The first time I saw
I still have my reporter's notebook from that day. In it is scrawled LH-bdy!!! -- my abbreviated reaction to a left hook to the body landed by De La Hoya. I'd rarely seen a professional throw a such a withering shot; in the jab-jab-pitter-pat world of amateur boxing a punch like that was unheard of, especially from a smooth-faced high schooler. This one, I thought, could be the real thing.
Nearly two decades later, the kid is 36 and -- if we take him at his word after today's press conference in Los Angeles -- retired, following a 17-year professional career (launched on the glow of his Olympic gold medal in 1992) in which he won 10 world titles in six weight classes, earned as much as or more than any fighter in history and, for the past 10 years at least, reigned as the most popular and acclaimed figure in the sport. All that would seem to vindicate my enthusiastic Seattle scribbling. Why then do I feel a twinge of disappointment?
An honest look back at De La Hoya's 39-6 (30 kayos) professional record (squint a little against the Golden Boy glow) reveals a fighter who, given all his physical potential and seemingly bottomless in-born talent, was never quite as good as he should have been -- or as great as we wanted him to be. He was better than most, of course, and a true terror as a lightweight against over-matched or over-the-hill opponents. (See the bloody mess he made of the great
Chavez, again, was far past his considerable prime.
De La Hoya was probably actually at his best during the first half of the Trinidad fight. He was Oscar the boxer then, moving brilliantly, jabbing, mixing up his punches, controlling the distance, making Trinidad miss. It was the complete package. Then, infamously, thinking he "had it won," he went into defensive mode and gave away enough rounds to lose the fight. For my money, though, Oscar's finest hour came against
So maybe that's the point: Oscar De La Hoya was indeed a helluva fighter. And that should be enough.
And, of course, outside of the ring there was lots more. De La Hoya has done -- and with his promotional company, Golden Boy, will continue to do -- far more for boxing than any other fighter of his era. Pound-for-pound titles and Hall of Fame acclaim aside, that truly is a gilded legacy; one that no one could have foreseen 20 years ago.