder if it made much sense for the FSLN to put out a candidate like that when really all they wanted was someone to follow the plans of integrating the CPC’s (Councils of Citizen Power) with the City Council,” said Johannes Wilm, author of Nicaragua, Back from the Dead? “It would probably also have been a good idea for them to work with Alexis before the elections to make sure he understood what role they wanted him to play.”

By July 2009, Argüello was gone.

Theories still abound about what happened to Argüello the night he died. Nothing has been confirmed or even accepted by the people who cared about the man. A sense of unrest is still palpable when discussing the fateful evening.

Yet, when it came to politics, a strange pattern had emerged in Argüello’s complicated life. In July 1979, the Sandinistas confiscated everything. Thirty years later, they returned to rob Argüello again. This time it was a different type of theft—one that Argüello couldn’t defend himself against. First, Ortega and the Sandinista party used and benefited from Argüello’s popularity as mayor, then they publicly stripped him of any power several months later, and finally they bullied him into submission as they pushed him into a corner that he couldn’t escape from.

After Argüello’s death, they tried to honor him by building a statue of him that reeked of insincerity.

“The media reports simply stated that he had shot himself and that they were sending his body for an autopsy,” said Nicaraguan Liz Green, whose frustration is typical of many Nicaraguans. “… Sadly, everything revolved around rumors, different pictures, speculation and multiple reports of people which made it all more confusing.”

Four years later after his death, and there are still more questions than answers. Four years later and still no closure. Four years later and no closer to the truth. What happened to Alexis Argüello? We may never know. But as the years go by, the farther the people will get from knowing the truth. Now, amid the silence, all the people have to cling to is a fading memory of the hero they once knew.

Christian Giudice is the author of Beloved Warrior: The Rise and Fall of Alexis Argüello

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