Q & A: Oscar De La Hoya
Note: THE RING interviewed Oscar De La Hoya over the phone for about 40 minutes, discussing his weight issues leading up his fight against Manny Pacquiao, the fight itself and his plans. Here is the Q & A.
THE RING: Well, it’s been a couple of months since the Pacquiao fight. Do we have a verdict on what the future holds?
DLH: It’s still a hung jury. It’s been very confusing these past few weeks and these couple of months that’ve passed by. 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.
THE RING: So many fighters have been in the same position. It can’t be an easy decision.
DLH: 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.
THE RING: Those closest to you are urging you to retire?
DLH: My brother (Joel) is telling me, “Look, that’s it. You’ve had a great run, you’ve had a brilliant career. That’s enough. This is the first time he’s ever told me this. And he’s been there since the beginning, my brother Joel. Then you start hearing my father (Joel Sr.) who’s saying, “Well, that wasn’t him. He lost too much weight,” blaming everything on everybody. “You guys didn’t train him right, you guys didn’t feed him right and you guys didn’t do this and do that.” I’m torn in between.
THE RING: So you’ll just continue to think about it and see how you feel?
DLH: 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 because it’s obviously getting late, if not already too late. We’re getting into dangerous territory here. 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.
THE RING: That to me sounds like a guy who wants to call it a day.
DLH: Yeah, obviously, I’m leaning toward retirement because those closest to me are urging me and telling me to. 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?”
THE RING: I suspect most people feel you should walk away. At the same time, they might agree that you weren’t yourself that night. Is that something you’ve thought about?
DLH: It was obvious that being down in weight and only gaining two pounds from the weigh-in to the actual fight, something went wrong. I don’t know what it was but something went wrong. I was feeling as if I were walking in quick sand and I could see the openings and see those combinations landing, the punches I’m used to throwing, but wasn’t being able to do it. I could see it all in my mind, I could picture it, but I couldn’t do it. When I was feeling tired in the first round, I knew something was wrong. Maybe it was just a sign. Fighters do turn old over night.
THE RING: What role, if any, do think your high-protein diet played?
DLH: Watching the fight (on tape), I was out of it. I see myself and I look like a zombie when I walk into the ring. Obviously, I’m never going to take anything away from Manny. He took care of his job, Freddie Roach took care of his business. They had a great performance. And so be it.
THE RING: How many times have you watched?
DLH: I’ve watched it probably a dozen times. It helps me, but then again it doesn’t on making my decision because when you first watch, it’s like, “Wow, that doesn’t look like me in there.” My face, I’m just out of it. Right from the first round I don’t do anything. I’m frozen. I’m in a trance. It’s not me. Then, as the fight keeps going on, it’s like, ‘My gosh, if I’m myself up there, if I’m 100 percent up there, I mean, obviously this is a no brainer. It’s an easy fight. But to be receiving all those punches, it’s makes me think, “Wow, maybe I should walk away.” Everything is very confusing. I’m receiving support from people, whether I go play golf or whether I’m out shopping somewhere, people are telling me, “Oh, that wasn’t you. You lost too much weight. You just did it wrong. You can be back, no problem.” Then other people are telling me, “Walk away. You have everything going for yourself. You have a wonderful family. You know, walk away.” It’s tough to make that decision now. I’m hoping sooner than later I’ll do it.
THE RING: Does it seem obvious now that the diet was a mistake?
DLH: I think, yes, my weight had something to do with it. I was eating great. I was eating a lot. I was eating big quantities of the right foods. I just don’t understand it. I almost hit 141 about a month prior to the fight and I just didn’t understand it. It really was mind boggling to me. Now, thinking about it, obviously it does have something to do with it.
THE RING: You did follow a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet prior to the fight?
DLH: Yeah, high protein. I was eating some carbs on the days I sparred, which was every other day. And a lot times, 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. 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.
THE RING: So you’re still not certain about what happened?
DLH: It might’ve been too much protein. Obviously, I’m not going to blame anyone. Everybody in my camp did a tremendous job, especially (trainer) Nacho (Beristain) and everyone. We were a team. When you factor in proving to the boxing industry that I could make 147 – and maybe even 140, I was thinking – I think that has a lot to do with it.
THE RING: Roy Jones Jr. and Chris Byrd demonstrated that when you get to a certain age and try to drop a significant amount of weight, your body doesn’t always cooperate. Is that what happened to you?
DLH: Obviously, there was a trend there. With Roy Jones and then Chris Byrd, at this stage of our careers we’re not the youngest fighters out there and the body doesn’t react the same. I guess I found that out the hard way.
THE RING: Some people have placed the blame on your fitness trainer, Rob Garcia.
DLH: I’m not putting the blame on him whatsoever. I have to admit he does a wonderful job. He’s a great strength coach. He makes me do the different techniques to get strong and stay fast. There’s no blame on him whatsoever. The only person I blame is myself. I was up in that ring. I was the one doing the training and putting those foods in my body and at times not putting food into my body. All the blame is on me.
THE RING: When did it become clear to you that you were in trouble during the fight?
DLH: Right from the start. Once the bell rang, I believe I threw a left hook to his body. 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 like 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 RING: For someone who has dominated the majority of his opponents, that must’ve been a very strange experience.
DLH: It was. I was hoping he would knock me out. There was a point where I was hoping he would knock me out and end it. I felt like my hands were tied behind my back. And I was hoping he would knock me out. I still felt as if I could do something but I really felt like my hands were tied behind my back. Who wants to take punishment up in that ring. Like I said, I’m lucky he can’t punch hard.
THE RING: Do you remember grabbing the top rope to hold yourself up in the seventh round?
DLH: I do, yeah. 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.
THE RING: Misery?
DLH: It was both mental and physical. I couldn’t throw back, I just couldn’t throw back. 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, 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.
THE RING: What was it like to call it quits after the eighth round?
DLH: I was sitting in my corner. The fighter always wants to continue; that’s the bottom line. A fighter is always proud. I had my brother. I could hear my wife Millie. I can see 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. But at that moment I was just irresponsive. I was frozen. It’s difficult to quit, especially when you’re a fighter. You can’t quit. That’s the last thing on your mind. I just felt, you know what, fine, if I’m going to continue, I’m going to continue taking my beating here. Again, I’m probably lucky he didn’t hit hard because it could’ve been a lot worse.
THE RING: Knowing that it happened with millions of people watching must’ve been a horrible feeling.
DLH: Absolutely. It was devastating. 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.
THE RING: A lot of great fighters have experienced the same thing. Does that give you any solace?
DLH: 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.”
THE RING: Too many fighters stay too long. That must be hanging over your head.
DLH: Absolutely. It’s scary, it really is. I’m getting that taste of staying in the sport too long now and that’s where it can get dangerous.
THE RING: Do you think that maybe you just chose the wrong guy to fight?
DLH: It could’ve been. In boxing, styles make fights. Obviously, you have to give a lot of credit to Freddie Roach, who knows how to strategize. He knows styles make fights and obviously he knew something. If I would’ve had a Margarito in front of me, yes, obviously it would’ve been much easier. The target is right there in front of you and the punches are slower than syrup. You never know. When Shane (Mosley) was telling everybody he would beat Margarito (on Jan. 24) I was 100-percent confident he was going to do it. We grew up fighting those styles. A fighter like (Ricardo) Mayorga. A fighter like (Fernando) Vargas. A fighter like Margarito. Those are the style we love. That’s how we grew up. We fought those same guys, fought those same styles. Shane Mosley put on a brilliant performance.
THE RING: If ever do fight again, I presume it won’t be at 147?
DLH: (Laughs.) I’ll never see 147 again, that’s for sure.