By Francisco Salazar
Photos: Joe Miranda
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The day finally came. A day that Oscar De La Hoya was smart enough to realize and most athletes don’t. Athletes try to avoid this day. However, it’s inevitable that sooner or later be will be a day when they realize they can not live up to the potential from previous years. April 14th in the boxing world will no longer be known as the day before taxes are due. Instead, it will be known as the day one of the most popular boxers decided to hang up his gloves for good. On Tuesday, April 14th, the six time world champion announced his retirement from the sport. The announcement took place at the L.A. LIVE plaza, right across the street from STAPLES Center, where De La Hoya fought one of his best fights, losing a close decision to Shane Mosley. De La Hoya made his announcement before thousands of fans who were in attendance. From construction workers to business people during their lunch break, De La Hoya spoke somberly, but diplomatically, a trait that has made him beloved by boxing fans and the media alike.
The last time people will remember De La Hoya in a boxing ring was in December when he squared off against pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao. Looking like a fighter with little energy, De La Hoya could not withstand Pacquiao’s pressure and punches, thus ultimately being stopped in the eighth round.
Rather than make a quick decision, De La Hoya wisely took his time and came to the conclusion four months later. But, it was within a week that he was 100% sure of the decision.
“I came to the decision six days ago (from Tuesday),” said De La Hoya, as he was speaking to a group of print writers after his announcement. “It’s a bittersweet moment for me. What athlete wants to retire? I went back and forth about 20 times. I thought through all of the possibilities and I made this decision on my own.”
De La Hoya transcended this sport to new heights with his popularity. With his boxing skills, good looks, and charisma, De La Hoya made average sports fans into casual boxing fans.
Now there will be a void at the top as to who will assume the “responsibility” of taking over of promoting the sport as did De La Hoya over the last 15 years.
A few select fighters such as Manny Pacquiao, Ricky Hatton, and even Floyd Mayweather, assuming he returns from his retirement, are possibilities. Nonetheless, they will have big shoes to fill.
“Someone always comes along,” said HBO Boxing analyst Larry Merchant, who was in attendance for De La Hoya’s announcement. “I don’t know who or when that vacancy will be filled by, but someone will come along. It will be hard to replace someone like Oscar, especially in how he represented the Latino, particularly the Mexican-American population.”
Although De La Hoya would have wanted to go out as a winner in his last fight as a professional, he feels at peace with his decision. He said he is 100% positive that he will stay retired.
Instead of dwelling on the defeat, De La Hoya feels that his loss to Pacquiao is a blessing and it was meant for something.
“I’m a firm believer in turning a negative into a positive,” said De La Hoya, who says he looks forward to spending more time with his wife, Millie, and his children. “In this sport, I learned to grow up as a fighter and as a person. I learned a lot in my victories and in my defeats. You find out who you really are.”
Asked of his boxing pinnacle, it would be him winning the gold medal at the Olympics in Barcelona in 1992.
In the end, De La Hoya has done more than enough to promote the sport he loved so much. Now De La Hoya will continue being an ambassador of the sport outside of the ring. He will have his priorities in promoting some of the best fighters in the world in his stable of fighters.
“Golden Boy Promotions will be my number one priority.”
However, he will no doubt speak on behalf of fighters and of boxing whenever the sport needs a shot in the arm.
Not to mention De La Hoya will continue to make a difference in the live of millions of people, especially in his hometown of East Los Angeles. From his Oscar De La Hoya Foundation to the Oscar De La Hoya Animo High School, De La Hoya will continue to be an ambassador to worthy causes.
De La Hoya will continue to influence and be an example to strive for success. He did to this reporter, the son of a farm worker and house cleaner who is now a high school teacher and feature boxing writer.
April 14th should not be a depressing day because of De La Hoya’s, but in reality a day of celebration.
Thanks again, Oscar!