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Up Front

12/18/2008
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Help, someone! Pretty Please!

It would be really nice if someone could muster some plausible explanation as to why a fighter like Oscar De La Hoya, beyond his prime for quite a while before the Manny Pacquiao bout, still chose to step into the ring and get his brains beat out. The mismatch was so obvious that Oscar's wife, Millie, was screaming for him to quit before he had the common sense to do it himself.

I mean, come on, people! The sadness is undeniable, especially when we finally thought we'd found a boxer with some sound judgment—one who took his career earnings, an estimated $500 million, and invested it in himself (in the form of Golden Boy Promotions) instead of questionable business ventures, strip clubs or a slick-talking promoter. Instead, De La Hoya managed to shred any hope of ushering in that new breed of fighter by carrying his aging bones inside the ring and getting beat down, both physically and mentally. Although too battered to press on, he still had the hops to spring off his stool and go embrace his opponent the moment the ref called the fight—this before confessing to Freddie Roach, his former trainer now in Pacquiao's corner, "You're right, Freddie. I don't have it anymore."

The thing is, Oscar ignored his own advice. This is what he told The Sacramento Bee in 1997: "In a few years, maybe two or three, I'm going to get tired of boxing. I've been around boxing for many years, and hopefully I will not try and come back once I retire. Look at Sugar Ray Leonard. It was sad watching him try to fight Hector Camacho. I couldn't watch it." True, De La Hoya hadn't yet "retired" before the Pacquiao bout, but you get my point.

All this makes me think the Golden Boy is no different from Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson or Muhammad Ali. "Actually, Joe was more prepared for this than Oscar," boxing historian Bert Sugar told me after De La Hoya's defeat. "Joe wanted to walk away. Remember, the only reason he had his neck pinned to the ropes against Rocky Marciano back in 1951 was because the IRS relentlessly pursued him for taxes it said he owed—money from previous fights, some of which he had donated to charity on behalf of the Army and Navy, mind you.

"Sugar Ray Robinson was tragic in his own way, and so was Ali. But, hey, fighters just can't help it. Sugar Ray Leonard once told me the fame, the cheers, is what keeps you around. It's hard for guys to let go of that gladiator moment, that entrance to the ring. Money is always a factor, but the adulation is just as—if not more—significant to these guys. Always has been. Oscar proved it still is. What a shame!"

Ya damn skippy!

After the Pacquiao bout, more than a few De La Hoya fans leaving Vegas and heading back to LA swore they were going to remove the 14-foot-tall bronze statue of the Golden Boy that had been placed in front of the Staples Center just days earlier. "He let us down!" one enraged Hispanic fan yelled at me. "We don't quit, man. We never quit!" Well, actually, isn't that part of the problem when it comes to fighters?

Evander Holyfield, 46-and-done, told Bert Sugar he's still fighting because God spoke to him and told him to unify the heavyweight crown. No one knows why 39-year-old Roy Jones Jr. hasn't quit yet. (He did suffer two vicious knockouts—at the hands of Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson—a few years back, so we'll assume he hasn't quite figured it out either.) Bernard Hopkins, who's 43, promised his mother for years that he would retire at 40, but now that she's passed away, it's a promise he hasn't kept. And get this: Tommy "Hit Man" Hearns, 50 years young, shadowboxes all the time, believing he's still better than today's fighters! As recently as two years ago, he wanted to fight Jones Jr. "It's hard to let go, especially when it's all you know," Hearns told me. "I never quit. I was a bad man. You've got to give me that!"

Absolutely, except that today his speech is slurred, and as you talk to Hearns, you can't help but wonder, what on earth was De La Hoya thinking? I'm not talking about quitting against Pacquiao; I'm talking about why he decided to fight him in the first place. He was supposed to be one of the few boxers who knew better. So much for that.