De la Hoya: A Very Un-Mexican Surrender

By Andrew Harrison: “I’d rather be smart than get knocked down five times” -Oscar De la Hoya on Fernando Vargas’s effort in defeat to Felix Trinidad. So this is how it would end for Oscar De la Hoya; battered, bewildered and finally humbled, quitting on his stool against an opponent who had toiled for the majority of his career in weight divisions far south of welterweight. As Mexican hearts sank at ringside, none plunged as far or hung quite as melancholy as the one beating inside Mexican fighting legend ‘Rockin’ Ruben Olivares..

Oscar De La HoyaA ringside spectator at the behest of Golden Boy Promotions and indeed used as part of the drive for PPV sales along with another half dozen or so of Mexico’s finest warriors, Olivares was reported to have been dismayed at De la Hoya’s less than gallant stand. Alongside the fact ‘The Golden Boy’ was seen to have perpetrated the cardinal sin amongst prize fighters (especially one of Mexican origin) in surrendering in his corner and the mood was sombre to say the least among his fighting countrymen.

Boxing has of course evolved since the days when many of these Mexican heroes strutted their stuff and we are frequently warned of its inherent dangers, the condition of fallen giants from yesteryear serve as a constant reminder. The sport at present is perhaps as safety conscious as it has been since its inception, as indeed seemingly is the world around us. It seems perfectly reasonable in this day and age for a fighter, once the possibility of victory has evaporated entirely, to sacrifice pride, that most bothersome of emotions and instead keep intact the prospects of good health in later life. If only it were that easy however. For men such as Olivares, there is an unwritten rule in the fighter’s code; you do not quit.......period.

Oscar is not unaccustomed to accusations of cowardice. His retreat from a desperate and resurgent Felix Trinidad which ultimately cost him the fight was frowned upon by many. His theatrical pounding of the canvas when crumpled by a body shot from Bernard Hopkins was questioned also; chief among the dissenters being his tormentor from last year, Floyd Mayweather. Let us not forget also the haranguing he took from esteemed writer Mike Katz in response to his early matchmaking decisions, Katz famously labelling him ‘Chicken’ De la Hoya. Oscar spent a career attempting to combat these heckles; indeed he has assembled one of the finest resumes in boxing history when you cast your eye over the opposition column by way of a riposte. It seems a cruel fate indeed for him to once again find himself tarred with the same brush, especially when the cupboard is now evidently bare and there’s no longer anything he can do to dispute it in the one place where it counts.

De la Hoya didn’t ever seem to grasp the mentality of hardcore warriors descending from the Mexican heartland. As the quote heading the article illustrates, what is the sense in fighting a battle you seemingly can’t win? This is where he and the majority of his compatriots part company.

For men such as Fernando Vargas (he may hail from Oxnard via Mexico, but you try telling him he isn’t Mexican) being carried out on their shield after standing up to superior opponents, as he did against the terrible wrecking machine Felix Trinidad, meant that Aztec pride was rescued despite the fact that his career from that night onward was as good as over. For a calculating businessman like Oscar, more attuned to balance sheets and profit margins these days, the means just do not justify the end. How do you quantify pride anyway?

However much fans want to criticise Oscar at present for the non-effort versus Manny Pacquiao, we should not lose sight of the fact that this is a fighter who once climbed off the canvas to defeat powder keg punching Ike Quartey, as well as weathering a ferocious onslaught before going on to outpunch and outfight the aforementioned Vargas in their long anticipated grudge match in 2001.
Pride once burned fiercely inside him as it did in Olivares and the rest of the courageous hombres who left the ringside in Vegas shaking their heads. Was pride really worth the risk of Oscar losing the one thing all those prize fighting dollars couldn’t buy him; his health- which will enable him to enjoy the family he proudly displayed on HBO’s 24/7 series? Some might disagree however the likes of Margarito, Sanchez and Saldivar would likely place pride above anything else. The answer perhaps lies in the fact that if he wasn’t ready to make the trade off, he should not have put himself in that position and subsequently charged the rest of us premier prices to see it unfold.

It is indeed a sad exit for Oscar, however as he intimated to Larry Merchant before the cameras began rolling on the post fight interview, it was a demise entirely of his own making. The man with more money, adulation, championships and big fight nights than many other fighters could ever dream of should have known that in this wonderful but unforgiving sport of ours, there are rarely any happy endings, even for The Golden Boy.

Article posted on 11.12.2008

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