Friday May 2nd, 2008

With 38 professional wins, 10 world championships in six weight classes and an Olympic gold medal on his resume, one would think Oscar De La Hoya's legacy is secure.

The truth is, that legacy is anything but.

There is no debate as to whether De La Hoya will go down as one of the greatest fighters of his time. A bevy of YouTube quality knockouts and electrifying victories over Hector Camacho, Julio Cesar Chavez and Arturo Gatti have seen to that. But the key words in the aforementioned sentence are his time. De La Hoya's insistence on continuing to fight past that time -- which probably ended in 2003 with a loss to Shane Mosley -- has transformed him from prize fighter to mercenary, from the Golden Boy to the Golden Ticket. With three losses in his last five fights, De La Hoya is no longer feared -- at least, not by anyone who matters.

He is, however, still the biggest draw in boxing, which is why he has embarked on this three-fight farewell tour. His 1999 welterweight unification fight against Felix Trinidad generated a non-heavyweight record of 1.4 million Pay-Per-View buys. Last May, De La Hoya shattered every PPV record when his fight against Floyd Mayweather Jr., brought in 2.4 million buys that generated $120 million in revenue. Nearly 30,000 fans will cram into seats inside the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles on Saturday night to see what will almost certainly be a one-sided fight between De La Hoya and Steve Forbes. Forbes, a former super featherweight champion who gained a modicum of fame competing on the reality series The Contender, has spent most of his career fighting between 130 and 140 pounds (De La Hoya hasn't fought below 147 in 11 years). Forbes has no power: of his 33 wins, only nine have come by knockout, a pathetic 27.2 KO percentage in victories. To put that number in perspective, Oscar's is 78.9 percent.

He is in every way the perfect patsy for De La Hoya, who is using Forbes as a tune-up opponent for his September rematch with Mayweather. It's a fact De La Hoya readily acknowledges.

"I'm training for Floyd Mayweather now," said De La Hoya. "My focus is obviously Steve Forbes, but the main goal is to beat Floyd Jr."

But De La Hoya can't beat Mayweather. He proved that last May, when the Pretty Boy outclassed De La Hoya for 12 rounds. Considered the superior boxer, Mayweather also showed he was the better puncher -- most of the power shots, particularly in the later rounds as De La Hoya began to tire, came from Mayweather's occasionally brittle hands. At 35, De La Hoya is a year older and a year slower. A rematch isn't going to prove anything, except perhaps how easy it is for two men to earn $70 million.

De La Hoya probably can't beat Miguel Cotto, either. Cotto, who Golden Boy Promotions is targeting for a December fight with De La Hoya, has at times shown to have a questionable chin. But in recent fights against Mosley and Alfonso Gomez, Cotto has improved his defense (he's become adept at swatting away jabs) and possesses formidable power for a welterweight.

Three fights, two probable losses. And that doesn't even take into consideration the nightmare scenario. What if De La Hoya loses to Forbes?

Impossible? Mayweather doesn't think so. Why else would Floyd Jr. threaten to fire his uncle/trainer Roger Mayweather, who opened camp as Forbes's trainer, if Roger remained in Forbes's corner? Because he knows that, should Forbes somehow manage to defeat De La Hoya, it would implode any lucrative rematch between himself and Oscar.

Hence, the nightmare scenario.

Best case: De La Hoya finishes Forbes quick and convincingly, pours all his energy into a high-pressure strategy against Mayweather and exposes Cotto's suspect chin in his career finale by dropping him with one of his patented left hooks.

If that happens, De La Hoya's legacy is safe. If it doesn't, well, you be the judge.

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