Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about boxing and whether they are true or false.
BOXING URBAN LEGEND: Oscar De la Hoya’s cornerman told him to “run away” from Felix Trinidad in a fight De la Hoya would go on to lose.
The September 18, 1999 boxing match between welterweights Oscar De la Hoya and Felix Trinidad was one of the most highly anticipated fights in years, and it set Pay-Per-View records for a non-heavyweight fight.
The bout would also go on to be one of the most controversial decisions in recent history, while also leading to a persistent, but I say false, legend about De la Hoya’s cornerman, Gil Clancy.
The way that De la Hoya and his trainers (which besides Clancy, also included Robert Alcazar) clearly viewed the fight was as a conflict between a “boxer” (De la Hoya) and a “brawler” (Trinidad). Whether that is true or not, that is clearly how De la Hoya and his people viewed the fight, and it began with De la Hoya mostly avoiding Trinidad’s forceful attacks while trying to land combination punches of his own while then backing off.
In the second round, though, De la Hoya gave the crowd the type of fight that they were expecting (the match was extremely hyped at the time), as the two men traded blows all throughout the round.
In the third round, however, De la Hoya went back to the strategy he employed in the first round – avoiding Trinidad while trying to land combinations.
In the fourth round, Trinidad took it to him – De la Hoya tried to avoid him, but they ultimately traded blows once again.
Okay, so these four rounds would later prove to be the key to the fight.
From my description, who does it sound was the “winner” of these four rounds?
I think it sounds like it was De la Hoya, and that’s accurate, but I think it ALSO sounds like whatever lead De la Hoya had, it was not a particularly significant one. However, De la Hoya and his people felt that they were decidedly leading.
This led to the four middle rounds, rounds 5-8.
Besides a slight comeback from Trinidad in the eighth, he lost control of the match for most of rounds 5-8. Trinidad had a few notable punches (including a succession to De la Hoya’s ribs that likely sapped a lot of De la Hoya’s strength), but De la Hoya’s strategy seemed to be working beautifully, as he was avoiding most of Trinidad’s attacks while landing combination blows that were doing some real damage (including heavy swelling to Trinidad’s eye that took three rounds to go down).
The fans were expecting De la Hoya to be more aggressive, but everyone had to concede that De la Hoya’s rounds 5-8 made this match, at this point, a clear victory for De la Hoya. He managed to avoid “brawling” with Trinidad, so a victory seemed secure.
However, in the ninth round, Trinidad delivered a mighty blow to De la Hoya’s head.
Soon after that, De la Hoya delivered a barrage of blows right back to Trinidad, notable because it was the LAST attack De la Hoya would make for the next THREE AND A HALF ROUNDS, allowing Trinidad to chase him around the ring for the rest of the bout.
Okay, so right here, your choices are:
1. Did the blow to his head cause De la Hoya and his people to worry about his ability to mix it up with Trinidad without being knocked out, so they figured they were much better off dancing away from Trinidad and hoping that their high scores earlier in the match would lead to a victory?
or, the more damning (and the one most people seem to lean towards)
2. Did De la Hoya and his people feel that he was up so much that he could basically skip the last four rounds and still win, so why risk Trinidad knocking him out?
If it WAS #2, then they were wrong, as their lead in the first four rounds (and their big lead in the middle four rounds) was not big enough to beat out Trinidad’s extensive lead in the last four rounds (do note that even while getting overall beaten in the middle rounds, Trinidad was still scoring SOME points), and Trinidad won one of the closest victories imaginable, with 2 out of the 3 judges giving it to him by the remarkable score of: 115–113, 115–114 and 114–114.
By that razor-sharp margin, Trinidad was the victor.
Clancy was fired after the fight.
Since then, the story of the fight has been (here, from a sample boxing fan – this sentiment is plentiful among fans):
Clancy foolishly counseling him to run from Tito in the final rounds.
First off, did De la Hoya’s people want him to play it more conservatively?
Yes, of course so – that was their clear and evident strategy. When De la Hoya DID mix up with him a couple of times in the early rounds, his people (including Clancy) yelled at him to “box” not “brawl.”
However, NEVER did Clancy tell him to “run” (remember, these things ARE taped, after all!), so it is a shame if that’s how Gil Clancy’s Hall of Fame career (he came out of retirement to be De la Hoya’s cornerman) ended in many fans’ eyes (to De la Hoya’s credit, he has generally been very complimentary to Clancy in the years since, so it’s not like it is De la Hoya who has been pushing the “they told me to run!” story).
The legend is…
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future urban legends columns! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org