Max Kellerman

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Friday, August 30
Expecting Vargas-De La Hoya to go at it

By Max Kellerman
Special to

Oscar De La Hoya and Fernando Vargas square off Sept. 14 to decide the one and only true Ring Magazine junior middleweight champion of the world. Ordinarily we would assume that this matchup of two top fighters and bitter rivals in one of the most competitive divisions in recent years would guarantee an action-packed thriller.

However, in the wake of several "can't-miss" fights that missed (see the Marco Antonio Barrera-Erik Morales and Vernon Forrest-Shane Mosley rematches), the question must be asked: Can this fight miss?

On the one hand, Vargas has never been in a boring fight in his life. On the other hand, if there is a man alive who can make a Vargas fight dull, that man is De La Hoya. With consecutive big-fight losses to Felix Trinidad and Shane Mosley, "The Golden Boy" knows he must be at his very best against Vargas, or the perception of him as an upper echelon fighter may never recover. And we have all seen that De La Hoya is most effective when he is most boring. He was boring against Pernell Whitaker, he was boring for much of his fight against Ike Quartey, he was even boring against Trinidad. I mean, you have to have a special gift to make a boring fight with Tito.

The best description I have ever heard of Tito came from Emmanuel Steward, who called him a "killer robot." After taking a few rounds to figure out what is in front of him and what he needs to do to destroy it, Trinidad self-programs for annihilation of his opponent, and then simply obeys his circuitry. De La Hoya was good enough that it took the killer robot nearly nine rounds to figure him out. He outwitted the robot for the first two-thirds, maybe three-quarters of their fight, but once Oscar saw that annihilation mode had been enabled, he just ran.

The thing is, Oscar was able to keep his fight with Trinidad at a civilized pace because he was facing a dispassionate fighter. This is not to suggest that Trinidad is not a passionate person, only that his style in the ring can be described as disciplined, efficient, ruthless, but not passionate. He is more Joe Louis than Roberto Duran.

Vargas fights with his heart on his sleeve. He is fire to Trinidad's ice. He does not take several rounds to study his opponent, map a blueprint and push a button. No, his button has been pushed already, by De La Hoya, years ago when he felt Oscar snubbed him while they were both still amateurs.

Oscar desperately needs a win here. He usually plays it safe under such circumstances, but this might be an exceptional case. Many feel that Vargas is damaged goods since his fight with Tito. After being stopped by the robot in the 12th round of their action classic, Vargas has been floored and hurt by lesser fighters. If De La Hoya is convinced that the robot permanently affected Vargas' ability to take a shot, and if he is wary of leaving his fate in the hands of the judges after losing two competitive fights on the score cards, Oscar might be looking for a knockout. Which means he might be looking for a fight. He came to the right place.

Hey, if Barrera can spend the first five rounds of their rematch running from Morales, I suppose anything is possible. But I am expecting De La Hoya and Vargas to go at it.

Max Kellerman is a studio analyst for ESPN2's Friday Night Fights.

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