He turned 47 in February. He hasn’t fought in nearly 12 years. He has had well-publicized battles with alcohol and substance abuse and in retirement the former 154-pound kingpin has tipped north of 200 pounds.
But Oscar De La Hoya still wants to fight.
De La Hoya first revealed his intention to return last month in an interview with Golden Boy-owned Ring Magazine. Even then, it was hard to take him seriously. De La Hoya has flirted with a return several times since Manny Pacquiao battered him into retirement in 2008. There was talk of a rematch with Floyd Mayweather. There was buzz about a middleweight showdown with Gennadiy Golovkin. Each time, De La Hoya elected to stay retired.
This time, De La Hoya insists, it’s different.
“I think it's just a matter of pulling the trigger of making that decision to go to the gym, to wake up in the morning, to make the sacrifice,” De La Hoya told the SI Boxing Podcast. “Before I wanted to do it, but I just couldn't do it. I couldn't pull the trigger. I couldn't wake up in the morning. I couldn't take myself to the gym and spar six rounds. Now it's like I have this motivation to do it for myself, to prove to myself that I can do it. And so we'll see what happens.”
Remarkably, a De La Hoya return would still mean big business. Like Mike Tyson—another AARP ex-fighter who is contemplating a comeback—De La Hoya remains one of the most recognizable faces in boxing. He is mobbed at press events. He could sign autographs for hours. To boxing fans, to casual fans, the legend of the Golden Boy is still strong.
But why would he do it? De La Hoya runs a successful company. Like many small businesses, De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions has been hit hard by the pandemic. De La Hoya confirmed that Golden Boy accepted money from the government’s paycheck protection program, but that he has not been forced to lay anyone off. He says that his personal wealth is enough to keep the company afloat.
Meanwhile, Golden Boy is preparing to return with live events. On July 24, Vergil Ortiz, Sports Illustrated's 2019 Prospect of the Year, will face Samuel Vargas. On August 28, Jorge Linares will headline an event against Javier Fortuna. Those fights will stream on DAZN, the streaming service Golden Boy holds a long-term contract with. De La Hoya says he hopes to finalize an opponent for Saul "Canelo” Alvarez next week and budding star Ryan Garcia will return soon after.
De La Hoya has his hands full as a promoter.
Why risk humiliation (or worse) coming back as a fighter?
On that, De La Hoya doesn’t have a clear answer. The Pacquiao loss still lingers. Shrinking down to 147 pounds depleted De La Hoya—“I was a zombie,” he said—and he’s convinced that wasn’t him at his best. He believes that if he returns at 154 pounds, “I can do some damage.”
“Skill is involved, obviously,” De La Hoya said. “My power, you never lose power. Maybe my timing might be off a little, but that's something that I'm going to have to figure out. So there's a lot that comes into play. And I just strongly feel that I can do it.”
De La Hoya is clear: He isn’t coming back for an exhibition. Not for a third fight with Shane Mosley or a rematch with his business partner, Bernard Hopkins. He wants a real fight. He’s working out regularly in Pasadena, Calif. He says he is up to six rounds of “heavy sparring.” He says he's running six miles a day.
The goal, De La Hoya says, is to get up to 12 rounds of sparring by September. If he can, De La Hoya hopes to make his return early next year. “There are two or three levels I have to get by first," he admits.
In Pasadena, De La Hoya is working with a small team. “They're helping me get in shape, to make sure that I don't get injured, make sure that all those little fibers and muscles and tendons stay strong in order to take it up to the next level,” De La Hoya said.
When De La Hoya gets to that next level, he has already decided who he wants to train him: Floyd Mayweather Sr. Mayweather trained De La Hoya for seven years, splitting with him prior to De La Hoya’s fight against his son, Floyd Jr.
SI Vault: Chris Mannix Q&A With Oscar De La Hoya
“Floyd Mayweather Sr. is the only trainer that can tell me to wake up at five in the morning, is the only trainer who can push my buttons and make me work hard and smart,” De La Hoya said. “I would actually go to him and humbly ask him if he can do this favor for me.”
If De La Hoya returns, he doesn’t want a tune up. Like with Tyson, there will be no shortage of fighters eager to face him. One would be particularly fascinating: Canelo. De La Hoya has promoted Alvarez for a decade. But in recent years, the relationship has soured. The two rarely speak, with Canelo describing his relationship with De La Hoya as a business one.
Would De La Hoya be willing to try and squash any beef in the ring?
“I don’t know,” said De La Hoya, laughing. “Canelo's an amazing fighter. He's the best, he's a pound-for-pound champ. He hits like a mule. I don't know. You’re throwing me in the fire here, but that's a challenge that ... I never backed down from anybody, but we'll have to wait and see.”
De La Hoya-Alvarez in 2021?
Hey—he didn’t say no.