Arash Markazi
Friday May 2nd, 2008

Sitting in a private room tucked inside of Café Pinot, an upscale restaurant in downtown Los Angeles, Oscar De La Hoya ignores the plates of crab cakes, steak and chicken around him as he opens up a small package of blueberries.

"It's part of my organic diet," explains De La Hoya. "I've been on it for six years."

The diet, De La Hoya jokes, "keeps me hungry." It's a hunger, he admits, that he hasn't had in the ring in years, but one that he's regained after his loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr., last year.

"I think I've left something on the table these past few years," says De La Hoya, who, in his first fight since the loss and the first in his hometown in eight years, will take on Steve Forbes at the Home Depot Center on Saturday.

"I'm hoping I can show it this Saturday. Over these past few years I've been a fighter that has wanted to use my power and knock guys out and not move on my toes and have fun. It's been a plus in some fights, but it's been a negative. Now, it's a matter of going back to my roots, so to speak."

In going back to his roots, De La Hoya plans on fighting three times this year -- something he hasn't done since facing Ike Quartey, Oba Carr and Felix Trinidad in 1999 -- beginning with Saturday's fight against Forbes, which is being labeled, "Homecoming."

There was a time when coming back to his native city wasn't so much of a homecoming as a reminder that De La Hoya would never truly be accepted by the Latino community he was born into. As a Mexican-American fighter, born and raised in East Los Angeles, De La Hoya was thought of as traitor and a sellout by many Latinos after winning a gold medal for the U.S. in the 1992 Olympics. The underlying disdain for the commercialized pretty boy grew to a boil after De La Hoya destroyed Julio Cesar Chavez, an icon in the Mexican community, with a fourth-round technical knockout in 1996.

"Even the other day when I was throwing the first pitch at a Dodgers game," said De La Hoya, who now lives in Puerto Rico with his wife, Millie, and their two kids, "this homeboy came up to me with a shaved head and tattoos and he tells me, 'You beat Chavez. He's my idol and you beat him, but you know what? It's OK. You've proved yourself.'"

It may have taken 15 years, but as De La Hoya begins his farewell tour to boxing, it seems he has finally proven himself to the Latino community, which has slowly started to accept "The Golden Boy" as one of its own and is expected to confirm as much by the reaction of the 27,000 primarily-pro-De La Hoya fans in attendance for the fight.

"Over the years with all the fights I've had, with the Quartey and the Fernando Vargas, I think they've seen that I can fight," says De La Hoya. "Not that they forgot about it, but my performances have overshadowed, I don't want to say the hate, but that negativity they had towards my career."

His place in L.A. sports history will be secured after his retirement, as it was announced this week that a "Rocky-like" statue of his likeness will join similar sculptures of Magic Johnson and Wayne Gretzky outside the Staples Center -- the site of De La Hoya's last fight in L.A., when he lost to Shane Mosley in 2000

"I'm going to drive by it everyday just to make sure they don't egg it," says De La Hoya. "I'll be there with a towel wiping off the eggs yolks."

While De La Hoya says Forbes, who's never been knocked down in a fight, isn't a tune-up, and that the 31-year-old former The Contender contestant will be difficult because he was trained by De La Hoya's current trainer, Floyd Mayweather Sr., before being guided by Roger and Jeff Mayweather, it's clear there is only one Mayweather and one match on his mind.

"Am I looking past Stevie Forbes? I have to admit maybe I am," says De La Hoya. "Because I want that big prize of beating the best in the world, the pound-for-pound best, Floyd Mayweather Jr. Can I beat him? Absolutely I can beat him."

Despite De La Hoya's confidence in winning a rematch, which is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 20, there are few outside of his camp who think the 35-year-old can blemish the undefeated record of Mayweather, who thoroughly dominated their fight last year with his speed and accurate punches despite a late rally by De La Hoya.

"I can beat him," say De La Hoya. "It's just little tricks here and there. I'm not going to say, but we already have a game plan. I had the wrong strategy when I fought him. Completely wrong, [as in], 'I'm the bigger guy, I'm stronger, I'm going to walk right through him,' wrong plan. I'm going to pop the jabs a lot more. You'll see."

As De La Hoya finishes up his box of blueberries and prepares to head out of the restaurant and back to the gym, I ask him if this is really his last year as a fighter or if he's simply falling in the line of so many great boxers before him who couldn't stay away from the ring.

"It's been the most difficult decision that I've had to make, to convince myself and prepare myself for retirement," says De La Hoya. "History will show you that it's the most difficult thing to do for any fighter, for any fighter. My father told me I should have retired four years ago, after the Vargas fight. So the one I had to convince -- and it took a lot of time -- was myself because I'm the fighter, I'm the stubborn one. I can still do this, I can still fight at 40. That's my mentality. So the decision was very difficult, but I'm set, I'm ready to go, three big fights this year and we're out."

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