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JURY OUT ON `THE SURVIVOR'S' SKILLS.

Byline: Michael Rosenthal Staff Writer

If nothing else, one must admire Robert Alcazar's survival instincts.

Oscar De La Hoya's longtime mentor has been supplanted as lead trainer three times. His credentials have been questioned on countless occasions. Many believe the five-time world champion has succeeded in spite of Alcazar.

Yet there he is, at De La Hoya's side as the Golden Boy prepares for the most important and lucrative fight of his life: He faces Felix Trinidad here on Saturday.

``That's why they call him `The Survivor,' '' said Rafael Mendoza, a respected boxing consultant who is no fan of Alcazar's.

Alcazar is a former, marginally successful professional fighter from Mexico who worked in a factory with De La Hoya's father, Joel De La Hoya Sr.

The elder De La Hoya asked Alcazar to help out in the gym and the trainer never left. He has worked with De La Hoya in some capacity since the fighter was a 15-year-old amateur in 1988, and first took over as lead man about a year before he won a gold medal in the 1992 Olympics.

Beyond that, Alcazar had only minimal experience as a trainer with amateur and professional fighters.

That's why he's been demoted to assistant trainer - or lower - so many times.

The first time was at the start of De La Hoya's career, when his then managers Robert Mittleman and Steve Nelson brought in former champion Carlos Ortiz because they had no faith in Alcazar. Ortiz was never a good fit and lasted about a week.

Alcazar was back to No. 1.

Then, in 1995, De La Hoya struggled to beat cagey veteran John John Molina in his 17th fight as Alcazar froze and was unable to provide instructions in the corner. Enter well-schooled Mexican trainer Jesus ``The Professor'' Rivero, who imparted many valuable lessons but was ousted when his tentative protege barely outpointed Pernell Whitaker in 1997.

Next came well-known trainer Emanuel Steward, whom those in the De La Hoya camp hoped would bring back the ferocity that was lost during Rivero's defense-first tenure. Steward lasted two fights because of conflicts with Joel Sr. and adviser Mike Hernandez.

Alcazar? Back to the top, which is where he's remained.

Whether that's good or bad depends on whom you talk to.

Rivero and Mendoza, who introduced The Professor to the camp, are vicious in their criticism of Alcazar.

Asked to assess the trainer's background in boxing, Mendoza said: ``He has no background. As far as I know, he worked with 8-, 9-, 10-year-old kids and not even good amateurs. He was just friendly with Oscar's father.

``He has no qualifications. He's good at wrapping hands (his initial job with De La Hoya). He's not a good trainer, not a good teacher. In order to teach, you must know.''

``Why does De La Hoya stay with him?'' he said. ``It's a mystery. Sometimes you have a daughter who is ugly and you see her as pretty. Maybe that's it.''

Rivero had a strained relationship with Alcazar from the beginning.

As he did with the other trainers, Alcazar lobbied against bringing in Rivero for fear of losing his position. When the new trainer arrived, Alcazar wouldn't cooperate. He once referred to Rivero as as janitor when an outsider asked about him.

The two worked together only a short time before Rivero insisted that Alcazar leave camp. For a time, Alcazar was relegated to desk work in De La Hoya's business enterprises.

However, Rivero worked long enough with Alcazar to develop an opinion.

``He doesn't know how to train,'' Rivero said over the phone through an interpreter from his home in Guadalajara, Mexico. ``He's inept, inadequate. Not only is he inept, but he also puts up obstacles and doesn't let people train him properly.

``It makes me sad to see Oscar not fighting the way he should fight. He doesn't have fight plans, he doesn't fight with technique. It's like he's street fighting.''

Alcazar, sensitive to the criticism, presents the most compelling argument in his own favor.

``The results speak for themselves,'' he said. ``What can I tell you? We've been working together for 10 years already, almost 200 times, and we haven't lost a fight.''

Bob Arum of Top Rank Boxing, De La Hoya's promoter, played a role in bringing in Rivero and Steward; he has had his reservations about Alcazar.

Before Rivero's arrival, Arum echoed the thoughts of many when he said simply, ``I think this is as far as Robert can take Oscar.''

However, now, with harmony in camp in mind, he said he believes Alcazar has evolved into a fine trainer because of the influence of the other trainers and the time he has spent in the game.

Veteran trainer Gil Clancy, who has helped Alcazar devise strategy for the past five fights, is more vociferous in the defense of his colleague. In fact, the criticism angers him.

He's baffled by the decision to bring in outside help - including himself.

``The criticism is completely unfair,'' said Clancy, who dismissed Rivero's comments as ``sour grapes.''

``There's no question about it: He's knowledgeable. If I had a son who wanted to be a fighter, I would just as soon send him to Robert as anyone.

``Oscar couldn't be stronger in the fundamentals. Robert knows how to train a fighter. I don't know what everyone is talking about.''

De La Hoya provides a ringing endorsement by keeping Alcazar around.

However, he, too, has had his doubts because he played a significant role in bringing in Rivero and Steward as lead trainers.

Now, it seems, he just wants tranquillity in camp and that's what Alcazar provides. The two are very close. Alcazar is protective of the fighter. He encourages De La Hoya's naturally aggressive style. And, again, the two have never lost together.

As another Top Rank executive, Todd du Boef said: ``He must be doing something right.''

``I feel very proud about the job I've done, about my fighter,'' Alcazar said. ``The record shows no other trainer, no other manager in boxing history has captured a gold medal and five world titles so far.

``It's Robert Alcazar who has captured that.''

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

PHOTO (1 -- color) Chief trainer Robert Alcazar, shown wrapping the hands of Oscar De La Hoya, is a former professional fighter from Mexico.

(2) Oscar De La Hoya spars with his chief trainer, Robert Alcazar, at his training center in Big Bear Lake. Alcazar has his share of proponents and detractors.

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
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Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 15, 1999
Words:1087
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