Oscar De La Hoya, the face of boxing for his generation and a dominating force in the ring who now promotes the sport, announced Tuesday at a downtown Los Angeles news conference that he is retiring as an active fighter.
The charismatic “Golden Boy,” 36, ends his career with 10 world titles in six weight classes, with the broadest fan base of any fighter in the United States and as one of the two biggest money makers ever in the sport with Mike Tyson.
He also transcended boxing, becoming one of the most recognizable figures in popular culture. He is particularly popular among Mexican-Americans, having grown up in a predominately Latino neighborhood in East Los Angeles.
His movie-star looks and charming personality have made him a favorite of women, who swoon when he makes public appearances and have been drawn to boxing in unprecedented numbers.
De La Hoya entered the public consciousness when he won the U.S.’ only gold medal at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. He dedicated the medal to his late mother, a story that touched the hearts of millions and helped jump start his professional career.
As a pro, guided by promoter Bob Arum, he had a Hall of Fame career but might not have lived up to lofty expectations. He reportedly beat 17 former or current world champions but lost many of his biggest fights.
His coming out party was a second-round knockout victory over Rafael Ruelas at Caesers Palace in 1995, after which he was boxing royalty. His victory over Julio Cesar Chavez, the Mexican icon, in 1996 was a passing of the torch. And triumphs over Ike Quartey (1999) and Fernando Vargas (2002) were dramatic and important.
However, his successes were overshadowed by disappointments. His losses to Felix Trinidad (1999), Shane Mosley (2000 and 2003), Bernard Hopkins (2004), Floyd Mayweather Jr. (2007) and Manny Pacquiao in his last fight (on Dec. 6) preclude him in most eyes from being labeled a great fighter.
The Pacquiao fight was particularly painful for him. The Filipino star, naturally much smaller than De La Hoya, dished out a fearful beating until his opponent quit after the eighth round. Afterward, De La Hoya said he was “embarrassed.”
The setbacks never affected his wallet, though. Even with the ups and downs, De La Hoya packed arenas wherever he fought and drew monstrous pay-per-view numbers, including an all-time record 2.4 million against then-pound-for-pound king Mayweather.
No one could touch his fan appeal in the United States.
“He was bigger than just winning championships,” said television analyst Larry Merchant, who worked most of De La Hoya’s biggest fights. “He was a star, one of the last fighters who have made an impact beyond boxing.
“Very few fighters have had that kind of popularity.”
De La Hoya hit some bumps along the way.
Flush with fame and money as a young man, he indulged in wine, women and gambling in excess. He reportedly blew much of the money he earned early in his career at casinos. He also fathered children out of wedlock.
However, he apparently grew out of that stage. He built a fortune in the ring, put money into the community, became one of the two biggest promoters in the sport and ultimately married Puerto Rican pop singer Millie Corretjer, with whom he has two children.
Now, he’ll focus his energy on his business interests and family.
“This is the natural arc in the life of a fighter,” Merchant said. “It’s only sad when a fighter can’t get away from it, when he’s defined only by fighting and is so needy of the cheers and competition that he stays too long and gets beat up over and over again.
“I don’t think that’s the case here. Oscar had a great career. He touched a lot of people.”
Michael Rosenthal can be reached at RingTVeditor@yahoo.com