LAS VEGAS -- Even before Oscar De La Hoya won Olympic gold in Barcelona and the hearts of the country with the story of how he promised his dying mother he would bring the medal back, many experts felt he was destined to become the sport's next superstar. At the moment, one man stands in his way.
After only 16 fights, the World Boxing Organization lightweight champion appears to have it all -- speed, power and marketability. He has the punch to win titles and the smile to sell toothpaste. What he doesn't have at the moment is a friend in fellow Californian Rafael Ruelas, the International Boxing Federation lightweight champion who wants nothing more than to destroy De La Hoya's dental work come May 6.
Ruelas has been waiting for De La Hoya for more than a year and will get his chance on that date if all goes according to promoter Bob Arum.
"I'm very happy to see he's finally agreeing to fight me," Ruelas said. "This is a fight I've been waiting for for a long time but I haven't been pressing for it because I'm the champion. I'm sitting on the throne. I didn't want to push him to where after he loses he could say he was pushed into it when he was too inexperienced."
Ruelas believes he can push De La Hoya to a place where his subpar opponents have yet to push him.
"He's a strong puncher but I haven't seen him go toe-to-toe," Ruelas said. "The one time he tried, he went down from a left hand. I know if it had been me, that fight would have been over. It's actually lucky for me he wasn't fighting anyone who could punch that night.
"That will change May 6. Oscar's not the best lightweight in the world. I don't even think he's the second-best lightweight in the world. At least one guy, Miguel Angel Gonzalez [the World Boxing Council champion] is definitely better."
As is the IBF champion, at least in the opinion of the IBF champion.
Scared and sad
As excited as many people are about the stunning knockout that made George Foreman heavyweight champion of the World Boxing Association and the IBF, 83-year-old trainer Eddie Futch is not among them.
While the public sees the greatness of that victory, Futch, the man who refused to allow Joe Frazier togo out for the 15th round to take more punishment from Muhammad Ali in the "Thrilla in Manila," sees trouble and sadness ahead.
"George Foreman is putting his health on the line every time he gets in the ring," said Futch. "He takes a pretty good punch but he has so many punches in the bank now every time he gets hit he withdraws one. Michael Moorer hit him with a ton of punches. I don't care how tough you are. You aren't made to take that kind of punishment at 45. Nobody was smarter than Ali and look at him today. If George gets hurt in an exchange and doesn't go down, he could get killed."
Although many observers believe when Mike Tyson comes out of jail next year he will quickly fight Oliver McCall if McCall still has the WBC title. Riddick Bowe, for one, doubts that. He believes Tyson will do as he always did in the past and fight the leading heavyweight, which Bowe believes is himself.
"He won't fight some jive Oliver McCall or some old George Foreman," Bowe said. "He wants credit. He'll want to fight 'The Man' and that's me. I got no real desire to fight Mike. He's my friend. But I may have what he wants."