Advantage De La Hoya
By Krishen Rangi (September 1, 2004) 
Oscar De La Hoya
Armed with a gold medal from the 1992 Olympics, Oscar De La Hoya’s welcome into the realm of professional boxing was with an assumption of greatness and in a manner never before seen. A contract from HBO, countless magazine covers, and a massive fanbase, all contributed to De La Hoya being anointed to greatness long before he achieved anything significant with his fists. To this cushioned backdrop, the impact on De La Hoya’s career has been staggerring, from his arrogance in matchmaking to his apprehensiveness when faced with any real danger.

De La Hoya has had six superfights in his career: Pernell Whitaker, Ike Quartey, Felix Trinidad, Fernando Vargas and Shane Mosely (twice). With the exception of an emaciated Vargas, De La Hoya has never clearly won or lost any of these fights. (The first Mosley fight was the closest De La Hoya came to clearly losing and even here he was only outboxed.) De La Hoya lovers and haters can argue day and night about whether he was the skilled champion or the gutless loser.

This trend of ambiguity is not a coincidence. Unlike his opponents, De La Hoya walks into the ring already 'great'. His only imperative is to maintain his 'greatness', something that can be accomplished so long as he does not lose convincingly. This phenomenon, perhaps more than anything else, raises the ire of De La Hoya haters. De La Hoya seems to use his 'greatness' as a shield rather than a sword. Boxing fans want to see a fighter who risks life and limb to achieve legendary status. They want De La Hoya to prove his greatness in the ring by taking risks that all great fighters take. Throughout his career De La Hoya has constantly shunned those risks. With De La Hoya it has always seemed like he was protecting something rather than taking it. Even in the 12th round against Quartey, De La Hoya’s furious rally came off more like a last ditch attempt to preserve his legacy rather than create one.

De La Hoya’s ambiguous record in superfights has been crucial in preserving his marketability. Despite three losses his fans point to the fact that each one could and even should have been a victory. De La Hoya critics, on the other hand, circle like sharks salivating at the prospect of witnessing that elusive beating that De La Hoya has yet avoided.

Many, including ardent De La Hoya supporters, believe that the beating is finally at hand. De La Hoya himself has stated that his life could be in danger. The hype machine is churning full speed: September 18th could be the end of Oscar De La Hoya’s twelve year tease.

Advantage De La Hoya.

Unlike any of his previous superfights, De La Hoya has everything in his favor. Normally De La Hoya fights knowing that an ambiguous outcome will preserve his legacy. A knockout win or loss could greatly enhance or destroy his legend but De La Hoya, as he has shown on countless occasions, prefers the safe bet of preservation.

Against Hopkins, however, De La Hoya will be judged on a much lower standard. This time if De La Hoya can manage to make the result ambiguous his legacy will be enhanced. A repeat of his performances against Whitaker, Quartey, Trinidad and Mosley would be looked upon as an incredible achievement. If there is even a shred of controversy or proximity on the scorecards then De La Hoya will almost unanimously walk away the real winner. Moreover, if De La Hoya were to somehow actually win the fight, his legend would skyrocket into another stratosphere.

Against this setting, in addition to the fact that he is earning $30 million against a 40-year-old man with no real speed or power, it is clearly the shrewdest move of De La Hoya’s career.

By deliberately stacking the odds against himself De La Hoya has managed to do the impossible. Rather than conforming to the standard of greatness, he has managed to make greatness conform to him.
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