De La Hoya: I wanted him to ‘knock me out’
Oscar De La Hoya was too embarrassed to show his face in the weeks following the stunning beating he took from Manny Pacquiao on Dec. 6 in Las Vegas. He has spent his time with his family, mostly in Puerto Rico, pondering what happened that strange night and what the future might hold.
Now, more than two months later, he is willing for the first time to talk publicly – and candidly – about his unusual weight issues leading up to the fight, the beating itself and his plans.
A bit overwhelmed by the decision he faces, he said he’s leaning toward retirement but hasn’t made up his mind.
De La Hoya said he knew he was in trouble from the opening bell and felt helpless in the seventh and penultimate round, when Pacquiao, too quick and too good, battered him so mercilessly that he had to grab the upper rope to remain upright.
At one point in the seventh, he said, he hoped Pacquiao would knock him out because “I felt like my hands were tied behind my back.”
“That’s where I thought, ‘Go ahead (Manny) and land something strong and hard right on the button so you can knock me out and take me out of my misery.’ That’s how I felt at the moment.”
Going into the fight, such a thing was unthinkable. De La Hoya, a future Hall of Famer who had never taken a bad beating in the ring, was deemed by most experts too big and strong for a fighter who started his career as a flyweight.
However, it became clear that something was amiss when he gained only two pounds between the weigh-in Friday and fight time the next night. Pacquiao at fight time actually outweighed De La Hoya, a one-time middleweight who was fighting at 147 pounds for the first time since 2001.
Most observers speculated that De La Hoya’s high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet was the culprit. He was below 147 more than a month before the fight when typically a fighter weighs much more than the limit, tapers down as the fight approaches and then regains some weight after the weigh in.
De La Hoya, 36, remains baffled by the weight issues but said there were times, looking back, when he didn’t eat as much as he should have and now wonders whether he consumed too much protein and not enough carbs.
He also likened himself to Roy Jones Jr. and Chris Byrd, two other aging fighters who tried to drop down in weight, were depleted come fight time and were unable to perform as they hoped they would.
“I just don’t understand it,” said De La Hoya, who refuses to blame fitness trainer Rob Garcia (as some have) or anyone else. “ÔÇª I almost hit 141 a month before the fight. It was really mind boggling to me. Now, thinking about it, it obviously had something to do with (his performance).
“… I have to admit, I myself wanted to prove to a lot of people I could make the weight, that I could be very light and still feel good and strong. There were times obviously you don’t want to eat all your food and want to make sure you come in light the next day and impress your trainer, this and that. I mean, you know, obviously there’s no one to blame. I think everyone knows, if you were following this whole story they know I did come in too light. And that was a mistake on my part.
“A fighter should only make weight those five minutes when you’re on the scale the night before the fight,” he continued. “That’s the advantage I gave away, obviously the strength and size. I should’ve just made the weight in those two minutes I have to be on the scale and then do my bulking up of six or seven pounds.”
Still, De La Hoya said he felt fine physically when he stepped into the ring. It was after the opening bell, when the fighters started throwing punches and “I felt like I was walking in quicksand,” that he knew it could be a long night.
He said he has watched a tape of the fight more than a dozen times and still can’t believe he was so outclassed.
“Once the (opening) bell rang, I believe I threw a left hook to his body,” he said. “He made a noise like it really hurt. After that, he was wide open, he was there for me and I didn’t do anything. Right there it started feeling like, 'Wow, this doesn’t feel the same. I don’t feel like myself.' And obviously, when he started landing punches at will, something in my mind happened as if I said to myself, 'You know what? It’s just not going to happen.' I felt as if he could just land anything and I couldn’t do anything about it.
“I just didn’t care. I didn’t care if he was hitting me because I couldn’t do anything about it. Luckily he doesn’t hit hard. Obviously, if he would’ve hit hard, he would have knocked me out with no problem.”
The seventh round was the most dramatic. Pacquiao landed at will the entire fight but raised his level of intensity that round, battering the proud six-weight-class world titleholder against the ropes as the crowd sat stunned.
That’s when De La Hoya grabbed the rope and wished to himself that Pacquiao would finish the job.
“I couldn’t’ throw (punches) back, I just couldn’t throw back,” he said. “In my mind I can see these openings. Manny Pacquiao is there for the taking but I just couldn’t throw back. I don’t know, (Pacquiao's trainer) Freddie Roach I’m sure had a crystal ball when he said Oscar can’t pull the trigger any more. I guess he was right.”
After the eighth round, in which De La Hoya continued to take punishment, it became obvious that he had a decision to make: Do I continue to take a beating in front of a sell-out crowd and millions of viewers on television or do what no fighter ever wants to do: quit.
De La Hoya’s decision? He didn’t make one.
“I was sitting in my corner,” he said. “The fighter always wants to continue; that’s the bottom line. A fighter is always proud. I had by brother. I could hear my wife Millie. I can see (Golden Boy Promotions CEO) Richard (Schaefer) with a white towel in my corner I guess ready to throw it in. After seeing all that, I was just irresponsive. When the referee was telling me, telling my corner, 'Can you continue? Can you continue?' I was irresponsive. I was leaving it up to the corner. I guess it was my brother’s, everybody’s actions, the referee said, 'OK, enough is enough.'
“So that moment I was just frozen. If they would’ve told me to continue, I would’ve continued. And I’ll continue to take my beating.”
De La Hoya had said repeatedly beforehand that “I HAVE to win this fight,” implying that to do otherwise against such a naturally small man – even one with incredible talent – would be humiliating.
As we know, that’s exactly what happened. He had withstood the strength and fury of such opponents as Ike Quartey, Shane Mosley and Fernando Vargas but was rendered helpless by a man who had fought at 130 pounds only two fights earlier.
And it happened in front of the world. After the opening bell and before the fight ended, he had no place to hide.
“It was devastating,” he said. “I’m over it now, but I was devastated. I was embarrassed. The embarrassment was the worst part. It was hard for me the first couple of weeks to show my face anywhere. I just didn’t know how people were going to react to me. When you start getting people, random people in the street or playing golf somewhere, and they’re telling me, 'Hey champ, you’re still the champ. One fight isn’t going to make you or break you.' It’s like, 'Wow.' It makes you feel good. It doesn’t erase everything that happened that night but it gives you back your dignity somewhat.
” ÔÇª I kept reminding myself how the great fighters ended up taking a beating at the end of their careers. For some reason, that kind of helped, like Sugar Ray Leonard and Muhammad Ali and even Mike Tyson. I started thinking to myself, 'Well, maybe you can squeeze yourself into a great group of fighters like that. And if they went out that way, I don’t think it’s that bad for you. You might as well keep your head up. And I’m sure people will remember what you accomplished and what you’ve done.'”
De La Hoya said most of those closest to him are urging him to retire. Others, including his father, Joel Sr., are insisting that he wasn’t himself that night and should continue fighting at a heavier weight.
He said he’s leaning toward retirement but goes back and forth.
“It’s been very confusing these past few weeks and these couple of months that’ve passed by,” he said. “It’s been very confusing. I haven’t been able to come up with a definitive answer. I’m still not set on what I want to do. It’s difficult to realize that, on one hand, my career can be over and, on the other, if I wanted to, I can still fight. It’s tough. I’m not convinced yet what I want to do. ÔÇª If it’s not for the money, then I do understand fighters doing it for the love of the game and for the passion of it because that’s what I’m feeling now. I love boxing, although I’m in a different position because I do have something to fall back on, I do have something to keep me busy and involved in boxing. I’m talking about Golden Boy Promotions. It’s a relationship I’ve been in since I was 5 years old and it’s hard to break away from. ÔÇª I’m going to continue to think about it and hope that one day I’m going to wake up and have that answer. And I’m hoping it’s sooner rather than later. …
“Obviously, my last fight with Manny proved a lot and did a lot of convincing to me that maybe I turned old over night. I never would’ve thought something like that would’ve happened to me. But I think that was an indication. … I’m leaning toward retirement because those closest to me are urging me and telling me t,” he continued. “But then you have all the other questions you have to answer. I mean you get all these other responses from other people and you look at what Mosley did. And you look at what (Bernard) Hopkins has done. And you look at Pacquiao’s style. And you think about, 'What if you fight a guy like Margarito, who’s going to be right in front of me and easy to hit.' It’s a lot to think about. And it’s funny because once I think I have that final decision something else comes up. 'Well, what if this? What if that?'
“There’s a lot to think about.”
Michael Rosenthal can be reached at [email protected]