De La Hoya announces his retirement as an active fighter
LOS ANGELES — Oscar De La Hoya watched a video chronicling his life on a giant wall in Nokia Plaza and one could sense the extreme emotion stirring inside him.
The video began with his amateur boxing days as a child, took us through the gold medal in the 1992 Olympics and hit a crescendo with some of his most dramatic moments in the ring as a professional, complete with the deafening cheers of his adoring fans.
De La Hoya, the face of boxing for more than a decade, will no longer hear those precious sounds directed at him. And that, he admitted, is very painful.
“The Golden Boy,” grim-faced and fighting his emotions, announced Tuesday before roughly 1,000 people at a news conference in downtown Los Angeles that he is retiring as an active boxer and will now focus his energy on his many business interests, including Golden Boy Promotions.
De La Hoya, 36, said his decision came down to this: He could no longer be the Oscar De La Hoya who once dazzled fans and overwhelmed opponents.
“This is the love of my life,” he said, his voice booming across the outdoor area adjacent to Staples Center and not far from a statue of him. “Boxing is my passion; boxing is what I was born to do. And when I can’t do it anymore, when I can’t compete at the highest level, it’s not fair. It’s not fair to me, it’s not fair to the fans, it’s not fair to anybody.
“So I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s over. It’s over inside the ring for me.”
De La Hoya (39-6, 30 knockouts) said he agonized over the decision for four months, since his brutal knockout loss to Manny Pacquiao on Dec. 6.
Some of those closest to him insisted that it was time to walk away. After all, he had dominated boxing for more than a decade, winning a gold medal in the 1992 Olympics, winning 10 world titles in six weight classes as a pro and making hundreds of millions of dollars. What more could he accomplish?
Others suggested that his efforts to get down to 147 pounds to fight Pacquiao left him depleted, that it wasn’t the real De La Hoya who fought that day, that he still had plenty of fight in him.
In the end, however, he embraced the embarrassment and used it to make his decision.
“Now that I’ve thought about that beating I took from Manny Pacquaio, I’m actually glad it happened because it made my decision that much easier,” he said to a few reporters after the news conference. “It convinced me that in a certain way, hey, that’s it.
“You think that maybe you were drained, maybe you could do it again. Just go up in weight and you’ll feel all right. You think about that stuff, about the positives and the negatives. I just decided that’s it; it’s over.”
De La Hoya walked up the stairs to a make-shift stage to open the news conference with that grim expression on his face in spite of a warm reception from hundreds of family members and friends, as well fans gathered on the periphery.
This wasn’t fun for him. He was obviously humbled, obviously in pain. However, he had a job to do and he did it.
He thanked everyone for coming. He thanked his wife, Millie, the mother of two of his four children and a powerfully stabilizing force in his life. He thanked Richard Schaefer, his friend and brilliant CEO of Golden Boy Promotions who has demonstrated what is possible outside the ring.
However, the most-poignant moment was when he thanked his father, Joel De La Hoya Sr., a relentless task master who pushed his son into boxing when he was 5 years old and drove him mercilessly to be all he could be in the ring.
Clearly, theirs isn’t a perfect relationship but the younger De La Hoya, always trying to please dad, gave credit where credit was due.
“I remember times he would take me to the gym and never gave up on me,” said De La Hoya, the emotion bubbling up. “We lived through some tough moments in the ring; we’ve been through everything. My father was always there for me. And we don’t have enough time for me to express ÔÇª how much I appreciate that, how much I love him for that.
“Thank you father for always being there for me and thank you for pushing as hard as you can,” he continued, his voice now breaking and eyes filling with tears.
The elder De La Hoya’s persistence paid off as his son built one of the most-remarkable careers ever in boxing.
Oscar De La Hoya started with the gold medal, which he dedicated to his late mother, and never slowed down. As a pro, he won those 10 titles and reportedly defeated an astounding 17 former or current world champions, credentials that will certainly earn him a place in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
His successes were overshadowed by disappointments, particularly the Pacquiao fight. The Filipino star, naturally much smaller than De La Hoya, dished out a fearful beating that ended when De La Hoya quit after the eighth round. Afterward, he said he was “embarrassed.”
In the end, he probably didn’t live up to unrealistic expectations but said he was completely satisfied with what he accomplished.
“After going to Barcelona and coming back with a gold medal, after only wanting one world championship title, after winning a few more, after so many years of fighting the best guys, I’m very satisfied,” he said. “I’ve asked myself, ‘Well, you can still add another name to the list. Maybe someone with a style that’s perfect for you, someone slower or someone who will be right in front of you.’
“I asked myself that many times over. I’m completely satisfied, though. I have no regrets whatsoever.”
The setbacks never affected his ability to touch fans. Even with the ups and downs, De La Hoya packed arenas wherever he fought and drew monstrous pay-per-view numbers, including an all-time record 2.4 million against then-pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2007.
He fought 19 times on HBO pay per view, garnering 14.1 million buys and generating $696 million in pay-per-view revenue. That, HBO executive Mark Taffet said, “makes him the all-time pay-per-view king.”
No one could touch his fan appeal in the United States.
“He was bigger than just winning championships,” said television analyst Larry Merchant, who worked most of De La Hoya’s biggest fights. “He was a star, one of the last fighters who have made an impact beyond boxing.
“Very few fighters have had that kind of popularity.”
Outside the ring, he hit some bumps. Flush with fame and money as a young man, he indulged in wine, women and gambling in excess. He reportedly blew much of the money he earned early in his career at casinos. He also fathered two children out of wedlock.
However, he evidently grew out of that stage. He built a fortune in the ring, put large amounts of money into the community, became one of the two biggest promoters in the sport and ultimately married Millie, a beautiful Puerto Rican pop singer.
Today, he seems to be grounded and ready for the next adventure in life. Those who know him well seem to be very proud of how he turned out.
“He wasn’t a young man born with a silver spoon in his mouth,” said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. “He struggled, he fought for everything he had, both literally and metaphorically. Nothing was given to him on a silver platter. Both in the ring and on the streets, he fought to make his community and family proud. He defied the odds and reached the pinnacle of his profession. ÔÇª I think many of us remember watching him during the Olympics, feeling pride seeing one of our sons accomplish all that he did. I remember almost every fight and the pride I felt when he won. And even in the losses, he always showed courage.
“I can tell you, watching him, that Oscar is about to write a new chapter in a great life. Life has only just begun. The man is ready to make his mark in other areas.”
That’s the plan, although it won’t necessarily be easy.
“I love boxing, I really do,” he said. “I love training. I love the challenge. Call me crazy, I love the smell of the gym. I just love it. It’s not about can I win so much money, can I do this or that. It’s I love competing. Now that I won’t have the competitive (outlet), yeah, it’s going to be very difficult.
“ÔÇª I’ll still be involved in boxing, though, as a promoter. I’m going to really rev up the engines to make sure we keep driving that Golden Boy train as fast as we can. That’s my main priority now.”
Michael Rosenthal can be reached at [email protected]