Snapping the pieces of the De La Hoya puzzle into place

5/9/2008 - Boxing

If you were looking for eye-opening revelations in Oscar De La Hoya's 12-round decision win over Steve Forbes on Saturday night, you came to the wrong place.

We've always known "The Golden Boy" has one of the game's best jabs, can match hand speed with anyone and has too sturdy a chin to worry about a smaller man with a 24 percent career knockout rate.

When we see something in the ring that surprises us, we say, "That's why they fight the fights." De La Hoya-Forbes presented a compelling argument for just letting the fights be decided on paper every now and again.

But we did still get one noteworthy revelation on the HBO broadcast: During De La Hoya's pretaped interview with Larry Merchant, Oscar plugged his upcoming autobiography "American Son" by discussing his disclosure in the book that he has seen a therapist in recent years.

After more than a decade of covering De La Hoya's career and struggling to figure out where phony, P.R.-programmed Oscar ends and real Oscar begins, I have just two words to say to that poor therapist: Good luck.

Nearly everything about De La Hoya is confusing and contradictory. He's somehow both charismatic and utterly devoid of charisma at the same time. He's a boxer and a businessman, a tough guy and a pretty boy. And when he speaks, we're often left scratching our heads to figure out what he really means.

So here's one amateur psychologist's interpretation of some of De La Hoya's recent statements, uttered in the days prior to the Forbes fight and in the minutes immediately following his win:

Statement: "People are going to say this is another of those so-called tune-up fights. I'm not looking at it like that."

Interpretation: De La Hoya did view this as a tune-up fight -- why else would he have chosen an opponent who, stylistically, could be described as Floyd Mayweather Lite? It's very clear that De La Hoya was using Forbes to tune up, but he had to imply that he wasn't undertraining and looking past Forbes, the way he did with Felix Sturm four years ago.

Basically, De La Hoya was saying the right thing from a public relations point of view. At least until two sentences later …

Statement: "Am I looking past Stevie Forbes? I have to admit, maybe I am."

Interpretation: It's not quite Mike Tyson promising to eat Lennox Lewis' children, but De La Hoya understands the importance of using his mouth to sell a fight, and by admitting he's got "Money" on his mind, Oscar encouraged fans to tune in for a competitive fight in which he just might overlook Forbes enough to suffer an upset.

Did this statement conflict directly with what he said two sentences earlier? Absolutely. But hey, it wouldn't be a De La Hoya interview without a blatant contradiction or two.

Statement: "I tell myself, 'Wow. Everything you've accomplished, everything you've done -- you know, it just happened yesterday.' How time flies."

Interpretation: I believe these were honest words, spoken from the heart, that unfortunately came out sounding cheesy and rehearsed. That's De La Hoya for you: Even the genuine material appears scripted.

De La Hoya, like the rest of us, is in disbelief over the fact that he's 35 years old and has been doing this as a pro for 16 years. When he looks in the mirror, he sees the same unmarked face that was staring back at him a decade ago. Time may have flown, but De La Hoya is one of the very rare boxers it hasn't taken its toll on, which makes it that much harder for him to believe that he really is one of the sport's elder statesmen.

Statement: "[Trainer Floyd Mayweather Sr. and I] are two totally different people. That's why we just match so perfectly, because I bring in what I have, he brings in what he has, and we just become this perfect team."

Interpretation: This is simply a case of De La Hoya having listened to the Paula Abdul song "Opposites Attract" immediately prior to his HBO interview. (By the way, how cool would it have been to have Paula judging the Forbes fight, so she could reveal her scorecard for both that bout and the Mayweather-De La Hoya rematch that hasn't taken place yet?)

Statement: "I truly believe people haven't seen the best of me."

Interpretation: If we still haven't seen the best of De La Hoya at 35, when are we going to? Ridiculous as the statement sounds, though, you can see where he's coming from.

Oscar will be inducted into the Hall of Fame unanimously on the first ballot and he fought everyone there was to fight, but his record lacks that career-defining night in which he put it all together in a perfect performance against a prime, superstar opponent. The blowout win over Rafael Ruelas, the dominant stoppage of Julio Cesar Chavez, the thrilling KO of Fernando Vargas -- they all came close, but there was always something to nitpick.

Apparently De La Hoya agrees. And he sees a rematch with Mayweather as his chance, if he can win clearly, to finally achieve perfection.

Statement: "This is Stevie Forbes' biggest fight ever. This is his moment to shine, and he knows it. But you know what? This is my moment too. This is the most important moment of my life."

Interpretation: The births of De La Hoya's children? Winning an Olympic gold medal? Engaging in some of the most lucrative fights in history against the likes of Felix Trinidad, Bernard Hopkins and Mayweather? Nah, those are nothing compared to a fight against someone De La Hoya already admitted he might be looking past.

Sorry, Oscar. The scriptwriter veered off the course of believability with this one.

Statement: "Obviously, I've always prided myself on fighting the best, and I'm going to go after [Mayweather] because I know I can beat him."

Interpretation: This was the last thing De La Hoya said during his postfight interview with Larry Merchant, and it was the most real thing he said all week. Oscar didn't sound like he had Cyrano whispering the words into his ear. There was raw emotion speaking here.

Will he actually defeat Mayweather in September? We have plenty of time to speculate about that. But it's encouraging to know that De La Hoya at least believes in himself. The fighters and promoters won't have an easy time selling this rematch to the hard-core fans, but that one line from De La Hoya did more to sell me on it than any part of his 12-round exercise against Forbes did.

Whatever you make of De La Hoya's latest round of comments and clichés, you have to give him credit for seeking therapy to figure his life out.

But not too much credit. After all, it's not like De La Hoya is the first HBO superstar to risk his macho image by seeing a shrink.

So maybe when it's time for Oscar's final fight, midway through the 12th round, the ref will don a Members Only jacket, Millie will stuff an onion ring in her mouth in the front row and the screen will suddenly cut to black.

That would be as fitting an end to the legendary but oddly impalpable career of this fighter as could be written.

Eric Raskin is a contributing editor for and former managing editor of The Ring magazine.