Golden Calf Put Out To Pasture
By Dennis Bernstein, MBA
In these days of economic strife and uncertainty, the sport of boxing was just hit with an untimely de-stimulus package. As rumors grew over the past week about the retirement of the gameís undisputed, undefeated box office draw, Oscar de la Hoya confirmed them with a press conference and conference call in Los Angeles Tuesday afternoon.
After suffering the most devastating defeat of his career at the hands of current Pound4Pound king Manny Pacquiao last December, talk immediately started about the likelihood of De la Hoya stepping away from active fighting. He refused to address the issue in the ring following the eight round methodical deconstruction but the alteration of his visage by the Filipino Flash said it all. It was time to go. ďThe loss to Pacquiao made it that much easier to decide itís over. I needed that perfect excuse. I was searching for that perfect exit strategy because us athletes are very stubborn we never know when enough is enough. When I got beat by Pacquiao it was easy to say it was enough. Thatís why I took to long to retire. I wanted to do more, I wanted to fight in Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, but this last loss made it easy,Ē he admitted.
ďItís a bittersweet day. Oscar was truly a one man franchise,Ē Oscarís business partner Richard Schafer remarked as he recanted the revenue numbers earned and opponents faced during De la Hoyaís career. A very somber De la Hoya admitted that the inevitable had finally arrived. ďIt was a very emotional and difficult decision for me to make. Itís not easy for me to talk about retirement. This decision reminds me this was my life for the last 32 years. I wonít ever feel the same emotional rush again and thatís difficult,Ē he said in hushed tones. ďIt hurts me that I cannot compete at the highest level any more. Itís not me; itís not the person that my fans grew up rooting for. I am firm on this decision; Iím convinced that Iím never coming back. It is a bittersweet moment for me but I truly believe Iíve made the right decision,Ē he conveyed from Golden Boy Promotions Los Angeles office. Surprisingly, De la Hoya admitted that he came to his final decision within hours of the Tuesday press conference but closed the door on any short or long term comeback, ďIíll be honest, the decision to retire came this morning. My wife asked me, Ďare you sure you want to retire?í so when she opened the door for me, I didnít take it. Once you fall into that trap (of coming back again), you never escape it. Iíve thought about coming back. The temptation is there, I donít know how I will feel in a week or a month. Iíve been able to make good money and more importantly, Iíve been able to keep it.Ē Oscar revealed.
Sure, Oscar had looked bad in most of his bouts over the past four years but they were always killer at the gate. He was chubby when he beat Felix Sturm as a precursor to his Bernard Hopkins middleweight fight. He was overmatched against the Executioner and suffered the only knockout loss of his career; insiders chuckled when a week later Hopkins became head of Golden Boy East. Oscar had a partial redemption in May of 2006 when he stopped Ricardo Mayorga for the WBC middleweight title on the road to the much-hyped mega match up against Floyd Mayweather, Jr. a year later. In that fight, De la Hoya was effective with his jab for the opening four rounds but then abandoned it along with any hopes of beating the more elusive and effective challenger. While Oscar failed to cash in that night with his jab, he cashed out at the box office, walking away with an estimated $ 50 million from the event. De la Hoya gave his Los Angeles fans a farewell of sorts when he beat the inferior Steve Forbes last May in front of a big crowd at the Home Depot Center. But Oscarís inability to put away a far smaller Forbes over twelve rounds was the warning signal that a bout with the non-stop Pacquiao would be asking too much for 35 year old legs. While he blamed his training regimen for coming in too light (he hit the scales at a scrawny 145), the eroding of his speed and skill was truly the culprit. ďThe first sign that I felt that I wasnít myself was the Mayweather fight. The second part of that fight was a sign that I didnít have it any more. You donít want to accept it. In the Forbes fight, I got hit like there was no tomorrow and the Pacquiao fight was the icing on the cake. I started getting beat up in the Pacquiao training camp. I never got beat up by sparring partners, so I had a hunch I wasnít going to beat him. I did lose in a devastating fashion and things happen for a reason. I feel like I have all my marbles. I feel like that Iím still intact so I think Iíve come out OK from such a difficult sport and competing at the highest level, ď De la Hoya admitted.
Those who witnessed the dismantling of the Golden Boy against Pacquiao came away hoping this was Oscarís last dance. Whether you loved him or hated him (and most idolized him), Oscar was the one star over the past decade who transcended the sport. He was the one that drew all the celebrities and cash to the Mayweather fight. He was the one that brought the bad guy Hopkins in as a partner to his promotional company. He was the one that kept Shane Mosleyís career alive until he could face Antonio Margarito sans hand wraps. He was responsible for Mark Taffett and the crew at HBO PPV to line their pockets with green. Whenever the sport needed a boost, Oscar always obliged by strapping on the gloves. For those that say Oscar was more of an attraction than a fighter, he took the high road, ďI say thank you for always watching me. Thank you for making me an attraction. Iíve had the opportunity to face many world champions, a lot of them Iíve beat, some I lost to; my satisfaction is that at least I tried. I tried to accomplished the impossible and not many people can do that,Ē answering those critics.
Is he a Hall of Famer? Of course he is, by virtue of his first twelve professional years and his Olympic Gold Medal. Is he one of the greatest? Far from it, De la Hoya is probably the greatest UNDERachiever of his era, as I can argue he lost every major fight he had. He had the Tito Trinidad fight won and stopped fighting. He lost twice to Mosley and the last chapter of his book is a loss to a fighter who started his career at 106 pounds; not exactly Rocky Marciano stats. Oscarís thoughts about his legacy were diametrically opposed to mine, ďIíve never thought about it but Iíd place myself in the Top Ten of fighters of my era. Iím most proud of fighting in six different weight classes. You take a fighter like Roy Jones, Jr., heís done things that Iíve never done but Iíve accomplished things heís never done either. My greatest moment was winning the gold medal in the Olympics and my worst was getting knocked out by Bernard Hopkins,Ē critiquing his body of work.
But if Oscar isnít over his downhill descent he should be, the Golden Boy is truly golden. Some say his bank account is nine figures large, lives with a beautiful wife and kids in a compound in Puerto Rico and truth be told, needs to spend more time developing Golden Boy Promotions. For those that think Oscar may scratch the itch to return to the ring within a year, his plate would be full (and time better spent) learning the ins and outs of building successful promotions because his partner Schaefer readily admits he is the money man and not a boxing authority. While he has some of the top names in the game under promotional contract, his main rival Bob Arum of Top Rank has the far better ticket sellers in his stable. Iíve banged the drum long and loud, as has Bill Trillo, Pound4Poundís main man, about the reality of Golden Boyís events; from top to bottom are notoriously weak. The under card for the Pacquiao fight was the worst Iíve seen since, well, the under card for the Mayweather fight. While fans reaction to Oscarís ringside appearances at promotions garner more boos lately, the bad memories of the Pacquiao loss are sure to fade and he will return to iconic status among the rank and file fans. The best way to continue the integrity of the love affair between Oscar and his fan base would be to produce fights that provide great entertainment value and not climbing through the ropes one more painful time.
His continuing presence in the game is great news for his fandom and continuing legacy but his retirement is bad news for the game as there is no heir apparent to his throne as the Golden Calf. Pacquiao has intensely loyal fans, but the current economic climate lessens the trips by the more substantial Filipinos to the States for his fights. Ricky Hattonís fans sell out the bars and the MGM Grand for his fights but only when there are big name opponents. Hopkins is presently the greatest pound for pound America fighter but heís 44 years old and never had a fan base. Mosley, though a gentleman and affable, once drew 1500 for a fight at the Mandalay Events Center. Kelly Pavlik is a good kid but even Arum hasnít figured out how to make him a draw outside of Youngstown, Ohio. Juan Manuel Marquez is a fabulous fighter but has limited marketability because of his inability to speak English. The Klitschko brothers were once featured on 60 Minutes like Oscar but they have little interest fighting outside of Germany these days. I could go on with the list but the stark reality is that only one fighter can sit on the couch next to Dave or Jay at 11:30PM and he just left the building and the ring forever. If Oscar wants the ultimate challenge outside the ring, heís got one, trying to replace the volume of revenue heís produced over the last decade.