Lee Groves

10: Best years by boxers since 1992

2. Oscar de la Hoya – 1997: 5-0 (2)

Following a year that saw him fight only twice, De La Hoya embarked on an ambitious schedule that, in hindsight, was one of the most challenging in recent memory. First, fights slated for January, April, June, September and December required almost constant training. Second, his opponents boasted a combined record of 199-7-3 – or a sky-high .952 winning percentage. Finally, he went through the gauntlet with not one, not two, but three chief seconds: Jesus Rivero for fights one and two, Emanuel Steward for bouts three and four and Robert Alcazar for fight five. Given the confluence of circumstances it’s a wonder De La Hoya emerged with his perfect record intact.

De La Hoya started 1997 with his final defense of the WBC super lightweight title against ex-lightweight king Miguel Angel Gonzalez, who entered the bout with a 41-0 (32) record. De La Hoya was incredibly sharp in every department as he landed 64 percent of his total punches, 62 percent of his power shots and – extraordinarily – 66 percent of his jabs. In all he landed 212 jabs en route to a lopsided decision. The only imperfection was swelling over and under his left eye.

Fight number two was a highly anticipated showdown with WBC welterweight champion Pernell Whitaker, still considered one of the very best pound-for-pound despite his unexpected war with Diosbelys Hurtado last time out. Whitaker’s puzzling southpaw style befuddled “The Golden Boy” and a flash knockdown in round nine only added to his troubles. But De La Hoya pushed the action throughout and won enough of the close rounds to win a wider-than-thought unanimous decision as well as his fourth divisional crown.

The difficulties he experienced against Whitaker led to Rivero’s firing and Steward’s arrival. When De La Hoya fought 28-1 Kenyan David Kamau – who gave Julio Cesar Chavez a stirring challenge in their title bout the previous year – the difference in De La Hoya’s in-ring attitude was evident. Instead of the scientific boxing preferred by Rivero, De La Hoya came out smoking and dusted Kamau in two rounds.

In September “The Golden Boy” fought Hector “Macho” Camacho to test whether the Whitaker fight taught him anything about fighting slick southpaws. The verdict: An emphatic yes. De La Hoya dominated Camacho and scored a ninth-round knockdown en route to a decisive decision. The only thing that spoiled an otherwise perfect evening was that De La Hoya didn’t collect on his side bet with Camacho: Cutting the Puerto Rican’s trademark spit curl in the ring.

With original trainer Alcazar back in the corner, De La Hoya concluded his Golden Year with an eighth round TKO over Wilfredo Rivera, who twice troubled Whitaker before losing decisions. De La Hoya had no such issues against Rivera, who trailed 70-63, 60-63 and 68-63 before bowing out. 

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