Escobedo hoping to follow in the footsteps of boxing's Golden Boy

Vicente Escobedo, left, is hoping to follow in the footsteps of his idol, Oscar De La Hoya. Craig Bennett/FightWireImages.com

It was about 9:45 p.m. Saturday in Carson, Calif. Oscar De La Hoya was speaking at the postfight news conference after his easy victory over Steve Forbes at Home Depot Center.

Vicente Escobedo's name came up. De La Hoya was asked whether he saw some of himself in Escobedo, a lightweight from nearby Woodland, Calif.

Escobedo does, to a degree, resemble De La Hoya in sheer appearance. His style is similar to the one used by De La Hoya. His promoter is from East Los Angeles. And, like De La Hoya, he boxed in the Olympics.

"Vicente is a young fighter who has a lot of potential," De La Hoya said. "He's a fighter who had a great amateur career. He's a well-spoken kid who's climbing the ranks. The difference between him and I is that I went to the Olympics and was fortunate enough to win the gold.

"It takes a little more time [to rise the ranks without a gold-medal pedigree]," De La Hoya said. "But he's getting there with every fight. And with Nacho Beristain in his corner, I feel he will become champion."

On Saturday, De La Hoya fought on the Home Depot soccer field in front of an announced crowd of 27,000. A night earlier, as a prelude to De La Hoya's homecoming, Escobedo fought Roberto Arrieta of Argentina in the 10-round main event at the Home Depot Center tennis venue before roughly 26,000 fewer fans.

Escobedo, who went 1-1 in the 2004 Athens Games, won a wide 10-round decision.

Three days earlier, on Tuesday, Escobedo held a media workout in Los Angeles, after which he talked about the steps he is taking to reach the promised land that is a world championship. Getting past his only loss has been his toughest task.

After starting his career with nine knockout victories, Escobedo lost a split decision to Daniel Jimenez in April 2006 in Sacramento, Calif.

"He was blowing everybody out," said Eric Gomez, matchmaker at De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions. "And, obviously, we thought we had the second coming of Oscar or any of the top fighters."

Escobedo was devastated. He didn't turn pro until he was 23, so a loss in the 10th fight of his career was a rather severe blow.

"I was really disappointed with my loss," said Escobedo, who has won eight in a row since then. "I blame myself. It was very difficult to lose. Everyone has such high hopes -- my family, my fans, my friends and the company. I feel like I let them down. I let myself down. It's hard, coming back from a loss, to regain yourself, and you kind of lose that confidence."

Escobedo had three more fights with trainer Freddie Roach after the setback. Escobedo then made a drastic move. Literally. He changed trainers to Beristain, then moved to Beristain's Mexico City headquarters.

"You have that rare combination of the guys that are stars like Oscar, [Floyd] Mayweather [Jr.], [Shane] Mosley, all these top guys who have both heart and talent," Gomez said. "I think that's what Vicente has."

A shuffle in the Escobedo camp might have been just what the fighter needed to get back on track after the setback.

"He was down on himself," Gomez said. "But he bounced back even harder. He went out of his way, got a new trainer and the best in the business, Nacho Beristain. He moved to Mexico City, got himself an apartment. That's how much dedication this kid has."

Escobedo (17-1, 11 KOs) said he and his management team talked to Golden Boy about the move and were given its seal of approval.

"Me going away, being away from distractions, being away in a different comfort zone than I'm usually in with my friends and family here -- I thought it was a great move," said Escobedo, who used the term "like a sauna" to describe training in Mexico City. "Being out there is a whole different kind of training. With Nacho, really old-school, really technical, really knowledgeable."

Now, it's up to Escobedo to put it all together. He is 26, so the time is now. He has added pressure because of the comparisons to De La Hoya.

Judging by his demeanor at last week's workout, he seems to embrace the challenge.

"I try not to think about it," Escobedo said. "Like Oscar's my idol. He's my promoter, and I want to be as great as Oscar. But I go in there and just fight my fight. I don't try to fight like Oscar; it just comes naturally.

"I grew up watching him. People say, 'You fight like him, you look like him.' It is pressure. I just stay focused, fight my fight and it will come along."

Escobedo was dripping with sweat, having just completed a brisk workout. He was asked what he thought about being part of De La Hoya's weekend.

"I've always wanted to fight on one of his cards," Escobedo said. "But then again, I get the main event the day before, which is great. It's going to be a great weekend of boxing. I get to fight my fight, go in there and win, and after the win go cheer on my idol, Oscar."

Escobedo admitted he has yet to regain all the fire he had before he lost to Jimenez. That is spelled out loud and clear in his record. He has won eight in a row, but whereas his first nine victories were all by knockout, he has just two knockouts in his current eight-win streak.

"But little by little, it's coming back," Escobedo said.

Escobedo left some with mixed feelings Friday. Although De La Hoya believes Escobedo will become champion, many reporters who saw him fight Arrieta were more of the "maybe, maybe not" mind-set.

Escobedo is very good. He has solid technique and power in both hands. But he was hurt to the body by Arrieta in the fifth round. He weathered the storm nicely and was never in trouble after that.

However, Arrieta came in with just 10 knockouts in 43 fights, a very poor knockout ratio of less than 25 percent.

It makes one wonder what's going to happen when Escobedo gets in with a real killer.

On the plus side, Escobedo is a fighter with tremendous discipline.

Beristain may or may not be a better fit for Escobedo than Roach. But in Escobedo's mind, Beristain is, and to move 2,000 miles from home to train with Beristain is the strongest sign of commitment.

Whatever happens, it's doubtful anyone scrutinizing Escobedo will be able to say he wasted his talent. He'll get the most out of his.

Time will tell whether it's enough to bring him achievements similar to those of De La Hoya, his Mexican-American idol.

Robert Morales covers boxing for the Long Beach Press-Telegram.