Commentary

Is Oscar leaving boxing out in the cold?

Oscar De La Hoya is serious about entering the MMA fray and is ready to turn the fight world on its head. But is he turning his back on the sport that made him famous? George Willis explores.

Originally Published: January 21, 2009
By George Willis | Special to ESPN.com

De La Hoya / FedorShowtimeTriple threat: Oscar De La Hoya, Fedor Emelianenko and Tito Ortiz hope Saturday's Affliction event packs a punch.

NEW YORK -- Oscar De La Hoya, showing no bruises -- physically or emotionally -- from his December loss to Manny Pacquiao, was wearing his promoter's suit Tuesday in Manhattan.

The Golden Boy was back from an extensive vacation, headlining a news conference to promote a pay-per-view event his company, Golden Boy Promotions, wants to be a big success. But this wasn't a boxing event De La Hoya was selling. It was mixed martial arts.

"Those who tune in to watch Fedor [Emelianenko] and Andrei [Arlovski] won't be disappointed," De La Hoya said in his best promoter's voice. "This is the event to watch."

De La Hoya was speaking at Trump Towers, where the biggest of all salesmen resides. Donald Trump himself was in attendance, but this was still De La Hoya's show. Golden Boy Promotions is the leader of a Dream Team of sorts that Affliction Entertainment has put together to promote its "Day of Reckoning" card Saturday at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.

Emelianenko will face Arlovski in the main event of an 11-bout card that will be broadcast first on HDNet before going to pay-per-view. It will be the first mixed martial arts event De La Hoya will see in person.

The fact that De La Hoya will be in attendance is significant because on the same night, just 40 miles down the road, Golden Boy will also be promoting Antonio Margarito's welterweight title fight against Shane Mosley at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Mosley is a partner and featured boxer with Golden Boy, but De La Hoya will be in Anaheim, leaving his CEO, Richard Schaefer, to take care of things in Los Angeles.

Promoting two events on the same night might be a testament to Golden Boy's growth as a company. But doing a MMA event the same night as a major boxing card is uncharted territory that has its shares of pros and cons.

On the con side: Boxing purists might suggest it's bad enough MMA is claiming more and more fans of combat sports; now Golden Boy is helping MMA do it?

On top of that, can De La Hoya's commitment to Margarito-Mosley be called into question?

Then there's the appearance that Golden Boy is working to draw viewers to their pay-per-view show, who might otherwise tune in to the HBO boxing card.

De La Hoya insists doing the two events isn't a conflict because Margarito-Mosley is a co-promotion with Top Rank, with HBO footing the bills.

"The fact that [Margarito-Mosley] is live on HBO is a wonderful thing not only for the fans, but for us because it makes it that much easier to promote an event the same night," De La Hoya said. "We strongly feel it's a whole different audience between boxing and MMA.

Ross Greenburg, president of HBO Sports, agrees.

"I'm not concerned about [dueling events]," Greenburg said. "We've had a number of events the same night as there has been an MMA event, and there just doesn't seem to be any crossover. We'll have the boxing fan on Saturday night."

Golden Boy's partnership with Affliction Entertainment -- the promotional arm of Affliction Clothing Company -- and Trump Entertainment has been a year in the making. Golden Boy and Affliction have worked together on the licensing of apparel and other products to promote Ring Magazine, a Golden Boy property. And when Affliction staged its first MMA card in July, Golden Boy was an interested observer. The show's main event featured Emelianenko, who battered former UFC heavyweight champ Tim Sylvia in 36 seconds.

Among those purchasing Affliction's inaugural pay-per-view was De La Hoya.

"I was impressed with their abilities," De La Hoya said. "I was impressed with how the event was produced. That's when Golden Boy made the decision: 'Why don't we try this?' Right now you have the UFC as the only player out there. We thought: 'Why not a little competition? It never hurts.'"

Bruce Binkow, Golden Boy's chief marketing officer and its point man for MMA, sees joining Affliction as a natural alliance.

"It's obviously a business that plays well into our sweet spot," Binkow said. "We're in the business of putting on events and we sell pay-per-view events and we sell television events and we sell tickets to live sporting events. Mixed martial arts is on the rise and has a lot of ties to the basic businesses we're in. We thought it was a good move to expand into a new sport."

This could be the start of a long-term arrangement or an occasional alliance. All parties would prefer the former, but the sea is littered with failed companies trying to compete with the UFC. Affliction is hoping there is strength in numbers.

Along with Golden Boy and Trump, Affliction has partnered with M-1 Global, a Russian-based promotional company with fighters and shows throughout the world.

"I think with what we bring to the table, what Affliction brings to the table, what Trump brings to the table -- I think we're going to have something going here," De La Hoya said. "In a short period of time we could be one of the premier promoters in MMA."

It's likely Golden Boy will limit its involvement in MMA to the major shows promoted by Affliction and Trump (figure that to be two or three per year as long as Emelianenko is fighting).

"They've been doing this a long time," Affliction vice president Tom Atencio said of Golden Boy Promotions. "They know what they're doing and it's helping everything run a lot smoother. We're going to sit down after this fight and see where we go from here."

Golden Boy's focus on the Affliction show doesn't seem to have hurt the Mosley-Margarito promotion, which is expected to draw a near-sellout crowd to the Staples Center.

"Mosley-Margarito is going to do very well because the fight is very compelling," De La Hoya said. "It looks like it going to be a sellout."

The only thing certain, however, is that De La Hoya won't be there.

George Willis is the boxing columnist for the New York Post.