|Oscar De La Hoya - Walking Away From and Toward Boxing… and Life
By Coyote Duran, DoghouseBoxing.com (April 20, 2009)
It came and went and we got the announcement some of us expected. Instead of divulging that he was in preparation for a surprise farewell fight on the weekend preceding Cinco De Mayo, Oscar De La Hoya, 39-6 (30), boxing’s ‘Golden Boy’, officially announced his retirement.
Yes, there was emotion and yes, there were tears, but it wasn’t in the vein of a Floyd Mayweather Jr.; who opened the floodgates in frustration after defeating Carlos Baldomir. It was genuine and heartfelt. It was
a relief to us as well as Oscar. And it was for good reason.
How many of you had an easy time bidding farewell to a job you really liked? A job where you were well-respected; your commentary and suggestions seriously received and put into action? And for 16 years; to boot. You might get a little emotional too.
De La Hoya’s job wasn’t like your job or my job, however. Oscar was an executive long before officially becoming an executive. Basically, his job was not just being a fighter, but an ambassador of Our Sport. The guy who set the standards. He brought fans to boxing; specifically the female variety. De La Hoya also endured having to walk the line between Mexican and American in an era when a past-his-prime Julio Cesar Chavez was still revered as a god among men. That’s a lot of pressure to shoulder. But Oscar, like any good corporate dynamo knew he had a job to do and did it.
From the beginning, De La Hoya, amateur star and Olympic gold medalist, didn’t take the easy way in. In every fight up to facing then-undefeated Jimmi Bredahl for the WBO super featherweight title in only his 12th fight, every fighter Oscar faced had relatively significant winning records (185-53-19, to be exact). Every one of them, save for Mike Grable (in Oscar’s sixth fight), failed to see the distance. De La Hoya’s early professional accomplishments flew in the face of many of this era’s newbies who enjoy facing other fighters who are either debuting themselves or possess sub-500 records. These newbies have nothing to be ashamed of. It’s common practice. However, the opposite was expected of a fighter with De La Hoya’s exceptional pedigree.
And what a pedigree it was, including a 223-6 (160) record and the 1992 gold medal victory in Barcelona, Spain, De la Hoya’s accolades include gold medals in the 1989 National Golden Gloves, the 1990 U.S. Nationals and Goodwill Games and the 1991 U.S. Nationals. Obviously, a professional debut against a meager opponent was nowhere near acceptable. On November 23, 1992, De la Hoya faced then- 5-1-1 Lamar Williams; scoring a knockout win within a round. Four fights later, De La Hoya would stop Jeff Mayweather, Floyd’s uncle. In his 11th fight, De La Hoya faced his most experienced opponent, Narciso Valenzuela. Oscar would wipe out Valenzuela in one. ‘The Golden Boy’, it seemed, wasn’t screwing around.
Two fights after De La Hoya’s win over Bredahl, Oscar beat up whimsical Jorge ‘El Maromero’ Paez in two for the WBO lightweight title. Four fights later, De La Hoya trounced 43-1 Rafael Ruelas for the IBF lightweight title in two.
In his 22nd fight, De La Hoya beat the hell out of his hero, Mexican icon Julio Cesar Chavez, in four; simultaneously taking Chavez’ WBC super lightweight title, creating unbelievable excuses (a head-butting Chavez baby) for Chavez and earning Oscar unified ire from hardcore Mexican national fans.
But when you do the math, you’ll find that by the age of 23 with 22 fights under his belt, Oscar De La Hoya won four sanctioning body titles in three weight classes; each instance by stoppage.
When you consider what many of today’s young, heavily hyped haven’t accomplished in as many fights or that age bracket, you have to admit, De La Hoya was destined to serve as a living litmus test for the quality of youth in The Sweet Science. And when you think about how relatively short a distance Chavez’ son, 23 year old Julio Jr., 39-0-1 (29), has gone since his debut, said litmus test sets a much stronger template of success.
But templates are only good, long-term, for paradigms and the fighters who love them. The ones that crave breaking those paradigms take on fighters like Pernell Whitaker and win. Then the real pressure begins.
It can be said that the Whitaker fight not only opened fans’ eyes but somewhat damned De La Hoya from then on. To beat the pound-for-pound best makes the victor the pound-for-pound best; in the eyes of many. And many would test their mettle; from Hector Camacho Sr. to Ike Quartey to Felix Trinidad. And Oscar would beat each one…so to speak. When the decision was rendered, proclaiming a surprise majority decision victory for Trinidad in their IBF/WBC welterweight unification match, the reality of resting on hard-earned laurels briskly slapped De La Hoya; creating two new realities from there: The reality that De La Hoya could be his own worst enemy and the reality that Oscar’s contemporaries finally saw him as beatable.
Two fights later, Oscar De La Hoya would lose to Shane Mosley via split decision in a defense of Mosley’s WBC welterweight title.
After the Trinidad (and first for De La Hoya) loss, De La Hoya’s fight schedule would dwindle. By the time De La Hoya faced Fernando Vargas in their highly-awaited September 2002 grudge match, he had almost gone 15 months without a fight and was challenging junior middleweights. By then, De La Hoya had been seen by some as an elder statesman of the game for a couple of years. To others, there was genuine surprise when Oscar beat the tar out of the ‘El Feroz’; unifying the WBC and WBA 154-pound belts and becoming the first THE RING magazine World Junior Middleweight Champion in 16 years.
Two fights later, Oscar De La Hoya would lose to Shane Mosley via unanimous decision in a defense of De La Hoya’s World Championship and alphabet straps.
Despite the controversial nature of Mosley-De La Hoya II’s result, the fight could’ve gone either way but was very likely judged via the aggression of Mosley as opposed to the accuracy of De La Hoya. It would also provide another paradigm for Oscar to break: Don’t face Shane Mosley a third time. De La Hoya wouldn’t but it didn’t help down the line.
By the time, De La Hoya faced Mosley in their rematch, he wasn’t just an elder statesman; but a promoter as well. The evolution and breakdown of Oscar De La Hoya was in effect.
The frequency of battle had already lessened somewhat, signaling De La Hoya’s further descent into entrepreneurship. Now that’s not as bad as it was meant to sound but the tangibles spoke harshly. De La Hoya wasn’t as sharp as he used to be and was just prepping for the future of owning a fleet of ships when the day rolled around that he could no longer captain his own single vessel.
Oscar badly wanted to steer the wheel of his own personal ship when facing then WBO 160-pound titlist Felix Sturm at an unheard of weight for De La Hoya. Middleweight was nowhere near where De La Hoya needed to be but he sailed there and gained a unanimous decision win he didn’t deserve. Was it guilt scrawled on his countenance or just self-recognizance of impending failure? Had he already come to grips with the loss he hadn’t yet sustained against Undisputed Middleweight Champion (and future business partner) Bernard Hopkins; in a fight he hadn’t earned? There were times Oscar got or believed he got jobbed in the ring. Was the victory over Sturm his way of getting those losses back?
De La Hoya should have never faced off against ‘The Executioner.’ For a fighter that seemingly loses energy in later rounds, regardless of weight division, Oscar was never going to fare well against a time machine (in so many ways) like Hopkins. When the left hook collapsed De La Hoya, by way of Liver’s Lane, that really should have been the end. No one would’ve blamed him for packing it up to get down in an office. It beats the hell out of getting the hell beat out of you.
But there was that pull. That ‘Godfather III’-esque feeling of “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” And that pull was strong. It kept the once-untouchable ‘Golden Boy’ craving that one last big notable win for four more years when that aforementioned win happened against Vargas. Everything else was just to get asses in seats; one way or the other. De La Hoya’s record stood as evidence; with every other fight since Vargas ending in a loss. The title reigns were no longer lengthy; the fan acclaim, for those truly dedicated to The Golden Career, no longer steadfast. Like every good addict, Oscar De La Hoya wouldn’t walk away. He couldn’t walk away. It’s a shame because he deserved to.
Age makes people desperate especially when we’re used to doing things we love for decades and decades. When one picks up a hobby, he or she doesn’t expect to e told he or she shouldn’t be doing it 30 years later. That’s what makes walking away from Our Sport so damn hard to do. But Oscar De La Hoya was smart enough to make his career work for him. He did the right things and now instead of just walking away from boxing, he walks toward boxing and life, in general.
And for Christ’s sake, he can do it at 36 years old! Can you? I know I can’t. Guess what? Oscar De La Hoya did walk away a winner.
And now we wonder how to fill the gap. Who becomes boxing’s next superstar? Well, if the amateur and Olympic formula worked with Sugar Ray Leonard and De La Hoya, then why change the formula? But the fighters have to give a damn about fighting and need motivation beyond their own physical limitations. Leonard and De La Hoya were both motivated by poverty as was Mike Tyson; who was promising as an amateur. De La Hoya had the added mission of winning as a promise to his deceased mother. Long story short, there can be no softness in The Next Great Champ…Uh, scratch that last reference.
As head of Golden Boy Promotions, Oscar’s mission statement is as follows:
“Golden Boy Promotions strives to become the leading boxing promotional company through integrity, honesty, hard work and determination. We want to offer promising young fighters a platform from which they can showcase their talents to a global audience and want to offer our viewers and fans high quality programming.
Golden Boy Promotions is committed to recruiting, developing and retaining the best and brightest young fighters to help achieve our mission.”
Maybe someday, one of those bright, young fighters will accomplish everything Oscar De La Hoya did and more. Maybe we’ll actually live to see it.
Also SEE: Doghouse Boxing's Official Manny Pacquiao Art by Coyote Duran DHB
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