- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Oscar De La Hoya announced his exit strategy from the ring at the beginning of 2008. After a glorious 16-year professional fighting career, De La Hoya was making plans for retirement.
Speaking on a teleconference Thursday to announce that he would face pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao on Dec. 6 in a welterweight fight, De La Hoya left open the possibility of continuing his career.
"My focus is my training and my next fight," he said. "I'm not going to talk about retirement. I'm not going to think about retirement. I want to be focused on my job in the ring and we'll see after the fight how I feel."
So does that mean he's leaving a crack in the door to return?
"Let's just say my foot got caught in the door," De La Hoya said.
De La Hoya's wife, Millie, with whom he is raising their two small children, has wanted him to retire for years. And De La Hoya has been paying more and more attention to a burgeoning business empire that includes his promotional company, real estate and media holdings.
The plan for 2008 was three fights and out.
He laid out his plan: In May he would fight Steve Forbes, followed by a September rematch with Floyd Mayweather Jr., followed by a December swan song against an opponent to be determined.
De La Hoya won a lopsided decision against Forbes, but the rematch with Mayweather was scrapped when he suddenly retired. At that point, De La Hoya revised his plan and said he'd fight just once more in December before calling it a career.
He sounded awfully serious.
In April, on a national teleconference promoting the Forbes fight, De La Hoya said, "There's not going to be no 2009, no fights after December. I want these three fights and go out like a champion. I know it's the last time I will step inside the ring in December."
And in June, in an interview with ESPN.com, he reiterated his plan: "There are no thoughts whatsoever about fighting again after 2008. I've given [Golden Boy Promotions CEO] Richard [Schaefer] the marching orders. I have prepared everybody. This is it. This is my last year in the ring. There's no dinero that will bring me back, no amount of moolah."
Later in Thursday's media session, De La Hoya again spoke as though the Pacquiao bout would not be the last of his career when he was asked about the fight marking a reunion of sorts with Top Rank promoter Bob Arum, who promotes Pacquiao and promoted almost all of De La Hoya's fights until their acrimonious breakup a couple of years ago.
"Bob promoted my career in the beginning and now we will be part of the biggest event in boxing history toward the end of my career," he said.
Pressed on the retirement issues, De La Hoya said, "I don't want it to be the focus. I don't want to think about it or talk about it. I have made comments in the past, but my job is my training and to be prepared. I am not going to talk about retirement anymore or mention it. After the fight we will decide how we will go about it. Right now the focus is the fight.
"Once we're in the gym and the punches fly and we're sparring and things are going great, you forget abut all that [retirement talk]. You think you can fight 10 more times. The focus is on training, fighting and winning. A lot of fighters tend not to retire because there's another payday. The great thing about me is I know I can do this. My reflexes and speed are still there, but I know it's towards the end of the career."
De La Hoya also hinted at continuing this week while in Mexico City at a news conference announcing a deal Golden Boy Promotions had made with a television network there.
He said that he's dreamed of a farewell fight at Estadio Azteca, the iconic soccer stadium in Mexico City. He mentioned a possible fight next May on Cinco de Mayo weekend, the Mexican holiday weekend that has become synonymous with De La Hoya fights.
It's not as though De La Hoya has run out of big-money opponents either. If junior welterweight champion Ricky Hatton, the enormously popular Brit promoted by Golden Boy, defeats Paulie Malignaggi Nov. 22 and De La Hoya handles Pacquiao two weeks later, a fight between them is a natural. In fact, it was seriously discussed before the fight with Malignaggi was finalized.
"My dream is to fight at Estadio Azteca because my idol Julio Cesar Chavez had a historic fight on that stage, and that's why I would like to fight there," De La Hoya said at the news conference. "I want a big farewell fight to leave a lasting impression all over the world with a huge event, but there is a soccer match scheduled for Dec. 6 at the Azteca. For me, fighting there would be a dream come true, and that's why I don't rule out the possibility of having another fight next year."
Dan Rafael covers boxing for ESPN.com.
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