De La Hoya’s retirement: bad for business, good for boxing
Regardless of what happens when Manny Pacquiao takes on Ricky Hatton next month the pound-for-pound king is already my Fighter of the Year for 2009.
Why? Because it was the punishing beatdown Pacquiao put on Oscar De La Hoya four months ago that convinced the faded Golden Boy to finally hang up his gloves.
And while the U.S. boxing scene will sorely miss the money and mainstream attention De La Hoya brought to the sport, without him the industry will hopefully go back to making fights that generate excitement as well as dollars.
Once upon a time De La Hoya did both; he delivered drama AND big numbers at the box office.
However, in recent years, his post-bout headlines had more to do with the pay-per-view money his fights generated than what happened in the ring.
De La Hoya was a hell of a story if you penned a sports business column for forbes.com or Yahoo! Finance, but if you were a fight scribe/boxing fanatic like Yours Truly his fights weren’t much to write about.
They were either uneventful boxing matches that produced unsatisfying results — like the Shane Mosley rematch, his embarrassing performance against Felix Sturm, middleweight showdown with Bernard Hopkins and his “fight to save boxing” with Floyd Mayweather Jr. — or they were gross mismatches — like his knockouts of Yory Boy Campas and Ricardo Mayorga and the one-sided drubbing Pacquiao gave him.
When was the last time I was genuinely entertained by a De La Hoya fight?
September 14, 2002. The “Bad Blood” grudge match with Fernando Vargas.
In my not-so-humble opinion, that was the last time a De La Hoya fight lived up to the pre-fight hype.
That was the last time the promotional story line — that they hated each other’s guts — was both real and compelling.
That was the last time a De La Hoya fight was not just competitive, but thrilling, dramatic and satisfying.
De La Hoya weathered an early storm from a juiced-up Vargas, engaged in heated exchanges in the middle rounds, and finally wore his nemesis down in the late rounds before scoring a bloody and brutal 11th-round stoppage. The dynamic knockout of his longtime antagonist was the talk of both fans and the boxing media for weeks after the fight.
Despite Vargas testing positive for steroids after the showdown, the main story of the event was what took place in the ring, not the fact that the pay-per-view show did 935,000 buys that brought in $47.8 million.
Since the Vargas match De La Hoya has been the driving force behind promotions that far exceeded the “Bad Blood” hype, pay-per-view buys and revenue generated, but nothing he’s done in the ring has matched the excitement of that evening at the Mandalay Bay’s Event Center in Las Vegas.
From that point on the “Bad Blood” wasn’t in the ring where it belonged whenever De La Hoya fought, it was flowing throughout much of the industry that was resentful of the new promotional company he formed and its cozy relationship with HBO.
The “Bad Blood” was even fostered with his once-loyal fans who were let down by one sub-par performance after another in “mega-fights” that cost them $50 to watch live.
Now that De La Hoya is finally retired, jaded boxing writers and fight fans can stop complaining about “Oscar De La Greedy” and pay attention to the rest of the sport. Other promoters can stop bitching about Golden Boy Promotions getting preferential treatment from HBO and start focusing on developing their own talent.
In fact, Golden Boy Promotions can now pay more attention to its vast stable of young fighters and promoting entertaining shows like its done recently in Houston, San Jose and Austin. And now that he’s retired, De La Hoya can put more time into helping with these efforts, which is what he probably should have been doing for the past three or four years.
Does it sound like I’m coming down on De La Hoya?
I hope not.
I have the utmost respect for the former six-division titleholder; the same mad respect I have for Bernard Hopkins, Juan Manuel Marquez, Marco Antonio Barrera, Shane Mosley, Erik Morales, Roy Jones Jr. or any other first-ballot hall of famer who is at or near the end of their careers.
Hell, I think De La Hoya is underrated.
You read message board pin heads blow hot air about how careful he was in choosing his opponents and how he only went after fighters who were coming up in weight or past their primes, but when I was compiling a timeline of De La Hoya’s life and ring accomplishments in anticipation of his Tuesday retirement announcement I couldn’t help but notice the names of strong, young unbeaten titleholders he took on time and time again.
Felix Trinidad (35-0), Mosley (34-0), Ike Quartey (34-0-1), Genaro Hernandez (32-0-1), and Miguel Angel Gonzalez (41-0) were all in their primes and in their twenties when De La Hoya fought them. They were on top of their divisions, some even ranked among the pound-for-pound best, and none of them were pipsqueaks.
The De La Hoya who went tit-for-tat against this accomplished crew and other standouts during the 1990s is the fighter I will miss.
The boxing businessman of recent years? Not so much.
I wish De La Hoya well in his retirement, but I’m glad to see him go (especially as healthy and wealthy as he is).
Hopefully, he set an example for the new generation of fighters.
I want Kelly Pavlik, Chad Dawson, Miguel Cotto, Paul Williams, Victor Ortiz, Chris Arreola, Edwin Valero, Andre Berto, Nonito Donaire, Alfred Angulo, James Kirkland and all the other young guns out there punching for pay to make as much money in the biggest events possible before getting out of the game with their faculties intact and bank accounts full.
I just hope they challenge themselves the way De La Hoya did in the 1990s on their way up, and when they reach the sport’s center stage I hope they deliver action and drama the way The Golden Boy did September 14, 2002.
Doug Fischer’s column appears every Thursday; he can be reached at [email protected]