Oscar De La Hoya: not just a pretty face
By Martin Wade (September 10, 2004) 
Photo © J.P. Yim
Look at it this way, none of asked to be here and we certainly didn’t ask for whatever genetic hand we are dealt. Some of us are predisposed to gain weight easily, some of us are knock-kneed and some of us just plain old hairy. Boxing, at its root is a primal endeavor; we may call it a 'science' yet it is the 'science' of pummeling another man. It is the oldest sport, and with it come some of the most prehistoric in psychological myths and precepts. Listen to Bernard Hopkins speak of Oscar De La Hoya; how many times has he made reference to the Golden Boy’s “handsome” face? Hopkins is no dunce, he is one of the reigning psychological masters in the sport and he is attempting to set a stage for mental warfare. Do you think Hopkins isn’t fueled by the idea of altering Oscar’s mass media mug? Fueled is an understatement. De La Hoya’s very image is a physical manifestation of the very limits that Philly’s paranoid pugilist has spent a career railing against. I’ll bet that a large portion of male fans of the sport are subscribing to this event to vicariously live through Hopkins in resentment of guys like De La Hoya. Let’s face it; guys that look like Oscar get all the breaks and more unsettling to some, all the girls.

The history of the ring is filled with examples of fighters who transcended the sport with the lethal combination of immense talent and good looks. One would be naïve to believe that the average promoter isn’t looking for a cute kid with a great left hook. Ray Robinson wasn’t just pound-for-pound; he was considered a handsome devil and a natty dresser. Robinson was the prototype for urban cool, which had to generate a special brand of indignation from opponents. Part of the reason that Cassius Clay aka Muhammad Ali is probably one of the most photographed faces in history is due to his aesthetic beauty. Part of the nations backlash against him when he converted to Islam was due to the fact that he seemed to represent a non-threatening physical ideal to white people. Legend has it that part of Sonny Liston's lack of preparation for the first fight was because he not only found Clay “green” but effeminate. Only in the stare down at ring center did the 'Big Bear' realize that the 'pretty boy' was actually a physically bigger man.

Muhammad Ali made a cottage industry out of emphasizing his looks, sometimes to the detriment of his opponents. When he shouts, “I’m so pretty”, it strikes a chord in his opponent and the viewing audience, and Ali used to call it “driving the gate”. The great thing about a blood sport like boxing is the opportunity to even the score; Ali understood well that a large portion of the audience consisted of regular guys who wanted to see him get his teeth knocked in. Sugar Ray Leonard’s career arch is filled with resentful opponents (or almost opponents) who believed he was fed with a silver spoon. Yet there are no silver spoons in boxing; you still have to fight and a great smile never hurts. The term 'pretty boy' is a masculine slur, it suggests that when the going gets tough the attractive guy won’t get going. Floyd Mayweather, another good looking guy, uses the moniker to his advantage; it describes his style as well as evokes the name of the Depression era tough guy. But what if Floyd Mayweather was a face first brawler with a crooked nose?

With September 18th fast approaching Bernard Hopkins will be inundated with media coverage, his every word dissected and treated as analytical cuisine. I’m paying close attention to his preoccupation with De La Hoya’s genetic disposition. If I were Hopkins I would forget about the smile and the suits and realize that it takes an animal to make that kind of money in this country. It also takes a special kind of animal to fight De La Hoya’s level of competition without having ever been 'whipped' or stopped. Bernard claims to be viewing a lot of tape but I heard him say he felt Hagler beat Leonard and this concerns me. De La Hoya, like Leonard, only needs to 'fight' in choice intervals in the bout, something he is more than tough enough to do. Oscar De La Hoya happens to be a handsome man in a time when our society affords attractive people so much for so little, yet he is a fighter foremost. Hopkins will be best served if he can harness his considerable skills and legendary focus to fight a bonifide East Los Angeles badass not a 'pretty boy'.

Until the Next 'Jones'
The Boxing Junkie
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