- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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Pardon Oscar De La Hoya if he just doesn't know what to do. The 10-time titleholder across six weight divisions is really struggling right now.
Should he stay?
Or should he go?
It has been three months since he took the beating of his life, an eighth-round TKO loss to Manny Pacquiao in which the favored De La Hoya was not at all competitive against a smaller man. After the eighth round, his face swollen and his spirit broken, De La Hoya retired on his stool, and many wondered whether it would be the last time they saw him box.
Since a postfight interview with HBO's Larry Merchant in the ring following the bout, De La Hoya has kept a low profile. He didn't attend the news conference after the fight because he was at the hospital, and he came out of his cocoon only briefly in January to help promote a mixed martial arts event with which his company, Golden Boy Promotions, was involved.
Now, De La Hoya is talking again, but he still has no good answers about what he intends to do.
"I'm just not sure if I will fight or I will retire," De La Hoya told ESPN.com in a 40-minute telephone interview. "I am still caught in that. I am still trying to answer that question. It's still confusing.
"One side of me tells me that was not me up in there in that ring when I fought Pacquiao. Another side says, 'Well, Pacquiao beat you, and it's over; you don't have it anymore.' Everywhere I go, people ask when I will fight again. Then some people say, 'Hey, Oscar, you were great, but it's time to hang 'em up. Why keep on getting hurt?' But I am not basing my decision on what people are telling me, including my family. It's going to be based on what I think, and I am still confused."
I felt embarrassed. We sometimes order take-out for dinner, and they would bring it to our house and I was embarrassed to answer the door and sign for the check because I didn't want to see anyone.
”-- Oscar De La Hoya on his reaction to his defeat by Manny Pacquiao
De La Hoya (39-6, 30 KOs), who turned 36 on Feb. 4, has listened to input from his family -- his wife, Millie, and brother Joel Jr., in particular. He also has kept to himself while playing a lot of golf at a country club near his home in Puerto Rico.
Mainly, he has been relaxing and contemplating his future after the loss to Pacquiao, a defeat that dropped De La Hoya to 3-4 in his past seven bouts, including two losses by knockout.
"I've gained a couple of pounds and played a lot of golf," he said. "I'm just spending a lot of time in Puerto Rico with my wife and kids, relaxing and playing golf three or four times a week."
De La Hoya said that even on the golf course, however, thoughts about his boxing future permeate his mind.
"I've had a lot of time to think about it, and it's becoming a burden," he said. "I'll be standing over the ball putting for eagle, and I'm thinking about retirement and I miss the putt."
De La Hoya said the loss severely bruised his ego. He said he didn't want to leave the house and didn't want to see anyone for weeks.
"I have to be honest with you," he said. "I felt embarrassed. We sometimes order take-out for dinner, and they would bring it to our house and I was embarrassed to answer the door and sign for the check because I didn't want to see anyone. I was embarrassed. I let everybody down."
De La Hoya said that immediately after the fight with Pacquiao, he returned to the dressing room, and among the people there were his wife and brother.
"Right when we got to the dressing room, Millie gave me this hard look and said, 'I think that's it.' But after a few weeks, she told me, 'It's your decision; you do what you want to do.' But it's difficult because I know she wants me to retire. My brother said I should hang 'em up. He has never said that before, and he's been there from day one. It's so confusing, so I'm going to take it slowly. What I really hope is that one day I will wake up and know that I should either fight or retire. If I do decide to fight, I hope it's sooner than later, because I'm 36 and I'm not getting any younger."
De La Hoya admitted he isn't the same fighter he was in his heyday, when some even listed him as boxing's No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the late 1990s.
He said he began feeling his age in the second half of his May 2007 junior middleweight title fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr., who won the fight on a split decision to claim De La Hoya's belt.
"I had a hunch and a feeling in the second half of the Mayweather fight that I was slipping," De La Hoya said. "Physically, I felt it."
In his next fight, in May 2008, De La Hoya easily outpointed Steve Forbes at 150 pounds. It was a lopsided victory, but De La Hoya emerged with a broken bone in his face, bruises and a swollen eye. That the damage was inflicted by the light-hitting Forbes, who was 10 pounds heavier than his normal fighting weight, alarmed De La Hoya.
"With the Stevie Forbes fight, there was a fighter I should have knocked out, even though he's not an easy fighter to knock out," De La Hoya said. "I did hit him with a lot of hard shots, but look how I came out? Marked up and bruised. That was another sign of the wear and tear on my body and that I am not the same fighter I was. Then you go into the Pacquiao fight, and that should be the nail in the coffin. But then you take everything into consideration, and I look at what [Golden Boy partners] Shane Mosley and Bernard Hopkins did [at advanced ages]. And I look at Pacquiao being a southpaw, and you think that styles make fights, and if he was a righty, maybe it would have been different.
"I'm just very confused. I am really confused. Now I know why it's so difficult for a fighter to retire. I'm in this position right now where it's not about money. I have money. It's love for the game, love for the sport, the passion I have for it. But when I make my decision, it's going to be a firm one."
Many times in recent years, De La Hoya has said he will not be a fighter who retires and unretires, which is so common in the sport.
"I don't want to retire and come back," he said. "I don't think there's any need for it. Once I make my decision, that's it. That's why it's taking so long. I want it to be 100 percent. I hope one day I wake up out of bed and know what to do."
De La Hoya said he still is trying to figure out what went so wrong against Pacquiao. He said the fact that the bout was so lopsided was a shock to him.
"Manny beat me hands down," he said. "I give him full credit, 100 percent. He took care of business; he did his job."
De La Hoya also had kind words for Freddie Roach, Pacquiao's trainer and De La Hoya's former trainer, with whom he traded sometimes nasty rhetoric throughout the promotion. He also praised his own trainer, Nacho Beristain.
"Freddie Roach did a magnificent job in having the game plan to beat me," De La Hoya said.
As for Beristain, De La Hoya's third trainer in three fights, he said he didn't blame him in any way for the defeat.
"No, not at all. Nacho is an amazing, incredible trainer," De La Hoya said. "He did his job, and everyone in the camp did their job. I take nothing away from Nacho. He knew how to strategize. He got me in great shape. If I had the choice to pick him again if I was going to fight, I would pick him again."
The one thing De La Hoya does point to as a way to mitigate the loss to Pacquiao is his weight. The limit for the fight was 147 pounds, yet De La Hoya weighed 145 and put on barely any weight in the more than 24 hours between the weigh-in and the fight. Pacquiao had started his career at 106 pounds, was coming up from the 135-pound lightweight limit and weighed 142 officially, but he actually was heavier than De La Hoya when they stepped into the ring.
"I feel my weight was too low. It was mind-boggling," said De La Hoya, who boasted that he was virtually on weight for weeks before the fight. "I gave away one of my advantages, which was being the bigger guy. It's not an excuse. I lost the fight, and he beat me easily. But those are questions I am asking myself. What if I had just made the weight for the few minutes you are on the scale? Why did I change my plan? It was nobody's plan or strategy to be that low. I was eating good, but I wasn't gaining weight. I treated this fight differently, I think. I think deep down inside, I was thinking, 'If I fight this fight at 147 and my body has felt good, I can get even lower and I will feel even faster and keep my strength.' But I felt like I was walking in quicksand in the ring. I had no strength. It was odd.
"I've been fighting since I was 5 years old, and I had tons of amateur fights and I have been in training most of my life. I think that had something to do with it. It's like they say in boxing: Sometimes you turn old overnight. It could be that. I refuse to accept that, but maybe that's what happened. I just have to come to realize it. That's why the decision is so hard to make. Maybe I have to accept that I turned old overnight. But us fighters are very stubborn. Sometimes we don't want to accept it."
De La Hoya will make his first boxing public appearance Saturday night in Houston, where Golden Boy is promoting the Juan Manuel Marquez-Juan Diaz lightweight championship fight.
He said his work on the promotional end of things might make it easier for him to retire.
"I think it will be easier for me to retire because I have something to fall back on with a successful company," he said. "Boxing to me is my life, and at Golden Boy Promotions, we haven't even scratched the surface. That's what makes it exciting for me. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I can start gearing up to really work and push Golden Boy and our fighters as far as we can."
But first he has to make his decision -- no easy task, because he still is haunted by the Pacquiao fight, a match in which he believes he didn't land a single significant blow.
"I had nothing," De La Hoya said. "Not even a jab. But I was never hurt. It was more me being frustrated. He was throwing a lot of punches, and I was in retreat trying to get away from them. But it was like he was hitting a piñata."
De La Hoya then described his feeling of being able to see all sorts of openings against Pacquiao but being unable to release his punches.
In boxing parlance, that's the definition of a shot fighter.
"That's probably what I am," De La Hoya said in a stark admission. "I have to figure this out. I'm leaning toward retirement more so than fighting."
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.
Oscar De La Hoya might be a different breed, but championship fighters rarely go gently into the night. Dan Rafael asks the question: Is the Golden Boy ready for retirement, or will he rage against the dying light?