Mano a Mano

Trinidad­De La Hoya— Boxing Showdown in Latino Land

De La Hoya's road to success from East L.A. to Bel Air makes him a target for some, and an object of admiration for others in the Mexican American community. He fits the mold of a '90s Gen X Chicano, albeit with a strong, hardworking striver ethic, but he has also been known to dally with the occasional Bay Watch babe. Mauricio Abaroa, executive VP of the Latin American Recording Arts Society, which will administer the new Latin Grammys, expects his musical venture to be "mucho mas Americanizado," more along the lines of Jennifer Lopez than Abaroa's old client, Mexican singer Luis Miguel.

The Golden Boy also demonstrates a sensitivity and introspection unusual for the macho world of boxing. In a sequence from an HBO special currently posted on the cable network's Web site, he makes a startling admission. "I've been hit in the body, which hurts a great deal," he muses. "You can't breathe. When I'm walking down the aisle I actually get scared. I look up at the sky and know my mother's taking care of me."

Stoic, purposeful Trinidad. Existential, artistic De La Hoya. Fiery Boricua versus Chill Chicano. Will Puerto Ricans and Mexicans please return to their corners and come out swinging?

"It's sad that it's become a Puerto Rican­Mexican thing," says salsa star Marc Anthony, who sang the National Anthem for a Trinidad bout in New York last March. "It has nothing to do with nationalities. They're two gladiators who are going to do their best. I'm backing Tito 100 percent because he's a friend and I'm a fan."

Joltin' Jose Torres, former light-heavyweight champion turned writer and community-oriented Boricua about town, won't look at it as an ethnic struggle. "I once said that my heart is with Trinidad but my money is with De La Hoya," explains Torres. "But I've switched: my heart is with De La Hoya but my money is with Trinidad."

Even the Latin fight fans in Chicago, which has long-established Puerto Rican and Mexican communities, don't necessarily conform to ethnic camps. "It's not like that," says Chicago boxing writer Sal Santamaria. "Everyone knows Trinidad is tough, Oscar's greatest challenge, but he hasn't faced the caliber of fighter Oscar has. They just want to see a great fight, and the best guy win."

Without a doubt, when the Trinidad­De La Hoya matchup begins this Saturday there will be flag wavers and salsa dancers and lots of hometown sympathies on the line. But maybe the fight will demonstrate the buying power and potential of a united entity of U.S. Latinos rather than degenerate into a pointless internecine conflict. "This century started with the Irish influence in boxing," says Bert Sugar. "It went from Irish to Jewish to black, and now there's the Latino influence. And that's the most important thing established by this fight."

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